The suited man toting a bag across a barren landscape on the cover of In Distance We Are Losing speaks volumes about stark emotional tone of this new album from Alaskan Tapes, a project from musician Brady Kendall out of Toronto, Canada. If you have heard his music before, you know there are going to be moments of arresting beauty and ethereal interludes, but there is a sense of isolation, preoccupation, and distraction present in these tracks that tugs in another direction while the visceral presence of the cello parts contributed by Raphael Weinroth-Browne lend as much rawness as eloquence to the proceedings.
Since its founding in 2009, Home Normal has consistently been one of the shining lights on the landscape of experimental ambient & electronic music. Conscientiously curated and uncompromisingly supportive of its artists, it is more than a label; it is a hub for a community of artists and mindful listeners who appreciate thoughtfully crafted, emotionally honest music.
“Based in Japan, the label was run as a way to connect to a sense of what ‘home’ and ‘normal’ could mean to someone who was in what was essentially an alien environment to them. The focus of the label was to release the ambient and electronic works of friends within the live scene we were part of in Tokyo and the surrounding areas, but soon expanded to include the work of many artists worldwide…We see the label as a family of friends who work together to create unique works that have a hold and impact on whoever can take their time to absorb our music and aesthetic”
Featured here are recent & upcoming releases by Ian Hawgood + Wil Bolton, Giulio Fagiolini, and Jason Van Wyk,
These days of noisy chaos, heated rhetoric, and voracious content consumption in which we find ourselves present a daunting challenge to artists who express themselves with restraint and nuance. The temptation to get louder and angrier, or even just walk away from it all must be ever-present. That is what makes bands like Balmorhea (pronounced bal-mə-ray) such a treasure. Founded a little over 10 years ago by Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, they have produced a consistently refined, eclectic, and appealing brand of instrumental music that has earned its loyal & appreciative following. Though they certainly have stayed busy in recent years with EPs, reissues, and live performances, the expansive 2012 effort Stranger remained Balmoreha’s last full-length studio record for nearly five years, but that drought will end in September with the release of Clear Language, a lucid and intimate gem of an album that gently but resolutely repudiates bombast and fractiousness in favor of simplicity, warmth, and personal connection.
“A decade-plus on the road, near-constant musical output, and shifting creative priorities caused the revered Austin duo to soberly assess the band’s future. What, in the form of Balmorhea, was there left to say? And did they have the energy to say it? To answer that question the duo decamped to their east Austin studio, where they worked simply and with restraint, letting intuition guide them…”
Soft Ice is a gorgeous, billowing immersion in youthful memories of winters past by ambient artist Angela Klimek under her musical nom de plume, poemme. The album which she released herself earlier this year is now available in a nicely packaged CD edition on Polar Seas Recordings where these beautiful monochromatic dreams in drone form find a fitting home.
“This collection of songs was composed specifically for sleep and reflects my memories of winters growing up in Cleveland. The endless gray skies, the magic of a fresh blanket of snow, and more wonder still once Lake Erie transforms into a vast, frozen desert. The scene takes place at my favorite lakeside park, with a pale sky above and waves of solid ice below. All is silent but for a flock of geese in the distance, making its way to warmer land…” – Angela Klimek
Archives is a label based in Valencia, Spain run by DJ, producer, & musician Agustín Mena (aka Warmth, SVLBRD). You won’t find a lot of words written by the label about itself. Its impressum can be found in the music which focuses uncompromisingly on pure ambient, downtempo & dub techno aesthetics with a preference for soothing, warm tones and meditative atmospheres. Presented here are six recent releases by an international roster of artists including Logic Moon (Germany), Robert Farrugia (Malta), Yoyu (Canada), Purl (Sweden), Shuta Yasukochi (Japan), and Halftribe (UK). Also highly recommended are their Ambient and Soundscapes compilation series and Warmth’s own ‘Essay’ which was one of the best reviewed ambient albums of 2016.
Few sounds evoke soulful yearning and rural landscapes as the venerable pedal steel guitar. For many listeners its dreamy, tremulous twang is inextricably wound into the roots & branches of country and western music, but over the years some have creatively sought to unshackle it in other genres and contexts. I dare say none of them have turned out as beguiling and restorative as what Chuck Johnson coaxed from the instrument to create the tone paintings and soundscapes on his latest album entitled Balsams.
