When I first began to really diving into ambient music I was surprised just how much of what I liked what what was classified as ‘drone’. The name just seemed off-putting. For the uninitiated it appears to promise something monotonous, something to zone out to rather than tune into. As I quickly learned, however, in the hands of the right artists, it is a form capable of creating a sense of immersion like no other with a depth and complexity that can be undeniably compelling. For outstanding examples, look no further than this group of recent releases that has held me in thrall for the past month.
Leandro Fresco & Rafael Anton Irisarri – Una Presencia En La Brisa [A Strangely Isolated Place]
Following up their collaboration of three years ago, Leandro Fresco and Rafael Anton Irisarri once again bridge the distance between Buenos Aires and New York with Una Presencia En La Brisa (A Presence In The Breeze). Also released by A Strangely Isolated Place, the new record reprises the alchemical fusion of Fresco’s melodic sensibilities with Irisarri’s recondite studio wizardry with the duo following the same modus operandi that worked so well before while varying the sonic palette so as to create an equally unmissable experience. The transcendent guitars that shimmered on La Equidistancia have been submerged in a fresh torrent of warm harmonics accentuated by textures created through voice manipulations to create a hauntingly beautiful journey that resonates with the tacit power of human connection.
“The album continues to explore this idea of human connection (in their case, thousands of miles away), our similarities, and how small everything really is in the grand scale of things. “ – A Strangely Isolated Place
Released on 12-inch ‘Silver Sky’ vinyl LP ft. artwork by Molly Smith by A Strangely Isolated Place. Digital downloads also available. The album was mastered by Taylor Deupree.
Slow Reels – Farewell Islands [Morr Music]
Slow Reels represents the first joint project between two keenly appreciated mainstays of the ambient music scene, Ian Hawgood and James Murray. In addition to being fine sound artists in their own right, they each run music labels with catalogs that include each other’s work (Hawgood’s Impermanence on Murray’s Slowcraft label and Murray’s Falling Backwards and Killing Ghosts on Hawgood’s Home Normal). The collaboration began remotely while Hawgood was living in Warsaw and spending long evenings creating loops with his collection of vintage reel-to-reel machines. Once the piano, guitar & synthesizer parts Murray recorded in his London studio were added, the two artists heard something they found “unexpectedly compelling”. This interwoven work was then subject to further refinement as Hawgood transferred it back to tape for mastering and the end result is something the listener will no doubt find equally affecting. Warm, billowing sounds will envelop you while the elongated melodies find soulful expression beneath an exquisitely burnished patina of analog textures.
“[The islands of the title are] places of meaning to both of us in our lives, found now only out of time, belonging outside the present and out of reach.” – James Murray
Released on vinyl LP & CD by Morr Music. Digital downloads also available.
Still Harbours – Fluorochrome [Ambientologist]
Former Epigram band mates Bradley Deschamps aka anthéne and Jamie Jones aka Fossil Hunting Collective, reunite for a brand new ambient project called Still Harbours. The debut album entitled Fluorochrome is out on the nascent Ambientologist label based in Amsterdam and which only started releasing music in the Fall of last year. The title refers to a type of chemical capable of absorbing certain sources of light (the excitation spectrum) and re-emitting the photons in longer wavelengths (the emission spectrum). Of the albums in this group, I will confess this is the one that took the most repetitions to really catch hold thanks to its fluid musical contours and subtle dissonances, but patient listening is soon rewarded as the metaphor of the albums title becomes increasingly apparent through a rotating prism of sound. Amidst the constant gradient shifts of sonic color, melodic shapes emerge and recede to stunning effect.
Released on limited edition CD (50 copies) with three mini-poster inserts ft. artwork by Richelle Forsey by Ambientologist. Digital downloads also available. The album was mastered by Ian Hawgood.
Warmth – Life [Archives]
Life is the fifth ambient album by Spanish sound artist and producer Agustín Mena as Warmth, and one which he ascribes to a sound more closely resembling earlier works like Essay and Home while embracing some of the “darker” approach he took to the more recent Parallel and, especially, Wildlife. One would be hard pressed to find fault with any of those recordings. Everything Mena has done as Warmth has a rare pristine quality to it (to these ears at least), but Life is arguably the most impressive incarnation of the project to date. The balance, the depth of field, and the pure serenity juxtaposed with deep melancholy make for an exceptionally immersive and satisfying inward journey.
Released on limited edition 12-inch vinyl, CD, & cassette by Archives ft. photography by Alexander Kopatz. Bundles and digital downloads also available. The album was mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri.