2022 in Review: Ambient & Drone

Music can be a great companion allowing us to feel connected, comforted, and even transported through just the sounds that fill the space between our ears. From their cinematic vistas and atmospheric soundscapes to their a generous embrace of stillness, beauty, and self-reflection, the albums in this category are especially well suited to do just that. With gratitude to the entire community of musicians that have continued to persevere with their art during discouraging and uncertain times, here is a survey of some of this year’s most memorable inner journeys.

36 & zakè – Stasis Sounds for Long​-​Distance Space Travel II

Info: https://pitp.bandcamp.com/album/stasis-sounds-for-long-distance-space-travel-ii

Jumping right into the deep end with this expansive second volume of Stasis Sounds for Long​-​Distance Space Travel by drone masters 36 and zakè that adds nearly two hours of soothing “aural anesthetics” to the epic journey they launched two years ago. Generously appointed, the album comprises 18 “chapters” divided into three sections – “Stages” 5 to 10 co-written by the two artists, “Earth Visions” parts 1-6 written by 36, and “Deep Space” parts 1-6 written by zakè. Immersive would be an understatement.

Stasis Sounds for Long​-​Distance Space Travel II is available digitally and in a 2xCD edition from Past Inside the Present. The album was also released on vinyl in four differently colored editions, but those are all sold out at time of publishing.

Andrew Tasselmyer – Limits

Info: https://laaps-records.com/album/limits

One of two new imprints that followed the close of the Eilean Rec. project, Laaps revolves around the ‘exquisite corpse’ motif where the last track of each album it releases grafts on to opening track of the next, effectively making the entire catalog one enormous loop. Here, Andrew Tasselmyer (Hotel Neon, Gray Acres, Mordançage) builds on the grainy outro of Loput by Finnish sound artist Olli Aarni until green chutes of melody emerge in the form of strings and piano to frame one of his most sympathetic and resonant albums. 

Limits was released by Laaps on limited CD and clear vinyl LP editions, each hand numbered. 

Anthéne – Listening Air

Info: https://distantbloom.bandcamp.com/album/listening-air

Brad Deschamps continues his prolificacy as Anthéne with three solo albums released in 2022 along with multiple collaborations. Listening Air is a particularly uplifting work with a shimmering weightless quality and a gently wayfaring spirit. The album finds a home on Distant Bloom, a small label based in St Louis, and in their line notes they praise Brad’s music “for its keen emotional acuity and microscopic attention to detail”. I could not agree more. Also, not to be missed are his autumn releases on Home Normal – hope remain and frayed.

Listening Air is available digitally on cassette from Distant Bloom

Anthéne & Stijn Hüwels – Into the Setting Sun

Info: https://homenormal.bandcamp.com/album/into-the-setting-sun

Once again, as Anthéne, Brad Deschamps collaborates here with Belgian musician and minimalist composer Stijn Hüwels to weave strands of processed guitar and oscillating loops into a beautiful ambient reverie.

Into the Setting Sun is available on digital and CD from Home Normal

Awkened Souls – Night Songs

Info: https://pitp.bandcamp.com/album/night-songs

People have been using music to help themselves find peace and slumber at night for millennia. In that quest the vast majority of us rely on recordings made by others, but with a considerable amount of talent at their disposal, husband-and-wife duo James and Cynthia Bernard known as Awakened Souls, they took it upon themselves to make their own. With its serene ambient textures and ethereal vocals, Night Songs is a tenderly crafted a set of songs capable of seeping past the barriers of language to resonate in the deepest of liminal spaces.

Night Songs is available digitally and on transparent vinyl from Past Inside the Present.

Federico Mosconi – Air Sculptures

Info: https://federicomosconi.bandcamp.com/album/air-sculptures

As much an explorer as a musician, Federico Mosconi creates stunning soundscapes that blend elegant classical guitar passages and ambient filigree with huge atmospherics that border on industrial in scope and intensity. All of that is on display here with his worthy follow up to last year’s Dreamers and Tides (Dronarivm), this time alongside the work of like-minded artists on Lost Tribe Sound.

