2019 In Review: Ambient & Drone

2019_YIR_Ambient_Drone

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.

Continue reading “2019 In Review: Ambient & Drone”

Premiere: “Astray” by North Atlantic Drift

NAD_Pillars_cover

From the glacial post-rock soundscapes of Canvas (Polar Seas Recordings), Monuments (Sound in Silence) and Resolven (Polar Seas Recordings) to the sprawling drones of the more recent Departures series, Brad Deschamps & Mike Abercrombie have shown a willingness to change tack as they have navigated their North Atlantic Drift project over the years since their first release in 2012 even as they have developed their own solo projects, grown a record label, and scored films. Pillars will be the band’s seventh full-length record and the towering concrete arches on the cover herald yet another subtle evolution in their sound. The Brutalist motif with its colossal curved forms and silent defiance of chaos seems as fitting a symbol as any for the austere elegance of these weighty melancholic abstractions.

Continue reading “Premiere: “Astray” by North Atlantic Drift”

Travelogue: A Journey With Whitelabrecs

Whitelabrecs_2019_covers

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.

Continue reading “Travelogue: A Journey With Whitelabrecs”

Travelogue: An Eilean Rec. Journey

Eilean_summer_2019_selections

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).

Eilean_summer19_artist_montage

Continue reading “Travelogue: An Eilean Rec. Journey”

A Sense of Place: Solastalgia by Rafael Anton Irisarri

RAI_Solastalgia_cover

“The homesickness you have when you are still at home.” That is how Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht pithily explains the meaning of solastalgia, a word he coined as a way of conveying the “feeling of chronic distress caused by negatively perceived changes to a home and its landscape”. Others have referred to this feeling as “climate grief” or “Anthropocene anxiety”.  Unlike the more related concept of nostalgia, which is a longing for places and memories in our past, solastalgia speaks the the pain we feel in the here & now as the environments in which we live are face threats from rising sea levels, destructive storms, pollution, and over-development.

It is a poignant neologism that acknowledges that so much more than money, property and convenience are lost when the places we call home are under duress or undergo negative transformation. The impact on communities, landscapes, and ecosystems can have profound personal, societal & cultural effects as well as violating the sense of place that resides at the core of our very well-being.  It is point that is being driven home in a personal way as this review is being written in Virginia while a ferocious category 4 hurricane churns in the open Atlantic keeping millions of  us on edge for days on end waiting to see whether and where it will inflict its damage.

Continue reading “A Sense of Place: Solastalgia by Rafael Anton Irisarri”

Sound Impression: Orchestral Tape Studies

PIP_Orchestral_Studies_covers

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.

Continue reading “Sound Impression: Orchestral Tape Studies”

Sound Impression: ‘Hothocleana’ by the volume settings folder

TVSF_Hothocleana_cover

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.

Continue reading “Sound Impression: ‘Hothocleana’ by the volume settings folder”

Travelogue: The Beautiful Hum of Hotel Neon

HN_Dipstych_2019

“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. 

Continue reading “Travelogue: The Beautiful Hum of Hotel Neon”

The Listening Room (April 2019)

robert-katzki-119137-unsplash

Photo by Image by Robert Katzki  (source: unsplash.com/photos/yKWuzGyVsBM)

Welcome to the listening room.  Make yourself comfortable and check out some of the latest sounds that have caught our ears as well as previews of upcoming releases.  We begin with the quarterly Soundcloud “field journal” playlist for the spring season as well as new music by THESIS (ft. Taylor Deupree, M. Grig, & Porya Hatami), Rafael Anton Irisarri, Benoit Pioulard & Sean Curtis Patrick, Antarctic Wastelands (Ben Tatlow)Michael Price, Maiya Hershey & Steve Jansen, Sven Laux & Daniela Orvin, Richard Luke ft. Amina Bedrush-McDonald, and Laura Masotto

Continue reading “The Listening Room (April 2019)”