The Best Of This Year’s New Albums Come From Across The Musical Universe

Courtesy: InsideOut Music

And then there was one.  That’s right, Phil’s Picks is finally down to the last of its annual music ear-ender lists.  The last of this year’s music-related “best of” lists is the proverbial peak of the mountain in the form of the year’s top new albums. 

This year’s list of the top new albums is diverse to say the least.  It features new releases from across the musical universe.  From jazz to world to rock and even some bluegrass, this year’s list represents how much the musical universe produced this year. 

As with every other list from Phil’s Picks, this final music-related list for this year features the Top 10 new releases and five additional honorable mention titles for a total of 15, all of which deserve their own share of applause.  Without any further ado, here for your consideration is this year’s Top 10 New Albums.


  1. Liquid Tension Experiment – 3
  1. Gabor Lesko – Earthway
  1. Devin Townsend – The Puzzle
  1. Doug MacDonald Trio – Toluca Lake Jazz
  1. Allison Russell – Outside Child
  1. Walking Papers – Light Below
  1. Dobet Gnahore – Coleur
  1. Brasuka – Life With Passion
  1. Peter Welker — Sidemen
  1. Nik Bartsch – Entendre
  1. Madre Vaca – The Elements
  1. Billy F. Gibbons – Hardware
  1. Marc Ribler – The Whole World Awaits You
  1. Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems – Still Dirty
  1. Gordie “Crazylegs” MacKeeman – Folk For Little Folk Volume 1

That’s it for this year’s music lists, but it’s not the end for this year’s “best of” lists.  From here, the attention turns to the best of this year’s new TV and movie offerings, beginning with the year’s top new documentaries.  Stay tuned!

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Nik Bartsch’s Less Is More Approach To His New Album Makes It One Of 2021’s Biggest, Best Musical Surprises

Courtesy: ECM Records GmbH

Pianist/composer Nik Bartsch released early this year what is unquestionably one of the most unique albums to come along so far this year.  The album in question is the six-song presentation, Entendre.  Running approximately 53 minutes, the album stands out so much in large part because of its featured arrangements and performances thereof.  This aspect will be discussed shortly.  The album’s production is crucial to its presentation because of the arrangements and performances.  This will be addressed a little later.  The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements.  It brings everything together and completes the album’s presentation and will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album’s presentation.  All things considered, they make this unique musical presentation also one of the year’s best new overall albums.

Nik Bartsch’s recently released album Entendre is one of the biggest musical surprises of 2021.  The record’s unsuspected success comes in large part through its featured arrangements and the performances thereof.  The arrangements in question are all original compositions.  It should be noted that the songs’ run times and their overall run time make it a record that is not for those with short attention spans.  The shortest of the record’s songs is its closer.  It comes in at five minutes, 15 seconds.  The longest of its songs is, fittingly, its midpoint, ‘Modul 26,’ which clocks in at more than 13 minutes.  Now those who are willing to actively engage themselves in the record, considering the extensive run times, will find plenty to appreciate in the sound and stylistic approach that Bartsch takes to each composition.  They combine influences of minimalism, modern classical, and chamber music to make their whole.  Even with that in mind, the arrangements featured here are nothing like anything else along those lines even today.  Case in point is the arrangement featured in ‘Modul-5.’  The song runs just over 10 minutes (10 minutes, six seconds to be exact).  The majority of that time is spent with Bartsch hammering on just one key on the keyboard in a very controlled percussive fashion.  It is easy to feel like it becomes monotonous very quickly, but understanding the control that Bartsch presents as he pays such close attention to the dynamics even here ensures listeners’ engagement.  There is even clear spacing along the way to make sure listeners do not want to eventually just fast forward through it.  It ensures listeners know that Bartsch is building to something, and he does just that as he starts bringing in other notes as the song progresses.  The sense of mystery and elusiveness that Bartsch builds here is intense.  That is, again, because of his control and the way in which he builds everything here.  The minimalist aspect comes in as audiences understand how little he is really doing yet making it sound like so much.  The whole is just such a surprisingly engaging composition and just one example of what makes the record’s musical content stand out.  ‘Modul 55’ is another example of what makes the album’s musical content and performances so pivotal to its presentation.