Air Sculptures is available on limited edition CD and digital by Lost Tribe Sound

Ian Hawgood & Fields We Found – Upward Eyes / Kindred

Info: https://handstitched.bandcamp.com/album/upward-eyes-kindred

As a mastering engineer and collaborator, the fingerprints of Ian Hawgood are all over this list of albums, but here he is turning a lovely quartet of solo works on a split album with Fields We Found who balances the other side with his own delicately textured soundscapes. Also worth mentioning here are the three full solo albums released Fields We Found this year – Expanse, Distance (on Seil Records), and Trust on Hawgood’s Home Normal label.

upward eyes/kindred is available digitally and on limited edition cassette by Handstitched

IKSRE & Party Store – Northwest & Southeast

Info: https://iksre.bandcamp.com/album/northwest-southeast

A truly long-distance collaboration, this album brings together Phoebe Dubar aka IKSRE and Josh Machniak aka Party Store. The title hints at their respective geographies – Dubar is based in Naarm/Melbourne located in the southeast quadrant of Australia while Machniak is located in the American Pacific Northwest city of Seattle. What makes the album such compelling listening is that the styles of these artists do not so much meld together as provide complementary contrast Dubar’s ethereal analog instruments and emotive vocals providing a mesmerizing counterpoint to Machniak’s potent guitar atmospherics.

Northwest & Southeast is available digitally and on CD from Stereoscenic Records

James Murray – Careful Now

Link: https://homenormal.bandcamp.com/album/careful-now

Outside of his own Slowcraft label, Home Normal is something of a second home for the music of London-based ambient musician & sound artist James Murray and it is here we find his first complete solo album since 2019’s Falling Backwards. I’ve previously described his music as “sumptuously immersive” and that certainly fits the wide-eyed, undulating drones he unfurls on Careful Now. As ever, Murray manages to embed subtle narrative threads into the billowing atmospheres to generate the emotional impact that holds the listener in thrall.

Released on limited edition vinyl LP and digital download by n5MD

Jason Van Wyk – Descendants

Info: https://n5md.bandcamp.com/album/descendants

South African producer & composer Jason Van Wyk made a welcome return last year on the n5md label with Threads which saw him exploring a more densely layered, atmospheric sound reflective of his work in composing for film during the years following his early neoclassical leaning albums. Continuing in that vein, he followed up this year with Descendants, a record which he deems more introspective in tone but is still very much imbued with the same kind of cinematic breadth and depth of its predecessor. For more about Jason and the making of those albums, you can check out our conversation featured on the blog in October.

Descendants is available digitally and on limited edition white vinyl via n5MD

Location Services & Derek Hunter Wilson – Wake

Link: https://beaconsound.bandcamp.com/album/wake

One of the few silver linings in the Covid pandemic has been the way so many musicians have forged new connections and found ways to collaborate even in varying degrees of isolation. We have one such example here from the Portland area with the duo of Mike Grabarek and Joshua Ward, who have performed together for years as Location Services, and Derek Hunter Wilson who has primarily worked as a solo composer of neoclassical music. Wake is an album that took some time to evolve from their first forays into exchanging music remotely, which garnered encouragement from the label to continue, to eventually being able to hold backyard rehearsals in person. The trio employs a variety of instruments –harp, fretless bass, piano, synthesizers, etc. – to create a wonderfully impressionistic and exploratory journey.

Wake is available digitally and on limited edition vinyl LP from Beacon Sound

The Lonely Bell – Kingdoms of the Deep

Link: https://thelonelybell.bandcamp.com/album/kingdoms-of-the-deep

Based on the Isle of Lewis in the north of Scotland, Ali Murray creates introspective music under the moniker of The Lonely Bell. Bounded by vast amounts of ocean to its north and west, it is a location that no doubt supplied much of the inspiration behind this ambient concept album that seeks to immerse the listener in realms of the deep sea. An abundance of aquatic sounds and dense drones feature prominently as one would expect, but what really brings the music to life are the guitar melodies that shimmer below the surface especially on tracks like “Somewhere in the Baltic” and the waltz of “The Dancing Seagrass”.

Kingdoms of the Deep was released digitally and on limited edition CD (currently sold out) by Shady Ridge Records

Moss Covered Technology – Brick and Air

Link: https://ab-mosscoveredtechnology.bandcamp.com/album/brick-and-air

Grieg Baird’s latest work as Moss Covered Technology is a cross between a sonic interrogation and a musical diary. Having moved his family to a new area, he begin recording sounds and taking photographs, eventually creating this “ode to distant traffic noise and the hum of air-conditioning outlets behind shopping precincts.” filtered through a hazy ambient lens.

Brick and Air is a digital release from Sheffield-based Audiobulb Records

Music for Sleep – L’ansia che cura

Link: https://slowtonecollages.bandcamp.com/album/lansia-che-cura

L’ansia che cura, or ‘the anxiety that cures’, is the paradoxical title of this long form composition by Sardinian musician – and founder of rohs! records – Andrea Porcu aka Music For Sleep. It is an abstract meditation on a difficult period of his life during which he feels the anxiety he was suffering was somehow saving him from what he calls “other ills”. It is a slow, deep catharsis to which the listener can bring their own meaning and share in the curative effect of a beautifully drawn piece of music.

