The world is worried. On top of our normal concerns (war, famine, politics, economics, relationships), now we have a virus to contend with as well. Ambient music offers calm in the midst of anxiety, peace in the midst of turmoil. In contrast ~ or perhaps in compliment ~ the dark ambient and drone genres provide soundtracks to our deepest fears and anxieties, acknowledging that such things are real. They may offer cold comfort, but also provide an essential empathy. We hope there’s a new album for everyone in this preview: a go-to release that will help to slow a racing heart, calm an agitated mind, help an insomniac to sleep. Some may say that this isn’t medicine, it’s music; but fans of these genres know that their music can be both.
Our cover image is Sophie Gabrielle’s “Worry for the Fruit the Birds Won’t Eat,” from her new IKKII Books release covered below!
Rich’s Pick: Ian William Craig ~ Red Sun Through Smoke (Fatcat, March 20)
We won’t have to wait very long for the season’s best release; it’s out on the first day of spring. Red Sun Through Smoke is yet another triumph from an artist whose every set is a revelation. Honoring its title, the new album switches between density and clarity. The press release is an intimidating 1678 words, nearly the length of this entire article, but somehow words don’t seem to do it justice.
Calm, Rest, Peace
The season’s highest profile release (and the most likely to poke through the mainstream) comes from Roger Eno & Brian Eno, who surprisingly have not recorded an album together before now. Mixing Colours also comes with a batch of equally restive videos to match the mood. Put these on a large screen and watch your worries fade away (Deutsche Grammofon, March 20). Another veteran keyboard artist is returning this spring with a surprise sequel to a 40-year-old album. Roedelius is none the worse for wear; Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe is his return to relevance (Tapete, April 10).
The Handstiched* label has been a source of physical beauty for many years, every release presented with love. Maple Finch is no exception. Ishmael Cormack‘s gentle electronics sing of nesting birds and the vessels of spring. The disc is nestled in a handmade, softcover book, lined with moss-colored paper. It’s a beautiful way to start the season (March 20). Jan Wagner‘s music is deliberately stripped of context; even the track titles are numbers. The slow, electronic Kapital sounds like the passage of time; we even love the name of the label (Quiet Love Records, March 2). The wonderful THESIS series continues with edition 17, presented by Ceeys & Constant Presence. The two extended tracks wash over the listener like shanti, as the artists honor the teachings of Shunryu Suzuki (April 2).
Carlo Giustini pays tribute to the new age movement on L’abbaglio by offering wobbling tape music on re-recorded tapes, a three-dimensional, tactile gift (March 27). Aros E-V has produced a zine to accompany copies of quiet citadel, “a meditation on mental health care in the U.S.” The recordings were made at the now-closed Kirkbride Hospital, mingled with sampled cassettes to produce a peaceful patina (April 7). IIKKI Books pairs music with hardback art books, the latest collaboration with music from Seabuckthorn and photography by Sophie Gabrielle. The meditations of Through a Vulnerable Occur are often mesmerizing, with hints of drone and modern composition, but the acoustic guitar lights a path in the dark (March 30, pictured right).
It’s not often that one finds a ceramic eyeball on the beach, and we’re fairly positive that Edward de Waal took it with him after the video was filmed. Nevertheless, the thought is intriguing as the wrack line seldom holds such intense treasures. A Quiet Corner in Time represents the artist’s partnership with musician Simon Fisher Turner, and reflects the sounds of an installation; the museum fills with visitors as the horses bray outside (Mute, March 27). New Landscape is a drum and bass album that doesn’t sound at all like drum ‘n’ bass. KCIN & Brendan Clark‘s collaboration relies on microscopic noise to create a form of sonic gauze, with a kind dedication to the people of Sydney (Focused Silence, April 17). The songs of Hali Palombo are focused and concise. Cherry Ripe contains shortwave radio transmissions and a fisherman’s monologue, adding to the range of the semi-electronic set (March 21).
