Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2018

Cheers to another year of new and experimental music on Second Inversion! Our hosts celebrate with a list of our Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year. From a quiet ocean of percussion to the shimmering orchestras of Iceland and the bold harmonies of Beijing, our list celebrates musical innovation within and far beyond the classical genre.

Michael Gordon: The Unchanging Sea
Released Aug. 2018 on Cantaloupe Music

It’s easy to get lost in the haunting majesty of Michael Gordon’s The Unchanging Sea, the sheer force of its rolling waves echoing across the piano in the hands of Tomoko Mukaiyama with the Seattle Symphony. Gordon’s ocean of sound swells to overwhelming proportions, each wave cresting higher and higher, surging and submerging you in its growling depths. Though originally conceived with an accompanying film by Bill Morrison—a gritty collage assembled from deteriorating film reels and historic footage of Puget Sound—the piece’s sonic imagery is equally vivid on its own.

It’s paired on this album with Gordon’s shimmering Beijing Harmony, a work inspired by Echo Wall at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where sounds reverberate from one side of the structure to the other. In performance, the wind and brass players are spread out across the stage—and when you listen with headphones, the music echoes from left to right and back again, all around and through you. – Maggie Molloy


Ken Thomson: Sextet
Released Sept. 2018 on New Focus

Clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer Ken Thomson is known primarily for his work with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. But as it turns out, he’s been living a sort of musical double life as a jazz musician for, basically, ever, much like Ron Swanson as Duke Silver. Unlike Swanson, Thomson has decided to let his alter ego run free. I hear strains of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in Thomson’s Phantom Vibration Syndrome, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out in the time signatures, maybe even a little Charlie Parker when the improvisation builds to a frenzy. Thomson brings the complex compositional structures—the details of which I will not pretend to understand—of new music and improvisation together on this album in a way that can only be described as fun. – Dacia Clay


Nils Frahm: All Melody
Released Jan. 2018 on Erased Tapes

Nils Frahms’ latest solo album is striking in its simplicity—the compositions distilled down to their most potent melodies. The album features the composer himself on his usual keyboard collection of pianos, synthesizers, and pipe organs—but here expanded to feature an ethereal choir of vocalists along with subtle strings and percussion. The resulting tracks are an ambient mix of minimalism, mid-tempo dance grooves, and broad, synth-laden washes of sound. Though each song is expertly crafted in iridescent detail, the individual pieces also fit together into a larger whole, the album unified in its wistful harmonies and muted colors. Understated but immersive, it reminds us of the simple pleasure and the intimate perfection of a good melody. – Maggie Molloy


The Hands Free: Self-Titled Debut
Released May 2018 on New Amsterdam

Over the course of the past decade, the four composer-performers who make up the Hands Free have performed together in a variety of contexts. They found that what they loved doing the most was holding informal late-night jam sessions—which is what led to the quartet’s inception. Comprised of violin, accordion, bass, and guitar (plus the occasional banjo), the ensemble likes to perform unamplified, sit in a circle, and integrate a mix of genres ranging from folk music to jazz and improvisation. Their resulting debut album features a beautifully eclectic mix of sounds that depict an immense variety of places and emotions—all while maintaining the warmth and spontaneity of an impromptu jam session.  Gabriela Tedeschi


Anna Thorvaldsdottir: AEQUA
Released Nov. 2018 on Sono Luminus

Anna Thorvaldsdottir finds inspiration in nature—her music is its own ecosystem, the nuanced textures shared, traded, and transformed among individual instruments over the course of her works. The delicate balance of nature is at the heart of AEQUA, a collection of chamber works (plus one solo piano piece) performed by musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble. Like the stunning natural landscapes of her native Iceland, Thorvaldsdottir’s compositions echo with the full subtleties of timbre, the music expanding and contracting, breathing and humming and vibrating like the earth. – Maggie Molloy


Éliane Radigue: Œuvres Électroniques
Released Dec. 2018 on INA GRM

This beautifully-produced 14-CD set documents Radigue’s career as the mother of dark ambient music. Laboring humbly and hermetically with an ARP 2500 synthesizer and some tape recorders, Radigue spent the 70s, 80s, and 90s perfecting her brand of dense, slow-changing drone music. The works from that time are often inspired by descriptions of states of consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism, bearing such titles as Death Trilogy or Elimination of Desires. They’re best confronted in darkness, without distractions, allowing the mind and ear to absorb their long timeframe (from 17 minutes to well over an hour) and complex sonorities. – Michael Schell


Third Coast Percussion: Paddle to the Sea
Released Feb. 2018 on Cedille Records

Paddle to the Sea was a book that was made into a movie that was made into a live show and album by Third Coast Percussion. In Holling C. Holling’s original 1941 children’s book, a First Nation boy in Ontario carves a wooden canoe and on its side, he writes “Please put me back in the water. I am Paddle-to-the-Sea.” He puts the boat into the Great Lakes where it begins its adventure, and the book follows it on its journey. (Spoiler alert: years later, the boat winds up in a newspaper story that ends up in the hands of the boat’s original creator, who is by then a grown man.) The film, which was released in 1969, added a focus on water pollution to the original story.

