2018 In Review: Journeys in Ambient, Drone, and Electroacoustic

ambient_mosaic25

This list can never be big enough to include all the beautiful work done in these genres over the course of a year, but here are 25 albums that left a lasting impression. Here you’ll find rich atmospheres, deep emotional undercurrents, and organic, warm, and tactile soundscapes. Among these albums we find as much decomposition as composition, an embrace of stillness and naturally occurring beauty.

Siavash Amini & Umchunga – The Brightest Winter Sun [Flaming Pines]


https://flamingpines.bandcamp.com/album/the-brightest-winter-sun

Siavash Amini appeared on a number of albums this year and many lists will feature his visceral and boldly creative Foras (Hallowed Ground) with good reason, but for anyone nostalgic for the more atmospheric neoclassical leanings of his earlier work, this collaboration with Nima Pourkarimi aka Umchunga will be most welcome. The Brightest Winter Sun deconstructs piano works of the late 18th century and 19th century composers by dissolving their thematic and tonal development into a foggy haze of lugubrious drones infused with palpable melancholy and haunting gravitas.

Released on limited edition cassette & digital 


Anthéne – Divisions [ROHS!]


https://lontanoseries.bandcamp.com/album/divisions

In addition to recording new work under his own name and as part of the duo called North Atlantic Drift, Bradley Sean Alexander Deschamps kept his Anthéne project rolling in hight gear in 2018 with releases across multiple labels. You can’t go wrong with a single one of them, but there does seem to be something extra special about Divisions which was released as part of the Lontano series on ROHS!, a new ambient division of the Berlin based label. Slow moving, beautifully textured, and subtly immersive. 

Released on limited edition cassette (currently sold out) & digital. 


Ashlar Distant Scenes [Whitelabrecs]


https://whitelabrecs.bandcamp.com/album/distant-scenes

Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards began collaborating as Ashlar seven years ago during lazy Saturday afternoons in Liverpool. Now geographically separated, the two have brought the project back to life by replacing those impromptu recording sessions with an asynchronous approach of remote sharing, augmenting, and processing. While this may have been a dramatic alteration in how the project was conducted, the listener will find the languorous beauty and friendly experimentation that characterized their previous work lives on albeit with a new patina burnished with welcome touches of melancholy & nostalgia.

Released on vinyl effect CD-r (currently sold out) & digital 


Taylor Deupree – Fallen [Spekk/12k]


https://12kmusic.bandcamp.com/album/fallen
https://naturebliss.bandcamp.com/album/fallen-kk037

Taylor Deupree has been instrumental in defining & developing the concept of minimalism in the realm of electronic music for over two decades as a musician, label founder, curator, collaborator, and studio master. It is in these latter roles that his name most often appears of late, so when we get a new solo record from him it is quite a treat, especially one as intimate and exquisitely filigreed as Fallen. According to Deupree, it was originally intended to be a simple album for solo piano, but it evolved in quite a different direction. The result may have been arduous for him to produce, but it is one that offers a plethora of subtle rewards for the most discerning ears.

Released on limited edition CD (currently sold out) & digital 


Endless Melancholy – Fragments of Scattered Whispers [Dronarivm]


https://dronarivm.bandcamp.com/album/fragments-of-scattered-whispers

On his sixth album as Endless Melancholy, Oleksiy Sakevych reprises the crystalline piano lines, warm synths, and neoclassical infused drones that made last year’s The Vacation (Hidden Vibes) such a memorable journey. This time, with the help of some tape processing and mastering by fellow musician Krzysztof Sujata (aka Valiska) he has created something unapologetically lush and beautiful. And the tasteful packaging with cover art by Gregory Euclide makes this one you will probably want to hold in your hands.

Released on limited edition 12″ vinyl, limited edition CD (currently sold out), & digital


Pepo Galán – Strange Parentheses [Archives]


https://archivesdubmusic.bandcamp.com/album/strange-parentheses

This album by Spanish composer Pepo Galán is so seductively immersive it would be easy to overlook how deftly he toyed with genre boundaries without spoiling its time-stopping ambient aura. Juxtaposed with sumptuous melancholic drones like “Dead Fish on the Shore”, “In a Straight Line”, and “Almost Alone in This Life”, we find bits and bobs of neoclassical, glitch, electronica, and pop and moments of ethereal vocal magic from German choreographer Sita Ostheimer.  An absorbing listen with moments of transcendent beauty.

