12 Outstanding New Albums by 12 Artists from 12 Countries
These under-the-radar records absolutely deserve your attention
I’m told that some radio deejays prefer to work the graveyard shift—playing records out of a dark and lonely broadcasting station in the middle of the night. Sure, the audience is tiny, but there’s one compensating advantage: you can play whatever you want. The program director is fast asleep.
That’s the radio job I’d want. The world grows quiet at 3 A.M. and those airwaves travel far. I’d pick out all those rule-busting albums I love, and share them with my fellow insomniacs.
If I was working that gig right now, I’d spin the 12 new albums listed below. I might even be the only deejay in town with these under-the-radar records in rotation.
They’re by 12 different artists. From 12 different countries.
I think you might like them too. So let’s have fun while others snooze.
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Adam Semijalac: Ode Dite
I’d buy this album just for the cover, which is a kind of Croatian Crumb-esque crossover. Let other folks showcase sexy models on their records—but an old lady reaching for the hand of death is more my speed. It hints at sounds capable of shaking me out of the most severe dogmatic slumber.
But what, exactly, is this music?
Is it blues? Is it Croatian folk music? Is it slide guitar? (Well, I can answer that last one: no—the instrument here is the 5-string dangubica.) But I won’t try to assign this music to any categories because it operates outside of them. The closest comparison I can make is Blind Willie Johnson—but only if he had moved from Texas to become a bard in Zagreb.
Dhafer Youssef (with Herbie Hancock): Street of Minarets
It’s not every day that a Tunisian oud player gets Herbie Hancock to play on his record. And let’s toss in Vinnie Colaiuta, Marcus Miller, and Dave Holland for good measure. It’s tempting to focus on the jazz superstars here, but Youssef’s singing is wickedly good, with those eerie high notes that remind me of Milton Nascimento. I’m told that Youssef has been working on this record for five years, but this has to be his dream album. Street of Minarets is worth dreaming about. But (if you’ll permit me to continue this late night repartee) definitely don’t sleep on it.
Chinese Football: Win& Lose
Some days I feel l’m losing my faith in the rock covenant, which promises a music eternally young and running over with emotional immediacy. But bands like Chinese Football reawaken my dormant affinities. This almost certainly would make my best of 2023 list, except. . . it came out on the last day of 2022. So Win&Lose loses by a few hours. Ah, don’t let that keep you from hearing this fantastic rock-pop band from Wuhan, China—because it wins on every other metric. The four musicians have stage presence, simpatico voices, and a strong, irresistible groove. I rarely hear rock bands that play with this kind of vital, in-the-pocket rhythmic cohesion. Maybe rock isn’t dying—merely changing its geographic parameters.
Tanya Ekanayaka: 18 Piano Sutras & 25 South Asian Pianisms
The last time I heard music from pianist & composer Tanya Ekanayaka was five long years ago, when I showcased her recording Twelve Piano Prisms on my best of year list. But just when I was about to lose track of a once promising artist, she delivers a remarkable double-album—only her fourth recording since embarking on a performing career in the late 1980s, at just age 12. The new release, entitled 18 Piano Sutras & 25 South Asian Pianisms, ambitiously aims to invigorate the current-day piano repertoire with a sonic palette merging concert hall artistry and the cultural traditions of many non-Western nations, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. But there are no ‘world music’ gimmicks here. This is confident, fully-realized pianism, conceived and performed at the highest level.
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