Third Coast Percussion composed a new score to perform live alongside the film, including existing works by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, plus traditional music from Zimbabwe. Third Coast broadens the focus of the story a little more, asking us to think about our relationship to water and waterways on a grander scale. Their addition to the story doesn’t moralize; it instead draws listeners’ attention to the fact that the water is us—we are Paddle to the Sea. – Dacia Clay


Nordic Affect: He(a)r
Released Oct. 2018 on Sono Luminus

“Hér” is the Icelandic word for here. That idea of being present—of listening, of connecting here and now through music is at the heart of Nordic Affect’s newest album. He(a)r is a collection of seven world premiere recordings penned by women composers and performed by women musicians. Wide-ranging sound worlds from Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Mirjam Tally, and Hildur Guðnadóttir comprise the album, each offering a distinct perspective on the ways in which we hear and create sound—our individual voices and the ways in which they interact. – Maggie Molloy


Invisible Anatomy: Dissections
Released March 2018 on New Amsterdam

Drawing inspiration from the experiments of Leonardo da Vinci, facial polygraphs, and more, Invisible Anatomy’s Dissections uses medical metaphors to explore the risks and joys of opening yourself up to others. The avant-rock ensemble combines the theatricality of performance art with the drama of jazz and classical music, creating haunting songs of danger, intimacy, and dissection.

Fay Wang’s vocals layer and weave into intricate composite melodies and eerie disonances, asking powerful questions about the ways humans interact. With its thought-provoking text and complex, dramatic texture, Dissections is an impressive, hauntingly beautiful debut. Gabriela Tedeschi


My Brightest Diamond: A Million and One
Released Nov. 2018 on Rhyme & Reason Records

Few artists inhabit both pop and classical worlds so freely and convincingly as Shara Nova, the operatically-trained singer and composer behind the art rock band My Brightest Diamond. A Million and One tilts further into electronic and pop worlds than her previous albums, her lustrous voice dancing above synth-laden backdrops and pulsing drumbeats. While the drama and dynamic range of the songs hint at her operatic background, the vulnerability of the lyrics and the sheer danceability of the tracks bring a pop music immediacy to her work. The resulting album is visceral, unconventional, and free—emblematic of the modern day dissolution of genre. – Maggie Molloy

Second Inversion Spooktacular: 48-Hour Spooky Music Marathon

by Maggie Molloy

IT’S BACK FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE… Second Inversion’s annual 48-Hour Spooky Music Marathon!

Let us provide the soundtrack for your Halloween haunts! On October 30 and 31, tune in to Second Inversion for a 48-hour marathon of new and experimental music inspired by monsters, witches, ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.

Click here to tune in to the scream—er, stream of Halloween music from anywhere in the world, or tune in on the go using the free KING FM mobile appTo give you a sneak peek of the spooky music that’s in store, our Second Inversion skeleton crew shares our favorite selections from the Halloween playlist:

Vincent Raikhel: Cirques (New Focus Recordings)
Red Light New Music

As an avid hiker, I couldn’t resist Vincent Raikhel’s Cirques. A reflection of the glacial geological formations so often encountered in the Cascade Mountains, this piece immediately transported me to a faraway corner of the imposing mountain range in Seattle’s backyard. In the context of the Spooky Music Marathon, this piece made me think of the creeping claustrophobia that one might feel in a cirque, especially as the sun sets, as it does so quickly in the mountains. It’s curious, how something so open to the sky, so large and static, can suddenly feel as if it is closing in on you in the waning light… – Seth Tompkins


Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire (Hungaroton Records)
Erika Sziklay, soprano; 
András Mihály, conductor; Budapest Chamber Ensemble

