TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 2020

music

David Grubbs

David Grubbs is a Brooklyn-based musician and writer. His most recent book is The Voice in the Headphones (Duke University Press, 2020). His album with The Underflow, Instant Opaque Evening (Blue Chopsticks), is forthcoming.

 Okkyung Lee performing at Ear We Are Festival, Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, February 9, 2013. Photo: Olaf Veit.

1
OKKYUNG LEE, YEO-NEUN (Shelter Press)

I spent much of the year grateful for the steady stream of new music, but daily dread made it difficult to connect with much of it. Yeo-Neun is the rare album that drew me close in any setting, and in a season of indecision, Lee’s compositions for cello, piano, bass, and harp rewarded every listen.

2
SPEAKER MUSIC, BLACK NATIONALIST SONIC WEAPONRY (Planet Mu)

This record arrived with up-to-the-minute timeliness after the killing of George Floyd, when protests were growing by the day—talk about the soundtrack of a moment. Tensely coiled, skitteringly propulsive, gloriously inventive.

3
SILVIA TAROZZI, MI SPECCHIO E RIFLETTO (Unseen Worlds)

Love at first spin. The lightness of these songs places them at a tangent from much of the music I pummeled myself with this year, their shape and curious brevity testament to the invisible scaffolding of Alda Merini’s poetry.

4
DEREK BARON, CURTAIN (Recital) and FOURTEEN LATCHES OF HEAVEN AND EARTH (Takuroku)

Collages of varyingly informal recordings of Baron’s chamber compositions with forays into classical repertoire, including a chill choral rehearsal and a reading of Bach’s “Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir.” I would love this for no other reason than that it proves I haven’t been the only person struggling through Baroque pieces to maintain sanity.

5
SARAH HENNIES, THE REINVENTION OF ROMANCE (Astral Spirits)

Hennies has been on such a roll that this year’s interruption of live performances seems especially cruel. How does this long piece for cello and percussion arrive at something as simple as one instrument doing its damnedest to blend with the resonance of its partner? Don’t make me anthropomorphize these sounds! That’s what titles are for.

6
EIKO ISHIBASHI, HYAKKI YAGYŌ (Black Truffle)

An engrossing overstep of song form where all of the elements—kaleidoscopic interplay of acoustic and electronic instruments, text recitation—are given reign to pursue unpredictable chains of associations. Beguiling head music.

7
LUIZ HENRIQUE YUDO, CHAMBER WORKS (Another Timbre)

Props to British ensemble Apartment House for its stellar playing and advocacy for lesser-known composers, a prime example being this Brazilian-Dutch autodidact. Yudo translates visual designs into scores, and his first full-length release showcases disparate sound worlds linked by rigorous, obsessive patterning.

8
REINIER VAN HOUDT, CONTRIBUTIONS TO “AMPLIFY 2020: QUARANTINE”

Pianist Van Houdt is known for his performances of pieces by Walter Marchetti and Michael Pisaro, but since March on the twenty-second day of each month he has let fly an essayistic dispatch of homebound preoccupations.

9
IRREVERSIBLE ENTANGLEMENTS, WHO SENT YOU? (International Anthem)

Floored to hear Camae Ayewa take the mic with the command “Stay on it”—that mantra for which we owe Julius Eastman thanks. Paramount among many groups I’d hoped to see live this year.

10
CHARLES CURTIS, PERFORMANCES & RECORDINGS 1998–2018 (Saltern)

The one archival release on this list, a two-decade itinerary with deeply pleasurable performances by Éliane Radigue, Terry Jennings, Alison Knowles, and Curtis himself. Sound recordings will always be my preferred mode of asynchronous learning.