2022 in Review: Highlights of a Headphone Commute

As I am sure many readers are already keenly aware, Headphone Commute is a fabulous online resource of candid words on electronic, experimental and instrumental music that has long been setting the bar to which many independent blogs aspire to including this one. In fact, it was my own early encounters with and lessons from HC that sparked the very idea of launching Stationary Travels and provided a template to follow. In recent years, they have very generously added Music for Your Stationary Travels to their best of the year round-ups, featuring selections from these pages. Starting in 2021, I decided it reciprocate and so here are my ‘Highlights of a Headphone Commute’ with a dozen albums culled from HC’s own Best of 2022 that represent a combination of new discovery or roads not taken for one reason or another that I was happy to get a second chance to go back and explore.

36 – Colours in the Dark

from Music for Capricious Souls Adrift in Noir-fi

Order: https://3six.net/album/colours-in-the-dark

For devotees of ambient music, 36 is more than a number. It is the alias chosen by Dennis Huddleston for a project that has been taking scores of listeners on emotive atmospheric journeys since the release of Hypersona in 2009. In addition to volume two of his Stasis Sounds for Long​-​Distance Space Travel collab with zakè and a massive 6xLP box set featuring early album remasters and bonus material was this opus inspired by Huddleston’s personal and creative emergence from a period of depression. Colours in the Dark features some of Huddleston’s most expressive work presented with empathetic words from the artist himself that are as refreshingly candid as they are encouraging.

…the light did eventually return and my love for music came back into focus. It’s why this isn’t a sad album. I wanted to use this negative experience and try to turn it into a positive. While I’ll never be able to write a feel-good pop song, I can channel the darkness and try to find those impossible colours hiding inside it.

Dennis Huddleston aka 36

Released October 1, 2022, on limited edition CD & digital via 3six Recordings

Angus MacRae – Vivarium

from Music for Watching the Snow Slowly Fall in the Moonlight

Order: https://angusmacrae.bandcamp.com/album/vivarium

On Vivarium, UK-based composer, producer, and musician Angus MacRae takes the listener on a “journey through the lost worlds of childhood imagination” in which each track represents a memory presented in a dream-like menagerie of sonic bell jars that encapsulate their magic, mystery, and wonder. An imaginative concept indeed and brought to live with eloquent lucidity by McRae and the ensemble of outstanding musicians he assembled for the project.

From within each bell jar, the feeling of the world was real, as in a dream. Even if from outside, the limits of the glass were clear. The music was becoming a way to step back through the glass and re-enter those forgotten worlds…

Angus McRae

Vivarium was released digitally on September 30, 2022, by Nation of the Sea

ASC – Original Soundtrack

from Music for the Film Behind Closed Eyelids

Order: https://astrangelyisolatedplace.bandcamp.com/album/original-soundtrack

Musician & producer James Clements takes adds a new dimension to his work as ASC with this imaginary soundtrack that revolves around sparse piano lines and unobtrusive glacial atmospherics The beauty of this album is in its simplicity and restraint which allows its emotive qualities to resonate while leaving ample space for the listener to bring their own thoughts and reflections.

Original Soundtrack was released on July 15, 2022 by A Strangely Isolated Place on limited edition CD & digital

Aukai – Apricity

from Music for the Frosty Night When I Miss Your Warm Light

Order: https://aukai.bandcamp.com/album/apricity

German musician & composer Markus Seiber keeps the nomadic spirit of his Aukai project alive on Apricity with a luminous fusion of folk and classical motifs blending his trademark charango guitar with elegant ensemble arrangements performed by Anne Müller (cello) and Bogdan Djukic (violin) along with guest appearances by Sita Ostheimer and Matias Da Via on vocals and Jamshied Sharifi on Fender Rhodes. The album takes its title from an old English word used to describe the warmth of the sun in winter, an apt metaphor for its restorative beauty.

I think my albums through the last 6 years have been increasing in complexity and density somehow, and suddenly my mood shifted drastically, it seemed all too loud and busy, and a desire came for more simplicity and much more intimate acoustic sound.

Markus Seiber aka Aukai

Apricity was released on December 7, 2022, by Aukai Music on limited edition CD & digital

Billow Observatory – Stareside

from Music for Withered Leaves and Lonely Fish Tanks

Order: https://billowobservatory.bandcamp.com/album/stareside

A decade into their collaboration under the moniker of Billow Observatory, the Transatlantic duo of Jonas Munk (Denmark) and Jason Kolb (Michigan) are still finding new sonic territory to explore. The album is a collection of 9 varied soundscapes reflective of the pandemic period in which they were incubated or as the liner notes put it, “daydreaming whilst watching the world go mad in the blink of an eye”. There is a restlessness in the dreaming that gives the record a satisfying tension, but the overall tone is comforting and hopeful.

Stareside was released April 8, 2022, on limited edition blue vinyl LP & digital by Felte Records

bvdub – Violet Opposition

from Music For Walking And Not Crying In The Autumn Rain

Order: https://n5md.bandcamp.com/album/violet-opposition

Ever finding new ways to express himself through his overwhelmingly emotive music, Brock Van Wey aka bvdub adds layers of overdriven synth & guitar sounds to this ravishing tetralogy of long-form ambient excursions. I am happy to atone for failing to give it attention earlier as “Heracles Before the Fall” was one my most listened to tracks throughout the year. Simply stunning.

