2019 Winter Music Preview ~ Ambient and Drone

Happy Year of the Pig!  Now that we’ve put the old year to bed, it’s time to look forward once again.  Every new year brings a mixture of hopes and fears, but it also brings a reliable supply of brand new music.  We have over 140 albums to share, and it’s only a taste of what’s to come.  One staffer has predicted that many of these albums will appear on the 2019 year-end charts!  We’re excited about these albums, and while we can’t review everything, we can certainly list everything ~ so hats off to all the labels and artists who unveiled their winter announcements before the end of the year!  We begin with our Ambient and Drone listings, and will continue running our preview over the next five days.  We hope you enjoy this sneak peak at the upcoming season! Wishing all of our readers a wonderful 2019!

Our cover image is taken from the exquisite children’s book Over and Under the Snow, written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal.  Highest recommendation!

Rich’s Pick (Ambient):  bvdub ~ Explosions in Slow Motion (n5MD, February 22)
This is the first time an artist has grabbed our pick two seasons in a row.  Achievements like these are destined to be rare, as they require an artist to be both prolific and extremely talented.  Drowning in Daylight snuck into our overall Top 20, and this one has a shot to do the same, although it will have a much longer time to be assessed.  The difference is a shift back to classical timbres ~ floating choral texts, delicate piano and copious strings.  The title may remind some of Explosions in the Sky; slow that band’s music down by a factor of 8, and the end result might sound something like this.


Peace and Tranquility

The Home Normal label has announced three winter releases, beginning with anthéne‘s weightless, which billows like soft snow (February 8).  This will be soon followed by Altars Altars‘ Fragments, which includes abraded static and wobbly tape loops culled from children’s cassettes (February 22).  Then Tomoyoshi Date & Stijn Hüwels join forces on hochu-ekki-tou, a quiet, meditative and at times nearly silent presentation (March 15, pictured right).  John Neher & Michael Scott Dawson‘s Nothing Is On Fire is a reminder not to panic on regular days; the soothing single “The Young Winter” is a perfect taster of this seasonally appropriate album (January 18).  Simon Scott‘s Soundings starts with a storm, but soon finds shelter; the artist integrates field recordings and strings to lovely effect (Touch, February 22).  Sonic Pieces returns this winter with a new website and a new release; Deaf Center’s gorgeous March release Low Distance will be preceded by a single early this month, but for now you’re just going to have to trust us when we tell you it’s beautiful!


One of the season’s tiny treasures is Drawing in Sound, a 21-minute vinyl release from Christoph Lammers and Andreas Usenbenz.  The piece began as a live installation, with Usenbenz supplying sound and Lammers art on a giant canvas.  A piece of the canvas was then silkscreened onto the b-side of the vinyl.  The music is completely relaxing: meditative, inspirational, and conducive to drawing (Klangold, January 11).  Gavin Miller returns with the mini-album 3 Days, a six-part suite of violin, guitar and loops guaranteed to lull listeners into a state of bliss (This Is It Forever, January 25).  And Benoit Pioulard & Sean Curtis Patrick‘s gently abraded Avocationals makes fine use of reel-to-reel and is “dedicated to all lost souls on shipwrecks of the Great Lakes” (Beacon Sound, February 15).


It’s rare to encounter an ambient band comprised of “real” instruments, but that’s exactly what Trio Ramberget brings to the table.  The sweet setup of double bass, trombone and bass clarinet creates an entirely relaxing sound on Musik att somna till (Music for falling asleep), and while we haven’t put their claim to the test, we trust that it’s true ~ especially with one song topping out at over 17 minutes.  Max Richter, you’ve got friends in Gothenburg (January 4)!  Brass also makes an appearance on Hauch, the title track and lead single from Kryshe’s upcoming set of nocturnals.  Serein calls it “an album for open fires and woolen blankets,” a comforting description (January 25).  And log(m) and Laraaji join gentle forces for The Onrush of Eternity, a double album of “psychedelic space dub” that may find a home in college dorms this winter (Invisible Inc, February 18).