It just wouldn’t be a Halloween marathon without a spooky clown—and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is nothing if not haunting. A masterpiece of melodrama, the 35-minute work tells the chilling tale of a moonstruck clown and his descent into madness (a powerful metaphor for the modern alienated artist). The spooky story comes alive through three groups of seven poems (a result of Schoenberg’s peculiar obsession with numerology), each one recited using Sprechstimme: an expressionist vocal technique that hovers eerily between song and speech. Combine this with Schoenberg’s free atonality and macabre storytelling, and it’s enough to transport you to into an intoxicating moonlight. – Maggie Molloy


Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury (Innova Recordings)

Likely written as an attempt to reconcile his own anger, Harry Partch’s stage play Delusion of the Fury is (superficially, at least) well-suited to Halloween. Containing killing, a ghost, body horror, futility, and absurdism, this piece not only touches on the more classic campy elements of spookiness, but is oriented around some of the darker elements of horror—existentialism, futility, and powerlessness to name a few. Plus, for my money, few musical things conjure the uneasy feelings associated with horror and dread like microtonal scales. – Seth Tompkins


Bernard Herrmann: Psycho Suite (Stylotone Records)

This piece is so timelessly cool and undeniably scary. Like John Williams’ Star Wars score borrowed the dark side of the Force from the dojo-dominating “Mars, the Bringer of War” in Holst’s The Planets, Herrmann borrows the creepy suspenseful stringiness of Norman Bates from the dancing skeletons in Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre (and maybe from Mussorgsky’s Bald Mountain witches).

I’m a sucker for a good film score. That blend of music and movie can be so powerful. Consider the fact that thousands of people were scared to take a shower after Psycho—and that’s in large part because of Herrmann’s music. I love, too, that Hitchcock gave Herrmann license to do as he pleased with the score—except for the shower scene, for which Hitchcock asked Herrmann to write no music. Herrmann nodded and smiled at the director, and then did as he pleased instead. Thanks to Herrmann’s creative insubordination, we have one of the most iconic, cover-your-eyes scenes in film history. – Dacia Clay

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, September 28 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Richard Reed Parry: For Heart, Breath and Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon)
Christopher Cerrone: How to Breathe Underwater

I have to admit: this Staff Pick was a tough choice for me. It was a toss-up between Richard Reed Parry’s For Heart, Breath and Orchestra, and Christopher Cerrone’s How to Breathe Underwater. In one corner, a piece by a guy from one of my favorite bands, wherein he had musicians and the conductor listen to their own heartbeats through stethoscopes and asked them to play along as closely as possible to their own heartbeats—a beautiful existential notion and a beautiful thing to listen to.

In the other corner, a piece that’s kind of about depression, which is based on a Jonathan Franzen character from the book Freedom, of whom Franzen said, “[she] was all depth and no breadth. When she was coloring, she got lost in saturating one or two areas with a felt-tip pen.” If you are not weeping by the end of that sentence and by the end of this heartbreakingly hopeful piece, check your pulse, man. Ultimately, I loved them both so much that I had to just close my eyes and pick one. But…oops! I wrote about both of them. Now you’ll never know which one I picked! – Dacia Clay

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11am hour today to hear these pieces.


Michael Gordon: Beijing Harmony (Cantaloupe Music)
Seattle Symphony; Pablo Rus Broseta, conductor

“Every city produces its own set of harmonies,” Michael Gordon writes in his program note for this piece. In Beijing Harmony, those chords are dazzling and majestic, shimmering magnificently across the orchestra. The piece was inspired in part by Echo Wall, a part of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing where sounds echo from one side of the structure to the other. In performance, the wind and brass players are spread out across the stage—and when you listen with headphones, the music echoes from left to right and back again, all around and through you. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.


Pauline Oliveros: Lear (New Albion)
Deep Listening Band

Way out on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, nestled amid the sprawling and historic Fort Worden State Park, is a massive cistern, nearly 200 feet in diameter and over 14 feet deep. There’s nothing that quite compares to the immersive 45-second reverberation that echoes across this cistern—which is what made it the perfect location for Pauline Oliveros and her Deep Listening Band to record their self-titled album. Accordion, trombone, didjeridu, keyboards, and electronics somehow merge into one cohesive, meditative soundscape that lulls you straight into sonic hypnosis.
– Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, September 7 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Dawn of Midi: “Ymir” (Thirsty Ear)

This is one of my new favorite things. As literally every reviewer ever has noted, the ensemble Dawn of Midi is comprised of the same arrangement as any traditional jazz trio (drum kit, grand piano, and upright bass), but the way they use their instruments is more in line with the connotations of the ensemble’s name. This music sounds closer to Tycho, “15 Step” by Radiohead, or the minimal aspects of Aphex Twin than it does to any jazz you’ve ever heard. It’s a tight, taught, surely-not-made-by humans kind of sound, with rhythms set in cool, precise geometric shapes for your ears. And it kinda makes me want to dance. Or at least to try to. – Dacia Clay

