Ten Interesting and Sometimes Accessible Albums in New Classical (on eMusic).

What I own of three of my very favorites, Alarm Will Sound, Hauschka, and yMusic, came from eMu's earlier incarnations, but there’s actually quite a bit of other nice albums still available.  I’m not one to draw the line between new classical and avant-garde, and this absolutely has to be the first list of the new year.

At least two from 2019 would have been in my favorites list, but putting new classical (or jazz, for that matter) in a general list of mostly pop just doesn’t feel right.

(back to meaningless numbers just for quick reference rather than ranking)

 1. “Hydromantia“ - Yuri Vinogradov (2019).  My only point of reference might be the ironically titled “Pop Music” by Todor Kobakov, which I also highly recommend for solo piano enthusiasts (I think Kobakov is Canadian; Vinogradov is the real Russian deal).  This album doesn’t have vocal help from TVotR or Metric and has to let its challenging yet highly engaging compositions stand on their own.  I admit I went with this one rather than his other album to save a buck fifty.  Should I come into wealth, I’ll certainly pick up “The Possibility of Non-Linear Logic” too.  https://yurivinogradov.bandcamp.com/album/hydromantia   

2. “Ideogram” - Surreal Players (2019).  While this particular album is egregiously miscategorized as jazz (though do correct me if it is I who have erred), the label here (Sjrecords) and next (To Pikap) both coincidentally have only five titles, all from 2019, and all very interesting.  Don’t judge this one by its first track, with an accordion.  There’s quite a lot of stylistic variety, but it’s all fairly pleasant and fits in classical as a whole.  Cello, violin, guitar, and piano alternate at first, but most end up like something like a conversation between strings and piano.   I suppose there are some slightly jazzy numbers after all, like the Bolero and “Lifesaver.”  Regardless of what style any particular song chooses to be in any given measure, the album is cohesive and should please purists who want to be moved or at least engaged without any vocals.    

3. “Piano Voices” - Sakis Papadimitriou (2019).  Of the three (mostly) solo piano albums mentioned so far, 1. is in the middle, while this one is most in the vein of experimental piano noise, though I expect it is still composed rather than improvised.   This isn’t to say there aren’t melodic or otherwise obviously musical moments here, and maybe piano noise is less grating than, say, its electronic cousin.  With alphabetical titles, it could be that he intends this album to be a compendium of piano playing methods and techniques (rather than styles), which are just plain different.  Using the keys is clearly optional.    https://topikaprecords.bandcamp.com/album/piano-voices 

4. “Argument for Strings” - Dan Michaelson (2019).  A short EP for $1.49 is as contentious as its title, with piano accompaniment (mediation?) to what might be an instrumental debate complete with opening and closing statements.  Someone with technical training could describe what’s going on here more accurately, but rest assured that these are impassioned but not overbearing in these short doses.  Each “argument” makes its point and moves on.  I’m going to assume this is a different guy than the singer for UK rock band Absentee, which are the other releases under this name on eMu and Bandcamp.

5. “The String Theory” - Marcello Fera and Ensemble Conductus (2018).  An hour of almost pure string bliss, with passages achieving the too rare feat of being aggressive and loud without giving way to dissonance. The Italians on the a simple lunch label can be counted on to cook up something interesting every time.  A female voice on the fourth track says “Aaaah” quite nicely on a sad, quiet number.  Others display quite a lot of heft and belie the ensemble’s apparently small size.  CORRECTION:  They’ve actually got twelve players, hardly tiny, and they’re apparently just as comfortable composing jazz.  https://asimplelunch.bandcamp.com/album/the-string-theory

6. “Recitals” - Daniel Stewart (2017).  eMu too frequently indulges people who think they can call their music “classical” because they play a piano.  There are “enhancements” on this EP, but overall I think it fits better in new classical than elsewhere and is fairly interesting.  https://blankeditions.bandcamp.com/album/recitals-2

7. “Esque” - Zephyr Quartet (2007).  Middle East folk elements add spice to the lush string proceedings here, with more on the $2 EP “Resonance.”  This is part of an elite group of 21st century albums that I could enjoy with my grandparents.  The world needs more of them.  Similar but overall preferable to Taiwan’s Cicada, also available https://cicada.bandcamp.com/album/light-shining-through-the-seahttps://zephyrquartet.bandcamp.com/album/esque

8. “Obras Electroacústicas” - Alejandro Iglesias Rossi (2012).  Three tracks of 10-17 minutes each make for a highly immersive, experimental experience on one of the most distinctive 99-cent albums I’ve tried.  Washes of what sound like traditional, religious or folk music come and go through the mix, with sounds that approximate what anyone stuck in the catacombs and dungeons must hear and fear at night.  Quietly haunting for the most part, though not without louder passages filled with a scary, whooshing thump.