Released on limited edition CD, cassette, & digital.


Gri+Mosconi – Between Ocean and Sky [Slowcraft]


https://slowcraft.bandcamp.com/album/between-ocean-and-sky

This collaboration Francis M. Gri and Federico Mosconi was written & recorded between Milan and Verona during 2016-17 and debuts on Slowcraft Records. The duo  impress right out of the gate as the delicate shimmer of the opening track is swept up in a tidal surge of resonant drones and intoxicating swirls of melodic distortion. A rapturous headphone journey for lovers of heavily textured ambient & drone with a cinematic bent.

Released on limited edition CD &  digital. 


Ian Hawgood – 光 [Eilean Rec.]


https://eileanrec.bandcamp.com/album/-
https://homenormal.bandcamp.com/album/–3

Hawgood’s first “proper solo album” in over 6 years came about after bringing his childhood piano over from the UK to Warsaw, Poland last year and recording hours of material through various reel-to-reels.  (‘light‘) distills this down to a sublime nine-track volume of nostalgic melancholia and gossamer textures. Finespun, understated bliss that never wears out its welcome.

Released on limited edition CD or 12-inch white vinyl as well as digital. Note: CDs are shown as sold out on the Eilean site, but can be ordered along with the vinyl from Hawgood’s Home Normal Bandcamp store. The vinyl edition includes a bonus 90 minutes of material that did not make it into the final album. 


Hotel Neon – Means of Knowing [Archives]


https://archivesdubmusic.bandcamp.com/album/means-of-knowing

Hotel Neon began in 2013 with brothers Michael & Andrew Tasselmyer, some inexpensive equipment, and a little inspiration from Jack Kerouac and grew with the addition of guitarist Steven Kemner in 2015. In 2018, it is fair to say they band has blossomed into one of the most active, vital, and relevant ambient music projects going today. With studio support from Matt Kidd (aka Slow Meadow) and Rafael Anton Irisarri, they reaches new plateaus of depth and nuance on Means of Knowing, a near-perfect quintessence of atmospheric ambient music with a generous run time that gives you plenty of time to savor.

Released on limited edition CD and two vinyl editions (clear or black) & digital. 


Rafael Anton Irisarri – Midnight Colours [Geographic North]


https://geographicnorth.bandcamp.com/album/midnight-colours

Irisarri released three stunning records this year any of which would grace this list by their presence, but Midnight Colours came first and has resonated the longest with me personally. Conceived as a sort of soundtrack to the “Doomsday Clock”, which was advanced to 2½ minutes-to-midnight last year, these eight elegiac meditations comprise a sort of melancholic symphony surging with palpable existential angst and haunted by deep self-reflection.

Released on limited edition cassette (currently sold out) & digital.


kj – ex [Dronarivm]


https://dronarivm.bandcamp.com/album/ex

Saturated in tones of sepia and charcoal and awash in warm, turbid swirls of nostalgia and melancholy, the beauty of ex is in the ideal balance it finds between its light and dark elements. The pieces are wholly immersive but never claustrophobic as Rothweiler blurs the lines between heavily layered drones and lofty orchestral majesty while offsetting the gravitas with refreshing contrapuntal elements such as ghostly piano lines and lulling guitar. An exceptionally well crafted album your ears really won’t want to let go of.

Released on limited edition CD & digital. 


Josh Mason – L+ [Dauw]


https://dauw.bandcamp.com/album/l

Josh Mason made his first appearance on Belgian boutique label Dauw with a late year entry that you’ll be glad you didn’t miss.  According to Mason, each track is a meditation on an idea encountered while reading Seneca’s ‘Letters On Ethics’ and Epictetus’ ‘Enchiridion’ while the titles are references to the page numbers where they originated. A mesmerizing slow thaw of tactile sounds that finds the Florida based artist continuing his shift away from guitar-centric motifs toward organic experimentations with electronics.

Released on limited edition cassette (currently sold out) and digital. 


Benjamin Mauch – Discorporeal [Flag Day]


https://flagdayrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/discorporeal

Born out of a desire to write down a reflection of his love for speculative fiction, Virgina-based musician Benjamin Mauch came up with this mesmeric collection of imaginative soundscapes bursting with kaleidoscopic sonic colors and incandescent textures. Exceptionally vivid, even exhilarating at times, Discorporeal is most affecting in its melancholic moments such as on “Blue Jaunte” or “The Ondine’s Pact”.