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Meredith Monk: Dolmen Music (ECM Records)
Meredith Monk, Julius Eastman, Andrea Goodman, Robert Een, Monica Solem, & Paul Langland, voices

Meredith Monk has secured a place in history as one of the most singular voices of the 20th and 21st centuries. For nearly six decades, she has redefined and revolutionized contemporary vocal music and performance, seamlessly weaving in elements of theatre and dance to create visceral musical experiences that transcend the confines of the classical tradition.

Her 20-minute masterwork Dolmen Music is an iconic example of her ability to merge ancient and modern musical ideas. In this piece, abstract vocalizations, primal rhythms, hypnotic dances, and ritualistic soundscapes come together in an intimate embrace of the human experience. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Caroline Shaw: “Really Craft When You” (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

Caroline Shaw’s “Really Craft When You” is best described as a sonic quilt. It’s a chamber piece that stitches together vibrantly textured patches of chamber music with recorded interviews of quilters from North Carolina and Virginia in the 1970s. The result is a cheeky and heartfelt patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares expertly colored by the Bang on a Can All-Stars—and as it turns out, the quilters offer some pretty good musical advice too. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist.  Tune in on Friday, June 15 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Andy Akiho: Vick(i/y) (New Amsterdam)
Vicky Chow, piano

Andy Akiho is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting movers and shakers in the contemporary music world, and his piece for prepared piano Vick(i/y) is one of my favorites. The piece doesn’t limit itself to the usual prepared sounds of clanging and crashing and twanging, but uses normal piano sound as a sort of through-line to tell its story. Andy says that this alternation of prepared sounds and conventional sounds represents a “consistent, yet fading image of a forgotten dream.” Andy is a percussionist, and it’s the percussive sounds of Vick(i/y) that define the piece. There is also a really cool music video that transports the piano into natural locations, and features an Andy Akiho cameo. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to  Second Inversion in the 11am hour today to hear this piece.


John Cage and Sun Ra: Empty Words and Keyboard (Modern Harmonic)
John Cage, voice; Sun Ra, synthesizer

A near-mythic musical encounter happened on Coney Island in the summer of 1986. Two of the 20th century’s most iconoclastic musical philosophers, John Cage and Sun Ra, came together for a concert. For one night only, two artists from opposite ends of the avant-garde shared the same stage.

That fateful day has been immortalized on a record that is best listened to from front to back, as the two artists tend to trade off soloing. Empty Words and Keyboard offers a rare exception: Cage’s sparse, wordless vocal improvisations are echoed by Sun Ra’s even sparser synth accompaniment, the two intertwining in a delicate meditation on sound, silence, and the music in between. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to  Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Nico Muhly: Comfortable Cruising Altitude (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

As many people look toward a summer filled with long-distance travel, it’s nice to know that even the experience of riding inside the cabin of a commercial airliner has been used as fuel for new music.  Nico Muhly’s Comfortable Cruising Altitude opens with a field recording taken from inside an airliner cabin.  The piece explores the many layers that make up a typical airline trip, including complex contemplative feelings, the anxiety of waiting, and even a crying child.  This work encapsulates the commercial air travel experience with striking poignancy, especially given its relatively short duration.
– 
Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Matt Marks: “I Don’t Have Any Fun” (New Amsterdam)
Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes

Matt Marks called the album that this song is from (The Little Death: Vol. 1) his “post-Christian nihilist opera.” This almost spastically poppy track is poking fun at a mutually destructive relationship dynamic. In this case, a guy is placing a woman on a ridiculously high pedestal, telling her that he doesn’t have any fun on his own, that he needs her, and in his final appeal, that she is like a god to him. The more he entreats her, the meaner she gets, and the meaner she gets, the more desperate his attempts become.

Marks captures the nuances of this variety of romantic behavior so well, so hilariously, and so succinctly, you might even think he was That Guy at one point in his life—that maybe he was making fun of his own emotional tendencies. Or maybe he was illuminating how in a post-Christian nihilist world, God is sometimes replaced with other gods in the human race’s ongoing quest to annihilate the Self. Matt Marks died this past month, and people close to him describe him as being both really serious and really funny. This song is that exactly. – Dacia Clay

Tune in to  Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.