L’ansia che cura has been released digitally and in a hand-numbered CD edition by Slow Tone Collages, an offshoot of Amsterdam-based Shimmering Moods Records which was launched earlier this year with a focus on long form compositions.

Patricia Wolf – I’ll Look for You In Others

Links: Bandcamp (Past Inside the Present) | Bandcamp (Patricia Wolf)

For her what was officially her debut full-length solo album, Portland based musician & sound designer Patricia Wolf offers far more than a collection of beautifully produced ambient works. I’ll Look for You in Others opens a window into one person’s processing of grief and loss in which both sounds and the process of creating them become metaphorical (Patricia wrote and recorded the album in 2020, in the aftermath of losing her mother-in-law to cancer and then, months later, losing a close friend). The ethereal beauty of the opening track will draw you in, but it takes some emotional fortitude to see it all the way through as Wolf is unflinching in her willingness to confront the devastation of loss rather than attempt to filter it through a soft lens.

I’ll Look for You In Others was released digitally and in two limited vinyl LP editions (both sold out) by Past Inside the Present

Rosales – Woven Songs

Links: Bandcamp (Home Normal) | Bandcamp (Polar Seas Recordings)

Ian Hawgood and Brad Deschamps debuted their Rosales project last year and bookended 2022 with a pair of new releases to enjoy. Featured here is the first of the two, a joint release by Home Normal and Polar Seas Recordings featuring some truly eye-catching artwork by Laura Kay Keeling. The album is really a single long-form work sourced from guitar and synth loops, processed by cassette and reel-to-reel for decayed textures, and divided into eight “songs”. Comparatively gentler and more bucolic than the first album, Woven Songs is squarely in the sweet spot of pastoral ambient bliss. Also be sure not miss their late year release out now on Pyramid Blood entitled Against the Sky.

Woven Songs is a joint release between Polar Seas Recordings (run by Brad and based in Canada) and Home Normal (run by Ian and based in the UK)

Sérine – Fictions

Link: https://couriersound.bandcamp.com/album/fictions

French musician Franz Kirmann has been releasing music since 2006 both as a solo artist and with composer/multi-instrumentalist Tom Hodge as part of electronic/post-classical crossover project Piano Interrupted. This year he added a new dimension to his work with a project dubbed Sérine which involves filtering fragments from old songs and recordings through granular synthesis and blending the sounds with field recordings extracted from everyday life. His first such effort comprises a sextuplet of deeply introspective, melancholic vignettes.

Fictions is available digitally and on limited edition CD from the UK-based Courier micro-label

Steve Pacheco – Fades

Links: Bandcamp (Facture) | Fluid Audio

According to the liner notes of his latest album, Steve Pacheco’s earliest musical influence was the sound of classical music being played through a transistor radio and that imprint can be seen in the way his work incorporates simple melodic loops which are processed to create weathered soundscapes that seek to recall memory, experience, and emotion. The Los Angeles based sound & visual artist and graphic designer released his third album this year, a gorgeous collection of abstract meditations not on any particular memories or experiences, but rather the transitions or “fades” that lie between them.

Fades was originally released by Fluid Audio in a limited hand-made CD edition accompanied by an assortment of vintage artifacts such as a clothbound book map, Polaroid print, antique glass slide, travel book insert, and more (sold out). Digital copies remain available through the label’s Facture offshoot.

Tapes and Topographies – Modalities

Link: https://tapesandtopographies.bandcamp.com/album/modalities

Texas based musician & composer Todd Gautreau has quietly and consistently been making excellent ambient music under the guise of Tapes and Topgraphies for the better part of a decade and only seems to be getting better at it with each release. Modalities is the project’s fourteenth album and finds an ideal balance between the pall of its gauzy, crepuscular drones and the melodic structures and emotional undercurrents that that make them so affecting.

Modalities is available digitally and on CD from Gautreau’s own Simulacra label

Taylor Deupree & Marcus Fischer – Februarys

Link: https://dauw.bandcamp.com/album/februarys

Prior to the first day of recording their 2011 album In a Place of Such Graceful Shapes, Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer had never met. Since then, we are told, the tape machines are running nearly every time they are together whether it be in a studio, on stage, or in a hotel room while on tour. The title of their latest release is a nod to the fact that these occasions seem to most often occur in the month of February and the album contains a half dozen exquisite long form pieces collected selected from those sessions which started in a hotel room in Iceland and finished in Deupree’s studio last year. For those who appreciate electroacoustic ambient of the minimalist sort, it is nothing less than found treasure.

Februarys was released digitally and on limited edition cassette (sold out) by Dauw featuring artwork by Alicia Carrera