2019 In Review: Ambient & Drone

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Once again, this list can’t be big enough to contain all the fine work done in these genres over the course of a year, but these are 20 albums that left a lasting impression. Here you’ll find rich atmospheres, deep emotional undercurrents,organic, warm, tactile soundscapes composition & decomposition, and a generous embrace of stillness, beauty, and self-reflection.

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2019 in Review: A Sense of Place & Time

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Each of these sixteen albums is conceptually, thematically or musically connected to a sense of  a particular place or moments in time. While this is a somewhat common motif in instrumental music (ambient in particular), it is absolutely integral in these outstanding works released in 2019. Some are personal narratives and some are depictions of landscape either real or imagined. Others are sonic interrogations or interactions inextricably linked to the locations where they were formed. Whatever their nature, all of them proved captivating and memorable. One might say they represent the very essence of stationary traveling…

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Travelogue: A Journey With Whitelabrecs

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By my count, Whitelabrecs has come out with nearly 70 releases in the four years since it was founded  by Harry Towell (aka Spheruleus).  For the first three, the label strictly followed a set formula in which each release came out on vinyl-effect CDs in a limited run of 50 copies.  This year, Towell has upped the ante with runs of 100 copies and a new packaging motif designed to emulate gatefold vinyl LPs as well as an expanded range of photographers sourcing the artwork.  What has been consistent from the beginning, however, is a steady stream of  highly engaging releases from a thoughtfully curated roster of artists currently working in the ambient, drone, modern classical, electro-acoustic and folk genres.  The six albums featured here have provided me with a great deal of listening pleasure lately, but they only represent a portion of the breadth and depth of what is on offer, so I recommend allowing oneself lots of time to explore during visits to Bandcamp.

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Travelogue: A Fluid Audio Journey

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Calling UK-based Fluid Audio a boutique label may be apropos, but it still somehow seems too quaint a description for the level of creativity, sophistication, and craftsmanship that goes into each bespoke edition that comes out of their shop. The music each artist creates is only the beginning as the sense of immersion is enhanced significantly with artful packaging and curated ephemera that deepens the experience – postcards, photos, letters, scents, and other historical artifacts. Every release is truly unique and conveys an aura of authenticity and human connection that is very antithesis of commoditization. Featured here is a quartet of recent entries in their catalog by Emmanuel Witzhum, Tobias Hellkvist, Christopher Whitley, and Kirill Mazhai.

Note: As many readers may already be aware, if you have an interest in obtaining a Fluid Audio release, it is imperative to sign up for their mailing list as they typically sell out early in the pre-order phase. Also note that shortly after physical editions do sell out, digital versions usually become available on the label’s Facture Bandcamp page.

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Travelogue: An Eilean Rec. Journey

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Eilean Rec. is a non-profit independent French label founded on a rather original concept – a map of an imagined land populated with 100 points each of which corresponds to an album release. A little over five years since it began, that map is nearly complete and during that time, the label has introduced us to so many excellent artists and albums while gently stretching the boundaries of what listeners might expect from ambient and electroacoustic music. I confess a little sadness in seeing it drawing to a close, but the finite nature of this project is an essential part of its aesthetic and there is no doubt those involved will move on to other equally interesting creative endeavors. Presented here four recent Eilean releases that I’ve been enjoying during my summer listening by Ecovillage (Sweden), Seabuckthorn (UK), Ciro Berenguer (Spain), and Andrew Tasselmyer (USA).

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Travelogue: The Beautiful Hum of Hotel Neon

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“I could hear everything, together with the hum of my hotel neon…” Jack Kerouac

One of the privileges of being on this journey of musical discovery over the past five years or so has been to witness first hand the trajectory of emerging artists from their tentative beginnings to their creative peak, and one of the most satisfying among these has been Hotel Neon. What began in 2013 with brothers Michael & Andrew Tasselmyer, some inexpensive equipment, and a little inspiration from Jack Kerouac has blossomed into a vital trio (multi-instrumentalist Steven Kemner joined in 2015) that is doing some real heavy lifting in the field of ambient & electroacoustic music.

From the perspective of the outside observer at least, some of the keys to Hotel Neon’s success would seem to be an extraordinarily clear vision of their sound from the very outset, a commitment to avoid repeating themselves, an intense work ethic, and persistent efforts to cultivate a sense of camaraderie with fellow artists as well as their audience. All of this has translated into a series of albums each of which becomes essential listening as soon as it released. This travelogue features the last two most recent full-length records, the brand new Vanishing Forms and last year’s Means of Knowing, both available on Agustín Mena’s outstanding Archives imprint. 

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