9. “Karmanov:  Re-music” - Nazar Kozhukhar & The Pocket Symphony (2013).  A mix of fluttery strings in somewhat circular arrangements and fairly somber piano, this would be recognizable to most anyone as classical music.  Serious, but only somewhat experimental, and there’s quite a dynamic range from track to track as well as with them.  FancyMusic might be the most interesting and reliable new classical label left on the site.  https://fancymusic.bandcamp.com/album/re-music

10. “Music for Destroyed Orchestra” - Andy Fosberry (2018).  Ambient music with apparently classical instruments.  I can’t tell if they’re synthesized, and there’s definitely something electronic going on here.  Nonintrusive but plenty interesting if you’d rather pay attention rather than read to it.  https://3rddebutrecords.bandcamp.com/album/music-for-destroyed-orchestra

11. “Encounters” - Ferr (2018).  If #6 pushed the boundaries of what should be allowed on a new classical list, this one pushes past them into new agey, solo piano with other elements that nonetheless stop just short of Harold Budd territory.  There are lots more examples of this kind of music on the site, and being a 99-cent EP is admittedly why this one’s here.  Don’t consider it part of this list.

“Chamber Music:  Alvin Lucier & Morton Feldman” - Anthony Burr (2019).   A big-name emusers recommendation, this one turned out to be a little too academic for me.   

Also recommended:  Vitor Rua (prolific, experimental piano), Dolce Rima (female vocals over classical guitar?), Alexander Campkin.

Big fan of Slow Six https://christophertignor.bandcamp.com/album/tomorrow-becomes-you

Also file Resina under formerly available and still on Bandcamp https://resina.bandcamp.com/album/resina-2

Not a ton of record labels have new classical, so I’ll just append the album list:  Chrom, a simple lunch, Bahadirhan Koçer, PFT, Rivoalto, Tañidos, Szescian, Taukay.  Each has at least something I’d wishlist.


Comments

  • Hi! I am Yuri Vinogradov, author of Hydromantia, the album you mentioned in your list. Thank you for reference! I'm glad that you found my music interesting. All my albums are Name Your Price now so you're welcome to listen and download Possibility of Non-Linear Logic and my other music for free.
  • Hi! I am Yuri Vinogradov, author of Hydromantia, the album you mentioned in your list. Thank you for reference! I'm glad that you found my music interesting. All my albums are Name Your Price now so you're welcome to listen and download Possibility of Non-Linear Logic and my other music for free.
    Thanks! I am listening to Hydromantia right now and enjoying it quite a bit.
  • Wow!  I figured there'd be people here who liked the style but didn't expect to hear from an artist.  I feel guilty about going NYP on anything even if doing what little I can to promote it eventually.  I hope the decision results in much wider exposure and generous paying customers for what is really innovative, challenging, and pure new classical music.  Do you consider your music more jazz than new classical, btw, or are such designations beside the point for you?  Have you ever seen a dime from eMusic?  Thanks for your comment!
  • Hi! I am Yuri Vinogradov, author of Hydromantia, the album you mentioned in your list. Thank you for reference! I'm glad that you found my music interesting. All my albums are Name Your Price now so you're welcome to listen and download Possibility of Non-Linear Logic and my other music for free.
    Thanks! I am listening to Hydromantia right now and enjoying it quite a bit.
    Thank you! Glad you like it!