‘Modul 55’ is a soft, subdued work.  It is yet another composition that exemplifies Bartsch’s use of the less is more approach here.  The gentle chords that serve as the composition’s base and the equally subtle harmonies make this song so rich in their simplicity.  What’s more Bartsch’s performance, what with his dynamic and tempo control, and even spacing, enhances the arrangement even more.  Even more interesting is that it sounds, at times, like Bartsch reaches into the piano and actually uses the strings connected to the keys and uses them as instruments in their own right, adding even more dynamic change to the song.  The whole, at times, will leave some listeners making comparisons to some of the more subtle piano arrangements composed by Trent Reznor.  That includes not only his work as the head of Nine Inch Nails, but also on so many other projects.  Even in comparison to works from Reznor, it is still its own unique work that continues to show the importance of this record’s musical arrangements. 

‘Modul 33’ is one more example of what makes this record’s musical content and its performances so important.  This active composition finds Bartsch making his way all over the keyboard, but he does so in another controlled fashion.  The energy in the chord progressions leads at least this critic to think of the busy nature of people making their way back and forth on a major metro region’s streets.  Overhead, the skies are turning dark with clouds as people scurry to and from their destinations.  The way in which Bartsch controls all of the dynamics throughout and even the notes themselves makes the song so powerful and engaging just as much as the album’s other songs noted and not.  When this song is considered along with the others examined here and those not noted – speaking of which – the whole leaves no doubt that the songs and performances featured in this album are important to the album’s presentation.  For all that the songs and their performances do for the album’s presentation, they are collectively just one part of what makes the album so powerful.  The production of the songs builds on the foundation formed by the record’s compositions and their performances.

This record’s production is just as crucial to its presentation as its content.  That is because of the subdued nature of the compositions and their performances.  Those behind the boards had to make extra certain that every single note, every phrase was balanced with the others within each composition.  If that focus was not there, then the emotional presentation and impact would not be there.  To that end, the richness in each song and performance and the fully immersive result of that richness shows the painstaking levels to which those behind the glass went to make sure each song.  It serves so well to show that true musicians are the ones who can play slow and with control, not just those who can play fast and loud.    When this aspect and the album’s content are considered together, the result is a presentation that is even more certain in its success.  Even with this in mind, there is still one more item to examine.  That item is the album’s sequencing.

The sequencing of this album is so important because it brings everything full circle.  The sequencing takes into full account, the record’s production, content, and performances.  Even with each song being so subdued in nature (and really especially with that in mind), the sequencing does its own part to keep listeners engaged and entertained.   The sequencing gradually pulls the record’s energy back as the album progresses.  Also, a close listen reveals a certain sort of circuitous nature to the overall composition.  That is evident in comparison ‘Modul 58_12’ to ‘Modul 5.’  There is clearly a repeating of style and sound between the two songs, with different works in between.  So, again here is a clearly thought out plan with the sequencing.  Keeping this in mind, the sequencing clearly paid off here just as much as the album’s production and its content.  When all three items are considered together, the whole makes Entendre a fully unique presentation that proves to be among the best of this year’s new albums overall.

Nik Bartsch’s new album, Entendre is a unique presentation that while not an easy listen, is a work that is well worth hearing.  That is proven in part through its featured songs and their performances.  The arrangements featured in this record are the very epitome of the adage that less is more.  Bartsch manages to make each arrangement here so rich and immersive because of how he composed and performed each work.  The production of that overall content adds even more appeal to the record.  That is because it brings out the best of each arrangement and performance in terms of dynamic control, sound balance, etc.  The record’s sequencing rounds out the most important of the album’s elements, bringing everything full circle.  It takes the production, performances, and content all into one whole to make sure audiences remain engaged from one song to the next.  When it is considered along with everything else noted here, the whole makes the album one of the most unique and best of this year’s new overall albums.  Entendre is available now.  More information on Entendre is available along with all of Nik Bartsch’s latest news at:



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