Beloved Noveller is back with her patented blend of mesmerizing guitar and effects, scoring a premiere on Adult Swim. We’ll have to wait a while for Arrow, but we suspect the results will make it worthwhile (Ba Da Bing!, June 12). Windy and Carl have been out a while, shoegazing. Allegiance and Conviction takes the duo back to where they left off, their pensive guitar laced with whispery vocals. After 28 years, their music remains immersive (Kranky, March 27). Looks can be deceiving. The first two videos show us that From Overseas is just a guy on a rocky outcrop (sometimes sea, sometimes mountains), playing his guitar and pedals through amps; but it sounds like a whole lot more. Home is out March 25 on Past Inside the Present (pictured left). Leo Abrahams & Shahzad Ismaily join forces on Visitations, which centers on the sound of their acoustic guitars; there’s a slight farmland tinge to the recording, although it could just be the cover (figureight, April 3). “New age ambient psych pedal steel country” sounds like a microgenre, but can be found on Altar of Harmony, from Luke Schneider (Third Man, May 8). Owl‘s Mille Feuille is named after a layer cake, which seems appropriate given the depth of the recording. Which part is the icing, the electronics or the guitar? The sounds are tasty either way (SOFA, April 4). Try not to confuse this with the eighth album from The Owl, which includes bass and a multitude of effects. Voyage is released March 23 as a 27-minute release in five parts.
A well-timed April release comes from Jäverling, whose Musik för trädgårdar is “inspired by plants and horticulture” and is found on the similarly fitting Flora & Fauna (April 24). JMMRT creates stained devotions on Palimpsest, a slow-moving album that flows like a river between rains (ANTYINES, March 20, pictured right). TALsounds applies her filtered voice to the wandering keys of Acquiesce, creating a dreamlike atmosphere (NNA Tapes, May 22). Erik Hall tackles the compositions of Steve Reich on Music for eighteen Musicians, offering an upbeat set of electronic dances, albeit without drums. These repetitions are hypnotic, producing the best form of trance (Western Vinyl, May 8). Nick Storring‘s My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell is a strange tribute to Roberta Flack, as seen in the video below. Yet it’s all in good taste, highlighting the mystical side of the songstress (Orange Milk, March 27).
A variety of textures can be experienced on the appropriately-titled Gestalt, the latest work from Arovane. The artist compares the timbres to “solid, liquid and gas,” which morph and coalesce. Some segments border on drone while others swirl like peaceful ponds (Puremagnetik Tapes, March 24). Daniel McCagh‘s active style of ambience includes organic instruments with nods to drone and modern composition. It’s only fitting that the title is Altered States (n5MD, April 10). Evan Caminiti‘s Varispeed Hydra is an exercise in devotional dub. Rich in texture, the album is also a commentary on vanishing flora and fauna, a call to arms that connects the listener with a rapidly-changing environment (Dust Editions, April 3). Keyboards dance with electronic drums on Imaginary Towers‘ The Sound the Sun Made, which borders on the clubworthy without deserting its ambient roots (April 21). zakè and Slow Dancing Society team up for the restive Mirrored, which offers a few pulses in lieu of beats, along with some lovely violin (Past Inside the Present, April 20). Once again, A Strangely Isolated Place offers some pretty vinyl, this time midnight blue. The color matches the topic of Merrin Karras‘ Northwest Passage, which reflects an ever-melting area. The album leads up to a beautifully turbulent finale in “Dominions” (March 23).
Markus Floats experiments with MIDI synth on Third Album (guess how many came before?), marking his first appearance on Constellation. His sound is upbeat, tinged with pop, as brightly colored as the cover art (May 1). 25 years of experience makes a great resume, and Morten Bach adds to his oeuvre with Tanpura, a single-track, 39-minute piece that keeps developing as it moves along. Once known for rock, the artist is now branching out (March 27). LF58 unveils a synth-based, sci-fi-inspired sound on Alterazione, a cinematic EP due April 6 on Astral Industries. Hauntology graces the 70’s-influenced Parapsychedlia from The Heartwood Institute and Paramint Manse. The sound is a bit too perky to be called dark ambient, but knocks at the door like a persistent phantom (Castles in Space, March 27).
Dark Ambient and Drone
Tape loops on tape makes sense, and Ghost Signs follows through with The Holy Ghost and Other Lost Souls. The cassette comes across as a meditation on memory: on things and people lost. Kettles rattle, drones echo, the world begins to mourn (April 10). Laurel Halo doesn’t quite sound Possessed on her score to the 2018 experimental film, but the timbre is definitely haunted. The film investigates images of self and seeks to answer the question, “Who is looking out for you?” Violin and cello add additional texture; with any luck, the score will call some late attention to the film (Vinyl Factory, April 10). Fossil Aerosol Mining Project mingles mud, silt and sediment to create a tribute to the Illinois River on Scaath Catfish. Field recordings, dialogue and chopped cassettes provide additional raw material (Helen Scarsdale Agency, March 20). Cyclic Law is one of the most reliable sources of dark ambient music, and is preparing two albums for March 20 release. AJNA‘s Oracular is a disorienting reflection of an out-of-body experience, while NERATERRÆ‘s Scenes from the Sublime goes for broke, with each song inspired by a different painting and featuring a different guest. Bosch and Dali are only the beginning of a host of visual references.
