Taking its name from a series of guideposts used by Icelandic travelers to navigate in times of extended daylight, Varða roughly translates to “cairn” in English, a reference to the tiny rock towers that serve as trail markers and memorials on the pathways of the wayfarer. The duo of Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson envisioned such a trek on their second full-length and debut for Sony Music Masterworks as Hugar.
“Similar to those piles of rocks, the songs are like small cairns on the album. It’s not about the destination though, but rather this never-ending journey, which the whole record represents. There was never a plan to make our first album; it just happened. This time around, we set out to make a record that functioned as a whole piece where everything was related. It’s more polished from beginning to end.” – Bergur Þórisson
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Low Chord is a new experimental ambient project from Ontario-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Orr and musician Gareth Inkster. Their first release debut next month on Orr’s Other Songs label with an EP entitled LC01. It is a finespun medley of “non-linear compositions” formulated with analog synths, lo-fi field recordings, and beautiful nylon string guitar by Orr intertwined with Inkster’s sparkling improvisations on piano.
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Tambour is the musical project from Simon P. Castonguay, a Montreal-based composer and self-taught multi-instrumentalist who also has a background in film studies and has done work in the world of theater. This summer sees the release of Tambour’s third album which was written largely in the fall of 2017 at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and features performances by the Mommies on the run string quartet (Mélanie Bélair, Mélanie Vaugeois, Ligia Paquin, Annie Gadbois) and Pietro Amato (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre), who also engineered the record, on french horn. Entitled Constellations (ou comment arrêter le temps), it is meant as both a reflection of the passage of time as well as a window into Castonguay’s own recent past. The album’s subtitle translates to “or how to stop time” and that is what he does through both the format and compositions that make up the record.
“This collection of five tableaux sees Castonguay reflecting on notions of time ; its passing, the time we have and the time that we don’t, the time we take or choose not to ; time spent waiting after something or someone ; our perceptions of and relation to the world around us (and the stars beyond). Playing with these notions, Castonguay chose to play with the form of the record, configuring the listening experience as one continuous listen from start to finish. The listener is invited to lose themselves in time, and not focus on the bounds of individual tracks.” – Moderna Records
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Having immersed us in the empyrean beauty of the cosmos with last year’s Constellations, BAFTA award-winning composer Jane Antonia Cornish turns her gaze from the heavenly to the pelagic on her new record, an exceptional new collection of cyclical works for piano, strings, bass guitar, & electronics entitled Seascapes. Once again, Cornish achieves a consummate balance between painterly eloquence, cinematic grandeur, and refined minimalist expression as she captures the vastness and wonder of her chosen subject framed in contemplative stillness.
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Since arriving on the scene less than a year ago, Indianapolis-based Past Inside the Present has rolled out a rather dazzling catalog of thoughtful and immersive ambient releases of exceptionally high quality. Among these is a pair of gems under the title of Orchestral Tape Studies. The first record is by “healing sound propagandist” zakè (扎克), an homage to minimalist symphonic composers and orchestras in which fragmented orchestral loops have been compiled and woven together with oscillating repetitive strands of textural ambient drone. The result is a wonderful meditative exploration of liminality and tonality and one of the most serene and beautiful albums you could hope to enjoy.
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Since starting his ambient-drone-post rock music project in 2011, M. Beckmann has been making a unique brand of music as the volume settings folder while drawing on the “countryside ambience” of North-East Italy as his main inspiration. As Beckmann tells it, his process usually begins with a spontaneous rush of ideas which he then nurtures through a period of “music seasoning” which can involve months of post-production treatments to come up with the end product. While most of the albums and EPs produced over the past eight years – including some fine bespoke limited editions – have been self-released, there is a label to look to if you want to hear Beckmann’s finest work and that would be Oscarson. It is on this vinyl-centric imprint based in Germany that we find Laguna (2016), his lovely homage to memories of Venice, as well as his most recent album entitled Hothocleana.
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Christopher Willits is an artist, teacher, musician, and guitarist based in San Francisco who has a diverse catalog of over 25 releases to his credit and has collaborated with such illustrious names in the field as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Taylor Deupree, and Tycho. He is also the founder of a nonprofit audio platform called Envelop which empowers 3D listening experiences through a combination of immersive sound venues and open-source audio production tools. Willits will be employing these himself to bring performances of his forthcoming new album Sunset to live audiences. The album will be released June 14 by Ghostly International with which he has had a long association. The music on the record has a simple but profound objective.
“One of the core artists on Ghostly since its inception, the ambient artist’s compositions on Sunset move from warm to cool, designed as a soundtrack to embrace the day’s end; a collective letting go. Willits presents his latest work with the simple instructions: “Begin the music 15 minutes before the sun sets.”
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For their latest record entitled It Billows Up, Brooklyn-based avant music trio Sontag Shogun sought to capture the essence of their live performances on record through the use of collaborative techniques and modular compositions they had developed while on tour in Europe, Japan, & North America in 2016/17. The end result is a kaleidoscopic pastiche of music and sound, an au courant panorama of compositional and improvisational elements blended with foley art and human theater into a singular hypnagogic narrative by the band’s three members – Ian Temple (piano), Jesse Perlstein (electronically treated vocals, field recordings), and Jeremy Young (analog oscillators, reel-to-reel tape loops, and beats made only with contact mic’d objects & surfaces).
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My first introduction to Josh Mason‘s music was Hellified Irie (2015, FET Press), a work that used journal writing, inventive sound design, and a meditative riff on 60’s era surf music to recreate the “constant hum” and hazy torpor of Florida summers past through a nostalgic lens. It exemplified the personal nature of Mason’s music and his collagic style which relies on analog and digital sources to “examine themes of family, community, mental health and location”. This was something that was both instantly captivating and a refreshing departure from the remote landscapes and heavy atmospherics for which so many ambient artists have a propensity.
Mason brings a similar approach to his newest record entitled Coquina Dose. The album was released this past March on the Florabelle imprint, but it plays particularly well in summer given the subtropical setting.
“Coquina Dose is the book on your nightstand under a lamp with a 40 watt bulb. It’s driving alone at night up and down the strip looking for a pool to crash. It’s the endless lights of luxury, hotels, oceanfront dining. It’s dogs barking, the wind off the water, dead friends, and sunsets that are no longer free. Everything humming, everything buzzing. It’s a new day, in the same circuit. Short interesting rides, followed by a loss of momentum. Notes of grass, lychee, pineapple, burnt sugar.” – Josh Mason
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