Lowlands is the third edition of the recently launched IIKKI project, a unique concept in which each entry in the series is the outcome of a creative dialog between a visual artist and a music artist which results in parallel imprints – a fine art book and a vinyl record. This one began when Ester Vonplon traveled last year to Spitsbergen, an island in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago, where she captured impressions of the calving glaciers and melting ice of the Arctic Ocean aboard a three-masted sailing vessel. The musicians chosen for this edition are Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer, frequent collaborators and potent alchemists in the art of electroacoustic minimalism, who fashioned an audio narrative from recordings made over a 3-year period in locations as far-flung as Iceland, Oregon, Florida, and New York.
The early days of summer bring with them the warm sounds of Gowaart Van Den Bossche’s solo guitar project yadayn in the form of his fourth album entitled Adem. The spirit of the word, which means ‘breath’ in Dutch, permeates the music which has been conceptualized as two suites divided into six tracks. The song titles reflect the key elements of the short poem that accompanies the liner notes (a rare two-line haiku?) – hear, space, sea, breath, time, feel.
Hoor de Ruimte die de Zee Ademt,
alsof je Tijd Voelt
Hear the space that breathes the sea,
As if you feel time
The inspiration for Chihei Hatakeyama’s Mirage came during a trip to Turkey taken by the artist about five years ago. The diverse & exotic architectures, streets, bazaars, and waterways were no doubt a feast for the eyes, but it was what Hatakeyama heard with his keen musical ear that spurred the creation of the new album. Framed as “a meditation on the phenomenology of music and architecture” it explores the way sound is shaped and influenced as it traverses and mingles with the surrounding structures.
“Walking through the labyrinthian bazaars of Turkey, Hatakeyama took inspiration from the way sounds emerged and decayed within those spaces. Looking to replicate these experiences in the creation of the album, he developed a series of new processes and transformations that expanded his approach to textural music.”
Toronto based Polar Seas Recordings was founded a little over five years ago and for most of that time has primarily served as a home for the releases of Brad Deschamps & Mike Abercrombie as North Atlantic Drift as well as their respective side projects anthéne and Transits of Mercury. In the past year however, the label has released no less than eleven albums, matching the output of the first four years put together while expanding their roster of artists and encompassing a broader sonic palette. Here is a roundup of some the most recent and recommended.
Imagine the textured, aerated drones of Sky Margin (Own Records, 2013) and the pastoral romanticism of Along the Mantic Spring (Infraction, 2014) fused into a single amalgam and then elevated into a dazzling, symphonic edifice of sound. Avifaunal is the brand new lush and expansive musical narrative created by Alex Smalley (aka Olan Mill) and Simon Bainton under their collaborative moniker of Pausal now out on Dronarivm. The grandiosity of the new record has its origins in a live performance a couple of years prior at a venue which invited experimentation on a large sonic scale.
In 2015 the band were asked by Martin Boulton of Touched Music to perform in Pembrokeshire, Wales and set about generating new material for the show. It was also an opportunity to develop a new equipment setup including looped turntable, voice microphones and synths. A local hall was hired for improvisation and practice sessions which provided an interesting sonic space to explore and possibilities to work at far louder volumes, both of which helped shape the eventual live set and the track “Murmuration” as that is represented here. “Spiral”, “Scatter” and “Soar” were also edited and assembled from the recording sessions around this time.
Guitar loops drawn in long, slow arcs across a crepe-thin curtain of sound and a backdrop of pastoral field recordings. Never claustrophobic, there is ample room to move & breathe among these temperate and mellifluous drones and ample time to ponder as they slow time to a lethargic ebb. The comfort of light in a dark room. This is A Persistent Lack of Ambition by Duister, aka Carlos Maquieira released earlier this year on El Muelle Records, a label based in Málaga, Spain. Was the poetic stanza cited in the liner notes cite inspiration for the music or is it a guidepost for listening? Perhaps both. In any case, this is a lovely opus that is easy on the ear and stimulating to the mind.
My story begins very simply: I could speak and I was happy.
Or: I could speak, thus I was happy.
Or: I was happy, thus speaking.
I was like a bright light passing through a dark room.
(Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night)