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.
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
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 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.”
Blue is the color and blue is the mood of Down to the Sadness River by Emilía, a new collaboration between Lee Yi & Vanesa Jimenez (aka Meneh Peh). The album is being released on the multi-disciplinary Rottenman Editions which was founded by Jimenez and where you can also find their 2012 recording under the moniker Niñocometa along with Yi’s lovely Motet EP from earlier this year. The album’s description alludes to “a painful life” and “a suffering past, tragedy and the slow search of the long road to stillness” and while the artists respect their own privacy regarding the details, there are poignant clues in the song titles and there is certainly nothing held back in the haunting intensity of the 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.
Heavy, oscillating waves of sound wash up on imaginary shores warmed by the rays of a distant sun. The Vacation, the latest album by Oleksiy Sakevych under the moniker of Endless Melancholy is a worthy follow-up to his well reviewed 2015 release Her Name In A Language of Stars.
Even more so than its predecessor, it evokes a sense of cosmic wonder and vast, otherworldly vistas while being anchored to a strong emotional undertow which lends it the haunting poignancy that makes it so compelling. Best experienced as a complete journey from start to finish, there are some individual standout moments, with tender stillness at the heart of “Wouldn’t We Be Lonely” and the transcendent, palatial slow build of “Enough to Cost Us a Lifetime” being arguably among the most striking.
When I first heard instrumental trio Square Peg Round Hole was making an ambient record, I was expecting a conventional approach – rework the same melodic constructs of their prior albums while losing the drums, lowering the volume, and slowing the pace. That would have been a pleasant enough affair to be sure, but for a band that prides itself on sheer inventiveness, I should have known to expect more. Five Years traverses quite a bit of previously unexplored sonic territory for the band as they show a penchant for developing beguiling, color saturated soundscapes, densely layered and studded with subtle glitch elements and a plethora of vocal & abstract percussive textures.