“I treasure the moments I have spent on other worlds, in future times, and on ships whose destinations seem endless. Discorporeal is my attempt to sew together what I have been dreaming for years, and turn those dreams into sound.” – Benjamin Mauch

Released on standard and limited cassette editions (limited is currently sold out) & digital.


Kirill Mazhai – You Don’t Belong [Shimmering Moods]


https://shimmeringmoodsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/you-dont-belong

Kirill Mazhai’s warm, reverberant drones traverse the latitudes and longitudes of memory with a palpable sense of nostalgia and wistful melancholy, but that sense of closure to which he refers is effectively conveyed as well. The emotional undercurrent in the music congeals into a quiescent state of acceptance and resolution while the ethereal overtones lull the listener into a restful torpor.

Released on limited edition cassette (currently sold out), CD (a few remaining), & digital.


Moss Covered Technology – And His Many Seas – [Fluid Audio]


https://mosscoveredtechnology.bandcamp.com/album/and-his-many-seas
https://fluidaudio.bigcartel.com/product/moss-covered-technology-and-his-many-seas

And His Many Seas was written at time when the artist’s father was suffering from cancer and its nautical journey parallels both his love of travel as well as the personal voyage through illness that he was forced to take. Greg Baird‘s music powerfully evokes remote landscapes, intrepid exploration, and wistful melancholia in this tender and moving tribute.

“The grey sea looks the same. Its horizon never differs. But music can act as a compass, a North Star, in times of trouble, during tempests and unquiet seas, and this ambient Polaris guides the artist back home. Music can return a soul to safe shores after a period of brokenness.” – Fluid Audio

Released in deluxe CD edition with bespoke packaging (currently sold out) & digital. 


James Murray – Falling Backwards [Home Normal]


https://slowcraft.bandcamp.com/album/falling-backwards
https://homenormal.bandcamp.com/album/falling-backwards

A poignant exploration of a peculiar coping mechanism ambienteer James Murray developed in his youth. The music on this record is so sumptuously immersive and achingly beautiful, you might be tempted to look past the vulnerability that likely had to be overcome to explore such personal territory so effusively, but that must have been no small leap of faith.

Released on limited edition CD & digital 


The OO-Ray – Tiny Fugues [Audiobulb]


https://theoo-ray.bandcamp.com/album/tiny-fugues

Experimental cellist Ted Laderas who goes under the moniker of The OO-Ray worked for three years on the material that became Tiny Fugues which was released by Audiobulb this past summer.  It is based around custom-built software (“the fuguelooper”) that converts his ambient improvisations into more rhythmic material, allowing him to change his sounds across octaves and speeds, stretching and compressing them in unexpected directions. The result is a very pleasant and refreshingly varied collection that lives up to his self-described style of  “shoegazer cello” and “chamber drone”.

“Finding hope and positivity in the midst of despair and depression. Finding the grand and symphonic in simple melodies. Through this search, and our resulting curiosity and compassion for everything around us, I believe we can find hope and meaning in very dark times…By searching for the extraordinary in what we once thought mundane, we can find connections and meaning.”Ted Laderas

Released digitally. 


Pausal – Volume Flow [Hibernate]


https://hibernate.bandcamp.com/album/volume-flow

Lush, shimmering drones are still the order of the day, but while last year’s effusive and wide-eyed Avifaunal fluttered and soared like birds in flight, Volume Flow rises and falls like the quiet breathing of the Earth. One teems with movement, the other ebbs with an imperceptible flow. This contrast only heightens appreciation for the ability of Alex Smalley & Simon Bainton to mold and shade sonic clay into whatever distinct narrative they wish to convey and their latest opus turns out to be an especially soothing balm for the ears.

Released on limited edition CD & digital. 


The Prairie Lines – Today Leap and Stop Time [Eilean Rec.]


https://eileanrec.bandcamp.com/album/today-leap-and-stop-time
https://theprairielines.bandcamp.com/album/today-leap-and-stop-time

Don’t let cheeky song titles like “Slow Hand Clap for Working Late” or “Transmissions for Street Punks” give you the wrong idea. South Londoner Bill Bawden makes seriously gorgeous music as The Prairie Lines (as he also did under the name Herzog). Today Leap and Stop Time is his contribution to the Eilean Rec. project and it was among my favorites on the label this year with the beautiful melodies of its piano lines trapped in resonant decaying loops among stuttering static and soft focus electronics. Stop time is exactly what this album does.