  • omnifoo said:
    Wow!  I figured there'd be people here who liked the style but didn't expect to hear from an artist.  I feel guilty about going NYP on anything even if doing what little I can to promote it eventually.  I hope the decision results in much wider exposure and generous paying customers for what is really innovative, challenging, and pure new classical music.  Do you consider your music more jazz than new classical, btw, or are such designations beside the point for you?  Have you ever seen a dime from eMusic?  Thanks for your comment!
    Well, I hope so. I think, NYP will encourage people to download my music and to share it. 
    Thank you for your kind and pleasant description of my music! 
    Though my music is purely improvisational I don't use (or use quite seldom) jazz groove/swing, idioms (standart melodic moves and ornaments) and harmonic sequences so I think that modern or new classical tag suits it better. I can say it's too cold and transparent for jazz as I understand it though it's quite subjective and I would fear to argue on this matter.
    Some of my music is selling on iTunes, Google Music etc., but I think there isn't any of it on eMusic, so no.
  • Thanks for clarification.  I have trouble noticing when something is improvised in the first place but wondered if that made the jazz categorization more likely in and of itself despite it sounding a lot more like classical music.  I mentioned those two albums b/c they're the only two on eMusic.  Didn't realize your output was so large when I bought Hydromantia there.  We're all concerned about eMusic not paying the labels and artists, so I'd be curious whether Assist for Artist or eMusic itself has them without your consent:  https://www.emusic.com/artist/rs_4821667/Yuri-Vinogradov
  • More New Classical albums (of orchestral experimentation?)

    These serious and serious-adjacent albums accumulate more slowly from eMusic but are likely to be of more lasting interest than the average pop album, IMO. They’re often functional for reading, contemplation, or plain relaxation, except in cases where the tempo, volume, or level of experimentation rises.

    Albums are in the approximate order I like them. I need to be in the mood for something challenging or otherwise non-poppy before reaching for any of them, so I can’t say which I’m “more likely to listen to” as usual. Don’t expect a lot of vocals, but do expect to find some challenging compositions and general experimentation with traditional orchestral instruments. It must be a coincidence, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many songs featuring a bassoon as on this list.

    1. “Crossroads 2020 Contemporary Music Days in Armenia” - Ensemble Assonance (2021). This one gets the noisy experimentation with classical composition just right for me, being unpredictable and challenging (made by musicians who are clearly skilled) but very far from unlistenable due to all the dissonant clanging and bursts of sound. I’d liken it to something like Zappa’s classical compositions, though the very first track is entitled an hommage to “R. Sch.” and more seasoned listeners of this kind of music could probably name many influences, RIYLs, and contemporaries (including some who do better in their informed opinions) like I might w/ rock. Other instruments w/ reeds & strings are not content merely to accompany the piano in these, as with several of what follows on this list, but rather stake out their own sonic spaces for highlights and flourishes. All but one of the five tracks is 6-10 minutes long, so one can really strap in and let the sounds creep up and attack from all directions. The title of the remarkable second piece, “Las mariposas bailan…en la nada,” is perfect (as is the album cover photo) for the interplay between high pitched flittering and then strings in the ominous low register and would be my pick for those who want to toe the waters before diving in. “‘M’inspiration” is a slow burn for strings. The label this was on was purged and now has no titles, so good luck finding it somewhere else. Let it be a further lesson not to delay eMusic purchases if you find something you like. They do have a YouTube channel that may have most or all of this album https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCchUsLDOq4sIWEmxDeHcIQ/featured

    2. “Steel, Wood, & Air” - Derek Hunter Wilson (2019). This one is actually labeled “Classical” by iTunes, unlike most on here, but its piano-string duet on the opening “Different Opinions” seems a little too aggressive and pop-structured to be so called. By midway it goes unexpectedly quiet while adding a reed instrument, suggesting that this will be an album deserving close attention. The piano is pretty clearly in the lead on these, but the string accompaniments soften the songs overall very nicely. The numbered titular exercises are actually varied in instrumentation & mood, with #3 calming solo piano on the order of electronic ambient tracks, #4 a duet w/ reeds that has more tension, and the briefest #1 is rather abstract tinkling of keys & strings before taking a dramatic turn that’s curtailed before really going anywhere. Numerical gaps that suggest #2,5,&6 didn’t meet his exacting standards for album inclusion (I doubt there’s a deluxe edition w/ them out there). The other tracks don’t diverge significantly from the winning formula. https://derekhunterwilson.bandcamp.com/album/steel-wood-air

