2013 Travelogue: 20 outstanding ambient / soundscape / downtempo albums (Part 1)

This is one of a series of “travelogues”, or year-in-review posts, covering music I especially enjoyed this year.  This entry covers the first ten of twenty outstanding releases in the categories of ambient, soundscape, and downtempo electronic. Note that the albums are not in any kind of ranked order, but are simply listed alphabetically by artist.  

Antonymes – There Can Be No True Beauty Without Decay

Everything about this record is immersed in pristine melancholic beauty – the concept, the music, the artwork, the packaging, everything.  There are 14 sumptuous tracks here, a pair of interpretations for each of seven compositions, one by Ian M Hazeldine himself and one from a stellar roster of guest artists (Ian Hawgood, Isnaj Dui, Offthesky, Field Rotation, Wil Bolton, Spheruleus and James Banbury).  It was a brilliant stroke to weave these guest performances in and among the originals rather than put out a separate “remix” release.  They integrate seamlessly into one beautifully sequenced flowing album of real substance.  This one is not to be missed.

Release: Hibernate Recordings (October 2013)

Favorite tracks: Misshapen Beauty[i], The End of Everything [ii]

Information: http://antonymes.bandcamp.com/album/there-can-be-no-true-beauty-without-decay

Ben Lukas Boysen – Gravity

For the first time after releasing a number of acclaimed albums using the moniker of Hecq, Ben Lukas Boysen delivers an intimate and quietly stunning work under his own name.  Melancholic piano and ambient textures created from analogue sources sustain a elegiac mood punctuated by glacial crescendos that reveal deep emotion, particularly on the resplendent title track.  A sublime and moving piece of work.

Release: Ad Noiseam (June 2013)

Favorite tracks: Only in the Dark, Gravity

Information: http://adnoiseam.bandcamp.com/album/gravity

Elskavon – Release

Elskavon is the ambient project of Chris Bartels who has several musical irons in the fire, including the indie band Bora York (with his wife Rebekah) and a more experimental electronic venture called Vitamin June.  Of all these, it seems Elskavon is the most ambitious and fully realized.  Like Elskavon’s debut, ‘Movements in Season’, ‘Release’ is a serene and lovely record catering to a very pure ambient aesthetic, although this time Bartels stretches a little more into drone territory in keeping with the wintry tone he intended to create.  Piano and synthesizer based pieces are interwoven to create enough sonic variety to prevent the album from lapsing into blandness, and yet it maintains an appealing calmness throughout.  A spring oriented follow up album is expected early next year.

Release: Anthem Falls (December 2013)

Favorite tracks: Njóta Dagsins, These Letters Are Only for You

Information: http://elskavon.bandcamp.com/album/release

Ex Confusion – With Love

The third album of Atsuhito Omori’s music as Ex Confusion is a tranquil and dreamy excursion with a romantic heart.  It is the musical equivalent of a wistful reverie or a stroll in a secluded garden.  The mood is ambient, but the tones are warm and nostalgic in this mix of ethereal drones, piano, and acoustic guitar. Quite a lovely record.

Release: n5MD (July 2013)

Favorite tracks: Two Things, As We Are

Information: http://n5md.bandcamp.com/album/with-love

Futuresequence – Sequence 7 (compilation)

For the most part I am disinclined to include compilation albums beside albums created by a single artist, but I am still mining all the musical gems out of this stunning collection of original tracks curated by music magazine and label, Futuresequence and I think I would be remiss to exclude it.  It is comprised of 30 tracks selected from over 200 submissions, each one showcasing the craft of a different artist. Among just a few of the highlights are the surprisingly emotional opener ‘Kawa’ by Monadh, a delightful elaboration on the tintinnabuli method of Arvo Part by Guy Birkin, and the towering distortion driven ‘Arkhangelsk’ by Threethings.  Follow the link below to see a profile of each artist and their submission and obtain a free download. This is nothing less than found treasure for anyone who follows ambient or experimental music.

Release: Future Sequence (November 2013)

Favorite tracks: Kawa, Tintinnabuli Mathematica 12d, Arkhangelsk

Information: http://www.futuresequence.com/sequence7

Marconi Union /Jah Wobble – Anomic

A collaboration as brilliant as it was unexpected, ‘Anomic’ sees the ambient artisans Marconi Union and bass playing legend Jah Wobble joining creative forces.  The result is a sophisticated collection of moody downtempo electronica that is utterly mesmerizing.  Ambient textures, liquid synths, and atmospheric guitars swirl around charismatic bass lines and inventive percussion – a very cool record.

Release: 30 Hertz Records (June 2013)

Favorite track: Reality Crash, Times of Despair

Information: http://www.30hertzrecords.com/stores/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=37

Lights Dim / Gallery Six – Between Spaces

‘Between Spaces’ is a full length album that culminates a period of collaboration between Lights Dim (Marek Kamiński) and Gallery Six (Hidekazu Imashige).  It is comprised of the material from two EPs (‘Moon’ and ‘Young City’) plus two previously unreleased tracks.  It all works together beautifully, however, as one cohesive LP.  It superimposes introspective piano and guitar melodies over an ambient undercurrent to create a very inviting listening experience.  Although I liked it very much on the first listen, it has grown to become one of my favorite releases of the year, much like one’s favorite cup of tea at the end of an evening.

Release: Nature Bliss (September 2013)

Favorite tracks: Echoes of the Ongoing Riot, We Could Finally Rest

Information: http://lightsdim.bandcamp.com/album/between-spaces

Miktek – Elsewhere

The distinctive graphic motifs of an album on the Ultimae Record label come with justifiably high expectations of premium quality electronic music, and this debut by Greek artist Mihalis Aikaterinis on the label as Miktek does not fall short.  ‘Elsewhere’ is aptly described as a cinematic downtempo, IDM and ambient album.  It is a fine work of sonic craftsmanship expertly balancing rhythm, melody, and subtle nuances to make for a rewarding musical journey.

Release: Ultimae Records (May 2013)

Favorite tracks:  False Dawn, Magnificent Desolation

Information: http://ultimae.bandcamp.com/album/elsewhere

Ocoeur – Light as a Feather

‘Light as a Feather’ is the sophomore album for Ocoeur (French electronic musician Franck Zaragoza).  He says of the album: “My concept for Light As a Feather was to conjure up memories and feelings from the insouciant dreams of youth”.  Indeed, though there is a touch of nostalgia and melancholy in the simple melodies, the album evokes a playful feeling through a seemingly endless variety of grooves, glitches, tones, and effects.  This combination of gravitas and whimsy make for a unique combination and a very enjoyable, fresh sounding record.

Release: n5MD (May 2013)

Favorite tracks: Resonance, Astral Projection

Information: http://n5md.bandcamp.com/album/light-as-a-feather

Off Land – Tidewater Pulse

With ‘Tidewater Pulse’, New England artist and musician Tim Dwyer delivers his first full length album under the moniker of Off Land. The album is a collection of minimalist ambient soundscapes ornamented with delicate textures and field recordings to create a very meditative mood.  As such, it is very unobtrusive and yet, in a subtle way, it is very lavishly textured. The sonic colors are icy cool and the wintry tone is strongly suggested by track titles such as ‘Drift Ice’ and ‘Permafrost’.  Alternately tranquil and haunting, this is a beautiful album crafted patiently and will reveal many rewards and nuances to the listener who gives it their full attention.

Release: Psychonavigation Records (June 2013)

Favorite tracks:  Before, Drift Ice

Information: http://psychonavigation.bandcamp.com/album/off-land-tidewater-pulse

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