It is time for the slow fade of summer. The northern hemisphere starts to tilt away from the burning sun and the slanted light begins to take on a golden tint in the afternoons. The comforting crisp austerity of autumn awaits, but it is still warm, hazy, and verdant and a fine time to sink into languid, introspective sounds of the kind of delicate construction that can be found on the six albums featured here – a trio from the Whitelabrecs label by Ludmila, Steve Pacheco, and Floor Overhead along with EPs by M. Grig and Josh Mason, and a forthcoming October release by Ghost and Tape on Home Normal.
No matter how many solo piano pieces I listen to, I never cease to be amazed how musicians can channel so much of their own individual character through the same single instrument and weave so many intangible qualities into the notes and hammer strokes. As I listened to the music on Tristan Eckerson‘s new album Disarm, I found myself laboring to articulate what those intangibles were – that is until I read his bio.
The composer is currently based in the lovely mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina but was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and has lived, traveled, & studied in places as far-flung as Charleston, South Carolina, San Sebastian, Spain, San Francisco, California, & Seattle, Washington and has performed in multiple groups on both U.S. Coasts recording with members of the Ray Charles Orchestra, writing string arrangements for the Magik*Magik Orchestra, and performing at numerous music halls & festivals. And then it suddenly seemed obvious what I was hearing woven in and around the notes was a kind of restlessness, a sense of wanderlust and hunger for new experience.
Ambient music, when masterfully constructed and emotionally invested, has the power to cross inner oceans, map out the topographies of the soul, and expose the deep strata of memory. This introspective listening journey consists of a quartet of releases that do just that. Featuring the intricately woven and emotive soundscapes of Tapes and Topographies (Todd Gautreau), Bird Traps (Marcus Skinner), Wil Bolton, and James Murray.
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,
Earlier this summer, French pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Dominique Charpentier released an EP consisted of five songs each of which was developed in less than two hours. He chose this format as an experiment in form and a personal challenge. While compressing the creative process into a fixed time always risks an uncertain outcome, in this case it produced an enchanting quintet of piano-based pieces with a touch of melancholy and a touch of musette so as to weave a spell of melancholic and nostalgic romance in the space of twelve minutes.
Inspired by the music, the folks at Piano & Coffee have created a video to accompany songs using a montage of grainy, sepia-toned footage shot around a bustling 1970’s Paris turning “Esquisse IV” into a plaintive scrapbook of shared memory. Continue reading
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…”
If you visit the Soundcloud page of Lebanese sound producer and visual artist Maiya Hershey, you’ll find a veritable menagerie of beautiful experiments in ambient & electronic music and other sonic ephemera constructed from piano, loops, and voice. There is arguably enough material there to have allowed her to cobble together a complete album, but her full-length debut demonstrates she was willing to be patient enough to develop something truly substantial and cohesive. Tides is presented as a fictional story whose protagonist is an unseen creature born from deep waters that “inherited all of human consciousness and memory” and it possesses all the strange, otherworldly beauty such a concept portends.
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
With her 2012 debut ‘Escapement’, Brighton-based composer Poppy Ackroyd entered the same rare air as such esteemed innovators of modern classical and electronic music as Nils Frahm and Hauschka. Classically trained on violin and piano, she creates utterly mesmerizing music by manipulating and multi-tracking sounds primarily from these two instruments in sometimes unconventional ways, an approach she expanded upon with her second album ‘Feathers’ in 2015. This year she brings us a flurry of new projects to enjoy starting with her new mini-album ‘Sketches’ in which Poppy reinterprets pieces from her first two records as pure solo piano pieces along with several new compositions. She also has a brand new full-length album in the works for release in November and all this in the midst of performing as part of Hidden Orchestra, who themselves have a wonderful new record out called ‘Dawn Chorus’. I am ecstatic that Poppy was willing take time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions for Stationary Travels readers and thus kick-off the very first in our new series of artist interviews called Duologues.
The field of film & theater composers releasing debut albums of original compositions is ever-growing. For lovers of indie, modern, & post-classical music it is a healthy trend that means we are increasingly spoiled for choice, but it also raises the bar for the kinds of creativity and inventiveness needed to keep the genre fresh and compelling. That is where artists like James Maloney come in.
Originally from Birmingham, having studied music at Oxford, and now the Music Associate at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Maloney has just released his debut solo record entitled Gaslight on Moderna Records. Conceived of largely at night as a reaction to the noise and the pace of city life and built around a closely mic’d old piano accompanied by trumpet, vibraphone, & glockenspiel, it sparkles with that elusive lustre of pure inspiration and effortless enchantment.
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.