    3. “Honeysuckle Burials” - Ann Margaret Hogan (2020). When first categorizing this fine album for inclusion in a list, I thought there were electronic elements, but in fact on listening again it’s solo piano. There’s no shortage of solo piano work out there that’s either experimental beyond general accessibility or tritely produced easy listening on what sounds like a low-grade electric piano or the piano setting on an old synthesizer. The title “HB” sure sounds like it could be new age fluff, an overt tribute to the recently deceased Harold Budd, or a combination of both. Instead, from the opening track, this are very deliberate compositions that find the best of all worlds, calming and melodic without ever being boring or saccharine. And the run-times for most of them are significant, mostly 4-6 minutes, so these are a lot more than ditties. The keys are pressed rather hard, there are sometimes pauses to let the previous notes sink in, and the tempo is always on the slow side. Mainly, the songs consist of chords following single notes or occasionally played over one another while keeping a somber mood. I’d say “Crime City” is closer to pop, while “Timeshift” is the most experimental, and given the constraints mentioned so far the range of styles is impressive. While I wish she might have added other instruments like DHW above or chosen a track or two to invite an indie superstar vocalist like Todor Kobakov did on 2009’s “Pop Music,” this is overall somewhat comparable (less busily complex & virtuoso) and hardly less dramatically enjoyable. https://annihogan.bandcamp.com/album/honeysuckle-burials

    4. “Elpmas Revisited” - Ensemble O (2019). The French label Ici d’ailleurs is one of my favorites remaining for consistently surprising me with titles like this one by groups I’ve never heard of in genres I tend to neglect or unique takes on the usual rock and electronica I enjoy most. This album starts off with marimbas/vibraphone/xylophone (the subtle differences between those are lost on me), and on sampling I thought it might all be instrumentals like that. Several tracks do contain choral vocals, somewhat disappointingly in English on the second string number with added sound effects, but generally used for dramatic effect to lend a bit more heft and urgency to the compositions. The third one, horse suite, initially adds a quasi-dance beat at a galloping pace. Taking a Japanese turn in the heart of the album is quite unexpected and welcome, while only the impervious drone of the closing track seems out of place. If you’re a percussion fan or otherwise looking for something serious and out of left field but still accessible, this is highly recommended. The description of the composer is well worth reading on Bandcamp https://elpmas.bandcamp.com/releases

    5. “De Rerum Natura” - Max Khachmanukian (2020). The ten-minute opening song may as well be from Koyannisqatsi, with looping organs and an atmosphere that combines technical marvel and slight dread. If that weren’t enough, it also adds a female opera singer for extra drama, and I have mixed feelings about the sudden intrusion of the almost robotic spoken words before the four-minute mark. In fact, I usually have to check to make sure one of my browser tabs isn’t reading something when it starts or returns intermittently. The remaining nine songs are all much shorter pieces between 2-4 minutes in a similar live-looping style but with entirely different instrumentation, starting with reeds on “Opening.” Appropriately for the titles, both the tempo and intensity are lowered by the middle of the album, and it becomes almost relaxing with more long notes on brass instruments. “Humility” lets solemn flutes convey the title effectively, while organs return for “Noel” & the closing “I Was Glad.” In rock or pop music, we might call this close imitation of Glass derivative and dismiss it as not worth our time or artistic consideration for lack of innovation, but for all I know this is an entire subgenre with light years of difference between its assumed progenitor and contemporary followers. https://maxkn.bandcamp.com/album/de-rerum-natura-saxophone-quartet

    6. “No Vento” - Zoar (2016). Two heavy duty work boots hanging by their laces on the cover give no clue that this will be chamber music. I hear mainly but not exclusively reeds, woodwinds, and brass on these 17 tracks over the course of nearly an hour, and they’re all rather calm, making this an ideal, non-intrusive soundtrack to a book. I could definitely also imagine it as the soundtrack to an old, hand-drawn, feature-length cartoon. A rather pricey acquisition, but serious music ought not come cheaply. The songs are mostly light and airy while not generally offering themselves up to showcase solo virtuosity, occasionally sounding medieval, though not in a simplistic, folk-dancey way. After playing the whole thing from start to finish, I find that a quite serene mood prevails in the room, though different from that which results from an electronic ambient album.

