Music Writers’ Exercise
For February I did the Music Writers’ Exercise (#MWE) which involved listening to and writing a short review of a new album every day for a month.
“They just don’t make music like they used to.” Is there a more tiring refrain?
Sure, music genres change and evolve. And, the sound of music is different from decade to another, driven as much by changes in technology as any shift in fashion.
But, every year, there is so much good new music released. Pick a genre, pick a style, hell even pick a favourite era and you can find new tunes to enjoy.
Doing The Music Writer’s Exercise
This year I decided to give the Music Writers’ Exercise (#MWE) a go. It’s a month long challenge that ran during February. Every day listen to an album you haven’t heard before and write a one tweet review. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in new music and as the name implies it’s a demanding writing exercise as well.
Writing tweet feels easy. It’s only 280 characters maximum.
Hitting all the beats required in a review, in such a short space, which of course has to include the time the album and the name of the band or artist, is far from easy.
A good music review tells introduces the genre and style of the music. And also says something about what makes it distinct in that genre. The review needs to tell you something about the choices the artist has made. The kind of lyrics. The instruments played. The way they were arranged. And the review needs to give you a sense of what the music might be similar to and why you should be enthusiastic to listen to it.
All of that in only 280 characters. The exercise is quite the challenge.
Focussing On New Music
To choose the albums I looked at Jazz and Soul playlists on Apple Music as well as best album of 2020 lists from music publications and news websites. I made a page on Notion to keep track of the selections and limited them to albums available on Apple Music (simply to make life a little easier for myself.
Here are the 28 albums I reviewed during the month together with links to Apple Music if you want to take a listen for yourself.
Run Home Slow by The Teskey Brothers
Buoyant, rootsy rock that ventures towards retro soul territory. Skip the arid moments of faux Gospel & linger on the Phish meets Leon Bridges vibe. The Teskey Brothers hail from Melbourne but this album is made for a US road trip.
Muse by Alycia Bella
Longing and unrequited love floats through the air carried by sublime vocals and minimal beats in this debut album. A delicate collection of songs that feels made for summer nights pondering what you want from life.
Something To Say by Cory Henry
This album is every bit as funky and well-crafted as you would expect from Henry. But, the hopeful and socially aware lyrics are the real surprise. Think Innervisons-era Wonder, Sign o’ the Times Prince, or even Gaye’s What’s Going On.
Letter To You by Bruce Springsteen
There’s genius in making the familiar seem fresh through close inspection. Grief and regret manage to reveal warmth and insight in these songs. Is hopeful nostalgia a thing? If it is then this album is its soundtrack.
The Call Within by Tigran Hamasyan
Evocative and constantly evolving jazz for listeners who crave intricate rhythms & surprising twists. Hamasyan successfully blends jazz & rock with folk motifs. If you’ve ever wondered what piano-Djent sounds like this is for you.
Good Days by Chicago Underground Quartet
Beguiling atmospheres and danceable grooves aren’t what we expect from free jazz. But they’re here to enjoy. Dense without feeling cluttered, rich without losing a sense of either rhythm of harmony, and deeply satisfying.
Transcendent by AANMI with Davóne Tines
Features a collective of composers yet still retains a rich shared aesthetic. This is classical chamber music thats far too intimate, urgent and raw to be assigned to background duties. It will demand your full attention.
An Atlas Of Time by Wang Lu
Blending traditions in classical music can be a recipe for cliche but Lu’s compositions here resist that. Organic yet challenging, this album explores place, history, and the role of sound in forging memory of lived experience.
Breathe by Reena Esmail
Music | Spotify
These piano chamber compositions draw from Indian folk music & feature stellar playing violist Vijay Gupta. Lush & cinematic, these beautifully ethereal pieces will appeal to jazz & world music fans as much as lovers of modern classical music.
Soul Awakening by Brandee Younger
These tracks are full of the harmonic and tonal complexity of the harp, which is front and centre here, supported by soul-tinged grooves & cameos by various artists including Ravi Coltrane. Warm, enchanting late night music.
