Will Ackerman — Sound of Wind Driven Rain (1998) YouTube Spotify
Will's almost done with Windham Hill at this point. In a few year's time, he would go on to start his Lifescapes label. Which is not to say there's a big change in his sound. A few guests here and there and a couple vocal tracks, but this is straight ahead later Will Ackerman: kind of cheesy, but tuneful nonetheless. As always, I prefer the solo Will pieces, but the bigger band (six pieces, including vocals!) on the revisit of 'Hawk Circle' is pretty effective. Certainly not his best anything, but good if you already know you like it. Key tracks: the solo pieces!
Arthur Russell — First Thought Best Thought (mid 1970's/early 1980's) Spotify
Mostly known for his disco productions, this two disc set of early Arthur Russell recordings has an ambiguously funky, genre-less feel to them. This is my first anything by Arthur, so imagine my shock when I was greeted with this at the beginning of disc one. Whoo doggie! There's so much beauty in these recordings, from soulful incidental funk, to modern composition, there's a ton of stuff just in the "Instrumentals" section of disc one that had no business existing in 1975. Disc one closes out with the sixteen minute piece for two fender rhodes (!!) 'Reach One.' Absolutely gorgeous stuff. Disc two is handed over for the majority to Arthur's rare 1983 album Tower of Meaning. It's all strings and woodwinds, with a few bits of hand percussions and it's kind of a hard nut to crack. Finally, you get the really trippy 'Sketch for the Face of Helen' to finish things off. What a wonderful package of completely unpredictable music. Key tracks: the "instrumentals"
The xx — self-titled (2009) YouTube Spotify
Where was I when this first came out? Well, we're not always there when everything first hits. This is strikingly tight music; a sort of jangle pop with hip hop beats instead of a live drummer. It's a combo that shouldn't work, but does — exceedingly well. The guitar tones are pure 80's jangle pop, so that's instant love from me. Romy's voice reminds me of Sade's at certain points, so that's no bad thing either. But there would be nothing if the songs weren't as catchy as they are. There's an understanding of space at play here, as well, that forces the reverb on the guitar to fill things out and that's a lovely sound. Formulaic, maybe, but if it's not broken, y'know. Also, dance party. Key tracks: 'Crystallized' and the super dreamy 'Infinity'
The xx — Coexist (2012) YouTube Spotify
The group's second album doesn't stray far from the foundation established on the first, but that doesn't really hurt them because everything remains as tightly played as ever. If there's anything all that different about this album, it's a more delayed, lush guitar tone. Can't be mad at that. Key tracks: the building 'Reunion', yearning opener 'Angels' and the deep house groove on 'Swept Away' which picks things up on the otherwise glum second half of the album
Date Palms — The Dusted Sessions (2013) Spotify
I guess the kids call this sort of thing "drone" music. Not sure what separates it from straight up ambient music, but I be darned if it ain't just as wonderful. It's definitely got structure, with long, circular melodies, so there's no room here for improvisation, as much as the instrumentation seems to propose it. The combination of heavily delayed electric guitar, pedal steel and tanpura (don't worry, I didn't know what it was without looking it up, either) give the music a very airy feel and I have to say that the cover art fits perfectly. This music definitely recalls hot, dusty, lonesome highways and a fuzzy brightness that simply exists, even when you close your eyes. Headphones highly recommended. Key tracks: the eleven minute opener 'Yuba Source Part One' is the perfect manifesto for what the group does
Paul Gonsalves — Ellingtonia Moods and Blues (1960) Spotify
Paul Gonsalves has long been one of my favorite tenor players. This album features Paul leading a smaller group alongside fellow Ellington band mate Johnny Hodges on alto. Nothing all that great occurs, but everybody's clearly having fun. Key tracks: 'The Lineup' and the lone ballad 'Daydreams' which finds Paul slipping in some surprisingly dissonant lines
Juana Molina — Tres Cosas (2002) YouTube Spotify
Rescued from a library rummage sale, this well-used copy of the album cost me all of two bits. It's mostly a calm and acoustic, strummy affair with one arguable hit in the form of the exquisite 'Sálvese Quien Pueda.' Juana is one of the modern masters of the loop station, so she builds these layers of harmonic beauty before your very ears. It's a trick that never gets old. Especially when things are as pretty as they are here. Key tracks: 'Sálvese Quien Pueda' —for extra credit, check the Four Tet remixes ("ugly" and "pretty") and "Juana's Epic Re-version" (which is arguably better than the proper album version)— the harp feature on 'Curame' and the closing piano ballad (sung in French) 'Insensible'