    7. “Relic” - Balladeste (2017). This is a lovely string affair for purists with both calming and rousing compositions, mainly two to 3.5 minutes long and a pair over six minutes right in the middle of the album that take a break from the jerkiness. I guess it falls on the more minimalist, repetitive side in the vein of Glass, but there’s usually a pretty clear progression even to the shorter songs. A traditional cover opens the last third, with a swirling violin and high notes over a low bed of bass on the last two tracks, respectively. I can’t imagine what it would take for anyone to pay attention to this kind of music commercially, or to be “a hit,” but I’ll sure take it over easy listening and most old classical music most of the time. Most sound like duets, but you can check the lineup. https://balladeste.bandcamp.com/album/relic

    8. “Wohin?” - Helium Vola (2013). Operatic vocals are the only real claim to new classical for this unique synth-pop group. They’ve got a 99-cent release for one to sample with less commitment also, but this two-disc set is more like a cannonball into the deep end for its nearly two-hour run time. I’d liken them a bit to what would happen if Lacrimosa went electronic. The two most memorable songs for me are both on disc 2 and are basically pop songs with choruses, “Excalibur” & “Panzer Hymnus”. The latter might also be comparable to the bombastic 21st century material of Sparks. On sampling, I rather expected it all to be too far in that direction to enjoy, but that level of intensity is rather unsustainable. If you like your music to roll in like a thunderstorm and are interested in pop-opera crossovers with both female and male vocals, HV would be my top recommendation.

    9. “Tradiciones y Variantes (Bassoon)” - Pedro Fainguersch & Ezequiel Fainguersch (2014). Here’s a highly substantial Latin bassoon showcase featuring not one but TWO Fainguersches for your listening pleasure. It hasn’t exactly dominated my most-played albums list, and the novelty of bassoon tangoes might not entrance the average music consumer for the full hour, but by Jorge that’s their loss. The Fainguersch’s bassoon lends itself readily to mellow if not dour mood pieces, leavened considerably by its recurring pairing with an accordion, not a combination I ever thought I’d hear. Fully instrumental except for the finale and perhaps suitable for reading music. Not a cheap album at $6.49, the experiences of coughing up all that credit and listening from start to finish may require double steeling. That said, I have never heard its equal, except perhaps from Zoar earlier on this list or Tuple later on.

    10. “El Viaje de Stefálita” - Nod Ensemble (2016). This quizzically named and apparently Latin group has a decidedly mixed selection on eMusic. This album is far preferable over the previous “Fonomoria,” which just in sampling sounded all but unlistenable. The first track here is a rather plodding piano & electric guitar duet in which the keys are hammered much harder than the delicate, deliberately sloppy sounds of the usually louder instrument. Bells take the spotlight on the slightly longer, calming and more pleasant “Ferdith,” my favorite on the album, again with a very quiet electric guitar. The shortest, “P.3.A.” goes back to a very deliberate piano. At over twelve minutes, the title track duet between violin and electric guitar loosens the reigns a bit, for better and worse. It switches to piano, becoming gradually slower and more somber. Incidentally, it works great to jam along to on a Nagoya Harp. The whole album has a light, homemade feel to it, I’d guess somewhere between composition and improvisation. The $2.99 price tag will disappoint those used to getting this sort of thing for 99 cents, but I think it’s still a fine bargain.

    11. “Darker Things” - Tuple (2019). Bassoon loops circle and swirl on the opener, and that in and of itself will make or break this album for most listeners. These five tracks on the longer side seem a little constrained for my liking, but it’s still well worth playing for a serious change of pace in the vein of Philip Glass without actually being Glass or just something stark and unyielding. I look forward to a mountain of comments on dueling bassoon albums that do better than this. https://tuple.bandcamp.com/album/darker-things

    Bandcamp Only: “The Lost Theremin Album” - Clara Rockmore (2021 but actually quite old). Theremin fans can be a fairly obsessive bunch. I myself appreciate the novelty in classical/chamber music but don’t faint upon hearing the oscillations. This, presumably her other works, and much else are well worth picking up when the Mississippi Records label goes NYP occasionally. Or if just have too much money, don’t wait. https://mississippirecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-lost-theremin-album

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMuReddit.html
    & by genre https://www.emusers.net/forum/discussion/comment/94512/#Comment_94512 Recent, random posts suggest it is time to include a reminder: eMusic is a website for buying & downloading mp3s. It is www.emusic.com
  • edited February 16
    Thanks for the list and the interesting, droll, and very useful commentary. Sampled several and am lingering over the Tuple release (what's not to like about bassoon loops? :-)).
  • Thanks for this, bassoons are my thing, at the moment just moving into a house so proper listening is scarce.
  • It was high (low?) time bassoon fans got a chance to declare themselves.
  • Lots to dive into here; thanks for the inspiration @omnifoo
    Also I love me some bassoon!
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