Blended Genres

Sarah Louise‘s timbre may be ambient, but she incorporates drone, folk, new age, and on Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars, a heavy dose of psychedelica.  On lead single Chitin Flight, she strums and plucks the acoustic guitar while singing wordlessly as if enraptured by the world (Thrill Jockey, January 25).  Also utilizing vocals is Stockholm’s female duo Orphan Ann, who speak and chant against light seas of synths and beats.  Debut album The Practice of Surrender is out January 25 on Moloton.  This season will also bring a shoegaze EP from Jeffrey Silverstein, who offers a loving dedication to his grandmother on Finds You Well.  His debut release How On Earth blends vocal and instrumental pieces, and a portion of the proceeds will be given to a local charity that supports youth involvement in the arts (Driftless Recordings, January 25).


With topics ranging from morse code to backyard wrens, Gagarin‘s Phenomenolgy is a musical box of wonders.  Each electronic-minded track has a backstory, and the integration of field recordings is particularly effective (Courier Sound, February 4, cover left).  Via phase shifting and electronics, Tomas Nordmark creates an vibe that floats between otherworldly and the ancient world.  His compositions are based on Scandinavian hymns, and take their inspiration in new directions.  Eternal Words is out January 25 on Valley of Search.  Gideon Wolf‘s Replicas makes great use of a string trio and borders on modern composition.  At turns angry, resigned and hopeful, the album touches on issues of gentrification and urban decay.  We expect some great packaging as well from Fluid Audio (January 31)!


Dark and Wintry

The second compilation from Copenhagen’s Pattern Abuse is a compendium of like-minded artists under the banner of Nordic Ambient. The album sounds like the score to a folkloric winter, with dark elves lurking in the woods and dragons moving beneath the ice (January 7). ILUITEQ presents Soundtracks for Winter Departures, which resonates like a long, cold road trip; processed clarinet makes “Returning After Leaving” one of the early highlights (TXT, January 18). Continuing the winter theme is the Italian duo FRAME appearing on Glacial Movements with The Journey. The album title refers to the solar system and beyond, beginning with Mercury and (thank you) including Pluto and Charon (January 30).  Not to be outdone, Dead Melodies head into space on Primal Destination, providing the score to a sci-fi narrative (Cryo Chamber, January 1).  Meanwhile, Ž uses vintage glacier imagery to convey a sense of cold on Climbing to Yourself, the lead track on Noise SPA (January 10).  A touch more active (due to glacial melt) is Chris Mitchell‘s tape Shadow Wands, described as “a state of warmth in a frozen land.”  Synth tones lie atop drones like broken icicles on snow (XCPT, February 11).


Rich’s Pick (Drone):  Black to Comm ~ Seven Horses for Seven Kings (Thrill Jockey, January 25)
This is one scary album ~ just look at that cover!  But there’s more to the music than meets the ear.  Seven Horses for Seven Kings is at times abrasive, embattled, and defiant, and remains intensely visceral throughout.  It’s also a work of intense beauty, as evidenced by some surprising left field samples from medieval music and Nils Frahm.  The listening experience is enervating.  A special edition includes three bonus tracks.


Richard Skelton‘s new book Dark Hollow Dark is a study of texts both visual and prose.  This excursion is accompanied by a pair of new 24-minute sonic works, A Great Body Rising and Falling and Another Hand, each of which will be available separately from Aeolian Editions on January 1 (today!).  Skelton never disappoints, and those who enjoy his music may find this a perfect entry point for his writing as well.  Nate Young (Wolf Eyes) offers synth and sine as an antidote to seasonal affective disorder; Volume One: Dilemmas of Identity will be unveiled February 8 on Lower Floor.  Mac-Talla Nan Creag‘s The Sorrow of Derdriu combines Celtic myth and archeology, as detailed in the extensive liner notes (pictured right).  The music itself is packed with shruti drone, chant and other spiritual textures (Firecracker Recordings, January 8).  On the noisier end of the spectrum we find Gleb Kanasevich, whose thick bass clarinet distortions make Asleep a lesson in abraded texture.  The tape may begin quietly, but by the end it sounds like a slow motion car crash (January 15).

Richard Allen

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