Violet Opposition was released February 4, 2022 in both limited CD and vinyl editions as well as digital by n5MD

Deru – We Will Live On

from Music for Being Together Alone

Order: https://musicstore.deru.la/album/we-will-live-on

According to Emmy Award winning produce & composer Benjamin Wynn aka Deru, the title to We Will Live On is meant as a question, or perhaps a series of questions – “Will we? And if so, in what way? Will this outlive me? Will technology outlive all of us?”. It is a haunting premise made more so by the way in which the music was created. Wynn outfitted an acoustic piano with solenoids that allowed it to be digitally controlled and then created software that allowed him to sequence it. By employing geometric patterns rather than the metric divisions that characterize Western music and then re-recording the audio in abandoned missile silo outside of Los Angeles, he is able to create a faintly dystopian sense of foreboding and off-kilter vibe, yet the piano lines still break through with eloquence and humanity. A captivating and deeply thought-provoking project.

We Will Live On was released October 28, 2022, in two limited vinyl editions by Friends of Friends – black and clear. Fine art prints and digital download options are also available.

Fax + Braulio Lam – Mixed Signals II

from Music for Sonic Installations in the Cavern of Your Skull

Order: https://dragonseyerecordings.bandcamp.com/album/mixed-signals-ii

Braulio Lam and Ruben Tamayo aka Fax, continue the collaboration they started with Mixed Signals (2020) with a second volume of meditative soundscapes recorded between Tijuana and Mexicali. This set is equally hypnotic, but with a slightly more ethereal bent as the duo incorporate electric guitars and acoustic instruments against an airy backdrop of organic ambient textures to give the music a weightless quality that only enhances its filigree.

Mixed Signals II was released digitally March 18, 2022, by Dragon’s Eye Recordings

Jakob Lindhagen – Memory Constructions

from Music for Watching the Snow Slowly Fall in the Moonlight

Order: https://jakoblindhagen.bandcamp.com/album/memory-constructions

On his first solo album since 2017’s Paces (1631 Recordings), award-winning composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jakob Lindhagen conducts a musical exploration of memory that is both personal and intimate. Working with German brother-duo Sebastian and Daniel Selke (aka CEEYS and Brueder Selke) and longtime artistic collaborator Sofia Nystrand (aka Vargkvint), Memory Constructions offers a spellbinding blend of neoclassical and ambient motifs built around a foundation of piano compositions that provide its narrative framework.

Memory Constructions was released September 23, 2022 on limited edition LP & digital by piano and coffee records

Luke Howard – All of Us

from Music for the Frosty Night When I Miss Your Warm Light

More Info: https://mkx.lnk.to/LukeAllID

Australian pianist & composer Luke Howard takes his inspiration from Albert Camus’ prescient absurdist novel The Plague (1947) for his own existential meditation on “isolation, loss, resistance and reconciliation’. All of Us runs the gamut from intimate solo piano vignettes to grand pieces performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra or pulsating forays into electronica including additional programming and production by Ben Lukas Boysen. It is an ambitious theme, but he more than rises to meet it with this expansive album.

All of Us was released April 29, 2022 on vinyl LP & digital by Mercury KX

Rubin Henkel – Restless

from Music for the Film Behind Closed Eyelids

Order: https://rubinhenkel.bandcamp.com/album/restless

Rubin Henkel is a composer for film & media whose work is characterized as a reconfiguring of memory through his music. The origin of Restless goes back to time he spent during the pandemic with his father Canadian photographer Philip Pocock and had time to delve into his archive of pictures taken in Berlin before the wall fell in 1989. The picture of street punk Miriam and her pet ret Bestia on the cover is taken from Pocock’s Wall Sickness (Mauerkrankheit) series featured in The Guardian and is one of a dozen images Henkel carefully selected to open the musical dialogue that comprises the album. Reportedly, Henkel recorded all the songs in his home studio to give them a sense of intimacy but also to recreate the claustrophobic and restless feeling of being surrounded by walls. All of that is compelling enough, but what really makes the album soar is Henkel’s gift for expressive melodies and phrasing as he explores themes of fragility and social fragmentation with a sense of poignancy.

Restless was released digitally May 6, 2022 by the 7K! imprint. A limited-edition hardcover sheet music book with photographs is also available.

William Basinski & Janek Schaefer – “…on reflection”

from Music for Bending Light and Stopping Time

Order: https://williambasinski.bandcamp.com/album/on-reflection

The introduction to “… on reflection” reminds us that time and duration are core themes in the work of both William Basinski and Janek Schaefer, something that is reflected not only in the ephemeral nature of its finespun sonic ministrations but in the fact that it coalesced over an eight-year period of remote collaboration between the artists’ respective locations in Los Angeles and London. Built around drifting piano lines, it is beautifully described as a recollection “heard through the aging mirrors of memory”.

Deploying a delicate piano passage from their collective archive, Basinski and Schaefer weave and reweave in numerous ways, forging an iridescent flurry of flickering melodies. The sounds of various birds heard from late night windows on tour can occasionally be heard throughout, ricocheting off mirrored facades, reflecting on themselves as they continually reshape their own environments with song.

Temporary Residence Ltd.

“ . . . on reflection “ was released April 29, 2022 on CD, digital, and two vinyl LP editions by Temporary Residence Ltd.