Released on limited edition CD & digital. Note that while CD editions show as sold out on the Eilean site, there is a link there to Stashed Goods where copies may still be available. Copies also can be ordered directly from the artist on his Bandcamp site (see link above)


r beny – eistla


https://rbeny.bandcamp.com/album/eistla

Eistla happened to arrive at a particularly frenetic and stressful time for this writer, and I was amazed at the power of this music to soothe the soul and reset the mind while filling the ears with lush, understated beauty – the mesmerizing undertow of “in the violet and lingering winter dusk”, the sumptuous textures of “green and gauzy”, the hushed tranquility of “glacial tongues” just to cite a few examples.  On each listen my appreciation grew for the way Austin Cairns (aka r beny) is able to wring such warm, organic, efflorescent sounds full of soulful melancholy and longing out of the lights and dials of his modular synths.

Released on limited edition cassette (currently sold out) & digital


Silent Vigils – Fieldem [Home Normal]


https://homenormal.bandcamp.com/album/fieldem

Silent Vigils is a new collaborative project from new collaborative project from James Murray and Stijn Hüwels, a suitable moniker for the liminal quiescence of sound these two kindred spirits have reached across water to create with one another. This is music that refuses to be hurried or to be swept up in the rancor of the times. It does not meet the listener halfway.  To get the full benefit and enjoyment from these compositions, you must succumb to the solitude and embrace the profound stillness, but once you relent, the tranquility is sublime.

Released on limited edition CD & digital. 


Tapes and Topographies – Opiates [Simulacra]


https://tapesandtopographies.bandcamp.com/album/opiates

Todd Gautreau continues the resurgence of his Tape and Topographies project with the third release in the space of a year entitled Opiates now out on CD & digital on Simulacra Records.  These pieces seem on the surface to be abstract soundscapes, but each evocatively titled piece gradually takes on a filmic quality as Gautreau bends and shapes the sounds until a narrative unfolds. Far from being an album to zone out to, Opiates is more like an engrossing collection of sonic short stories or films seen only by the mind’s eye.

Availabile on CD & digital. 


Andrew Tasselmyer – Tines [Flag Day]


https://flagdayrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/tines
https://andrewtasselmyer.bandcamp.com/album/tines

With four solo albums, his Mordançage collaboration with Tobias Hellkvist, and a slew of compilation singles, and a full-length album and a slew of singles as part of Hotel Neon, Andrew Tasselmyer had a very full creative year in 2018. Among the highlights was this gem released on Flag Day Recordings in which he engages in a beautiful deconstruction of sounds captured live in one take from a Rhodes piano. Fittingly mastered by Taylor Deupree whose meticulous work with microsound textures this is album is quite reminiscent of.

Released on limited edition cassette & digital. 


Warmth – Parallel [Archives]


https://archivesdubmusic.bandcamp.com/album/parallel

On his third album under the moniker of Warmth, Agustín Mena takes the project on an especially serene excursion. Parallels has an almost spiritual quality to it. It is a soothing collection of  weightless drones in one harmonious flow so hushed and still, so solemn and graceful that one cannot resist sinking into a state of tranquility and deep reflection.  As has been the case from his 2016 debut, Essay, Agus shows that calm mastery of tone and depth of field that make his work such a treat for the ears and a balm for the restless mind

Released on limited edition cassette (a few remaining), CD (currently sold out), & digital. 


Lee Yi – Dissimilar Lake Pigments [Rottenman Editions]


https://rottenmaneditions.bandcamp.com/album/dissimilar-lake-pigments

Inspired by Lake Hillier, (a body of water just off the Pacific coast in Western Australia which is, in fact, astoundingly pink in color), Lee Yi‘s album explores a particular spectrum of sonic hues & pigments – earthy reds, mauve, coral, clay and silt – which he spins into a mesmerizing swirl of immersive soundscapes wrapped in a warm textures with a florid shimmer. Particularly impressive is the closing triptych (“Clumsy Hands”, “Thirty Eight”, and “Safety Pins”) which showcases his hauntingly emotive style at its most affecting, a fine balance of abstract sonic experimentation with moving, soul-deep expression.

Released on two cassette editions (standard and deluxe) & digital. 

2 thoughts on “2018 In Review: Journeys in Ambient, Drone, and Electroacoustic

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