It’s hard to believe that in all this time, bvdub has never released an album without vocals. The reason is that the vocals are often so cleverly stretched and disguised that we haven’t recognized them as such. But for the first time, Ten Times the World Lied is completely vocal-free; and Lord, is it lovely (Glacial Movements, April 6, pictured right). Incorporating elements of modern composition, Rafael Anton Irisarri introduces “a sea of broken spirits” on Peripeteia, an album that delves into despair with the intention of emergence (Dais, May 22). Michael Vallera offers four pieces of processed guitar on Window In, a thoughtful album that takes its time, showcasing three massive tracks that top ten minutes apiece (Denovali, March 27). Giulio Aldinucci returns to Karlrecords with the elegiac Shards of Distant Times, seeking meaning in the past while indicting the technological obsessions of the present (March 27).
Continuing on the temporal theme, Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini present Illusion of Time, a synth-based work with a dynamic range that stretches from calm keys to dense drones. Just don’t expect it to sound like Nine Inch Nails (Mute/Phantasy Sound, March 27). Part “library music” and part squawk, 19 Feedbacks is sure to test some woofers. Dominique Grimaud‘s set is out April 24 on Discrepant. Another ambient/drone hybrid comes from the new duo of boycalledcrow and Xqui as Wonderful Beasts. The Art of Whisper travels between timbres and moods yet manages to preserve a sense of flow (Wormhole World, March 20). Midira Records is preparing three albums for April 17 release, two drone and one ambient. The drone selections are thisquietarmy‘s brooding Kesselhaus and the self-explanatory N + [ B O L T ] PLAY 15 AMPS, while Jarno Hunta‘s Midair is a blend of ambience, electronics and modern composition.
Kaffe Matthews has come far from her roots in acid house. foreigner is recorded on an old ELKA accordion organ, and is rife with sine waves (Objects Limited, April 10). The organ tones of Elah‘s Harmonic Twins are enhanced with reverberations from a Harry Bertoia sculpture; the music is similarly inspired by choral masses and motets (Important Records, March 27). Easily the season’s most difficult name to pronounce, FUJI||||||||||TA returns with a quartet of tracks recorded on a self-made, 11-pipe organ. Iki is a patient album, a challenge to society’s quicker pace (Hallow Ground, April 3). Adopting a gothic sensibility akin to that of Lisa Gerrard, Golem Mechanique adds sacred vocal to organ drone on the hypnotic Nona, Decima et Morta (Editions Mego, March 20).
John 3:16 follows February’s two-track EP Sodom & Gomorrah with the single-track, 33-minute, 33-second Good Friday tribute Crucifixion Darkness. The 2008 live recording references Scripture and numerology (Alrealon Musique, April 3). Another live performance comes from Sara Oswald & Feldermelder. Hidden in Kaoris Castle is packed with mystery, enhanced by the interplay of cello and electronics (~OUS, March 20). Bill Nace’s Both swivels between melody and noise, but as the cover art indicates, the main ingredient is a sense of foreboding (Drag City, May 22, pictured left). Die Angel melds the talents of Ilpo Väisänen, Dirk Dresselhaus and Oren Ambarchi for a hybrid album of guitar, electronics and slow-building menace. Utopien I is the beginning of the trio’s third decade in music (Karlrecords, April 24). Talking Book II appears nine years after the first installment. The experimental trio remains invested in darkness and drone, while fragments of conversation and distortion create additional texture (Koolarrow, April 24). Ekaterina Bazhenova-Yamasaki‘s Salt Moist Dust Saliva ii is aggressive, loud and long, the closing track alone clocking in at 40 minutes. The album investigates the relationship between sound and the body, and provokes visceral reactions (Kotä, May 22). With one glitch track, one rock and two drone (one soft and one loud), it’s impossible to pin down the sound of Animal Hospital. Fatigue appears April 24 on Whited Sepulchre; we’ll let listeners decide on the category!