Fly Moon Die Soon by Takuya Kuroda
Blending elements of Afrobeat, post-Bop, and the funkier side of Hip-Hop this album skilfully creatives a forward-thinking cosmic jazz soundtrack for lovers of complex rhythms, well-structured arrangements, and great horn riffs.
Untitled (Rise) by Sault
Sault are a mysterious yet prodigious group – 4 excellent releases in less than 2 years. This album presents as electrónica with hits of disco & 80s pop but it has the soul of socially restless punk. Protest music you can dance to.
All Rise by Gregory Porter
The most golden male voice in Jazz is back with a collection of ambitious originals. Gregory’s voice soars over the orchestration. Made for what was meant to be a year of touring big venues around the world this is an instant classic.
Home Truths by Catherine Britt
Country music’s at it’s best telling raw stories and this album is full of them. Refreshingly these are full of Australian references – imagine if The Chicks had hailed from down under. Made for a road trip though the gum trees.
The Striped Album by Cory Wong
Full of great beats, sharp horn lines, Wong’s famous precise and sinewy guitar parts and supported by some great vocal and solo cameos this album is treat for fans of 80s funk and the Minneapolis sound.
APKÁ! by Céu
Deeply layered, emotive, late night music, tinged with rich electronic timbres and of course Céu‘s gravity-defying voice. The music here is cosmic, at times almost pyschadelic, but yet familiar without falling into nostalgia.
Fake It Flowers by beabadoobee
Fans of mid 90s post-grunge alt-rock will find a lot to love on this album full of guitar-driven hooks. Several songs could’ve featured on coming of age movies from that era. Put on your oversize flannel, turn up the volume, and enjoy.
Who Are The Girls? by Nova Twins
Music | Spotify
Muscular and mesmerising this album is a tour de force of distorted and heavily effected guitar and bass sounds paired with vocals that cover all the ground from raw punk to urban funk. A manifesto for the future of rock.
Omega by Immanuel Wilkins
Widely hailed as one of the best jazz albums of 2020 this urgent collection of tunes lives up to the hype. Ferocious and focused playing embodies all the tragedy and yearning for hope we felt in that most chaotic year. A masterpiece.
Right Now by Willie Jones
Ever wondered what Country music would sound like if it had more soul and R&B influences? Then this album is for you. Familiar country tropes mix with relaxed electronic beats & a vocal swagger that’s instantly engaging. Familiar yet fresh.
Out of Dust by Laila Biali
Sonically ambitious, richly layered, and exquisitely produced. This album captures the extraordinary breadth of Biali’s talent as a singer, songwriter, and musician. Elegant pop-tinged jazz that rewards careful listening.
Little Big II Dreams Of A Mechanical Man by Aaron Parks
Simple motifs evolve in ever-shifting, cinematic ways. Nothing feels rushed or cluttered even as the rhythms become more complex. Fans of exploratory guitar & every flavour of keyboard will find much to enjoy.
Source by Nubya Garcia
A brilliant, almost encyclopaedic musical journey. Garcia’s playing is assured and full of emotion, equally at home soloing over Caribbean, Latin, or straight ahead modern jazz grooves. Constantly surprising and always delightful.
Omoiyari by Kishi Bashi
Uplifting and delicate arrangements contrast with morally reflective lyrics on this elegantly beautiful album. Proof that there’s more ways to respond to injustice than simply anger and outrage. A pop-folk soundtrack for social change.
Daylight Savings by Surprise Chef
Fat keyboard sounds and cleanly picked guitar lines fill this album of instrumental pop-soul. Feels like the lost soundtrack to a 70s arthouse road movie. Never feeling rushed or busy this is a journey fans of Khruangbin might enjoy.
PYJÆN by PYJÆN
Horn led high energy acid-jazz fills this 7 track debut from this London quintet. With rhythms that range from 70s style jazz-funk, to Afro-beat and heavily effected guitars the vibe is will appeal to fans of Scofield’s Uberjam efforts.
On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment by Ambrose Akinmusire
The perfect expression of the way this moment is asking us all to consider our identity and the injustices we see. A profound jazz statement from an artist who is fully embodying their artistry.