ICYMI: Jon Hassell released his first album in 9 years in 2018
So much music comes out all year, and even with our daily new song roundups; weekly Notable Releases, Indie Basement, and Upcoming Metal Releases columns; and monthly playlist of songs we like, we still miss stuff. Now that we’re in the final month of 2018 and looking back on all the music that came out this year, we’ll be publishing a post every weekday in December that catches up on some music released this year that we feel we didn’t shine enough of a light on, or didn’t discuss at all. The music we’ll be highlighting wasn’t necessarily “overlooked” in any broader sense of the word, just cool stuff worth catching up on in case you missed it.
Trumpeter and ambient composer Jon Hassell is a legend who, in some circles, needs no introduction. And even if he isn’t a household name in your household, some of the music he had a hand in might be. He played trumpet on Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, as well as albums by Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, and others, and he released the collaborative album Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics with Brian Eno in 1980. It was on that album that Hassell coined the term “fourth world music,” which he describes as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques,” and which has gone on to be very influential. He’s been sampled by modern artists like Oneohtrix Point Never and Arca, cited as an influence on recent Destroyer albums, and more.
At 81 years young and over four decades into his career, Hassell returned in 2018 with Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), his first album in nearly a decade and first for his own Warp imprint, Ndeya (it follows 2009’s acclaimed Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street). A lot of artists this far into their career start to coast off past achievements, but not Jon Hassell. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Listening to Pictures was the work of a modern, forward-thinking artist who’s as up to date on technological advances and trends in electronic music as Arca and Oneohtrix Point Never (who also released a much-loved album this year, and an EP last week). It’s ambient but not meditative; it keeps you on your toes from start to finish. And it sounds like the work of an artist who still has more to say.
All these years later, Hassell is still blending ambient music, jazz, minimalism, Eastern sounds, African rhythms, and more. The album has the warmth of organic, human sounds, but the glitchy manipulation of modern electronic ones. And as for the psychedelic album title, Hassell told The Quietus: “Music is the only one of the arts that comes exclusively through the ears. That was the point of that little essay I put in the press release, to talk about these invisible worlds. Feeling inside the sound.” He elaborated, “Most of the world is listening to music in terms of forward flow – based on where the music is ‘going’ and ‘what comes NEXT.’ But there’s another angle: vertical listening is about listening to ‘what’s happening NOW’ – letting your inner ears scan up and down the sonic spectrum, asking what kind of ‘shapes’ you’re seeing, then noticing how that picture morphs as the music moves through time.”
If you haven’t already, listen vertically to Jon Hassell’s new album below:
And stay tuned for the next “ICYMI.”