Little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, as epitomized by the cover of Graziano Tassi’s album Blue. But now spring is upon us, and we’re watching the buds of hundreds of new albums as they get ready to bloom! This is the music that will accompany us as we emerge from our physical, social and emotional cocoons. In a metaphorical sense, we may have just endured the longest winter of our lives. As we look back over the season, we are grateful that yet again, the music helped see us through.
On the other hand, as a season of disease has begun to wane, we have entered a season of war. Brand new anxieties have supplanted the old. Many artists and labels have expressed mixed feelings about releasing music during the siege of Ukraine. Our response is that we need music now more than ever. We need to know that people are still creating art, filled with beauty and life ~ that there’s something worth looking forward to and a reason to go on. We hope that wherever your body, heart and mind may rest this season, we’ll be able to help you find the music you need ~ over 275 albums over the course of the next five days, starting with today’s preview of ambient and drone.
Rich’s Pick: Sontag Shogun x Lau Nau ~ Valo Sirotuu, (Ricco/Beacon Sounds, April 8)
This stellar collaboration brings out the best in each artist, creating a sound akin to pixie dust. There’s something for everybody here, from crinkling texture to bilingual voice. Recorded on a Finnish isle, the album translates geography into sound, embodying the title, translated as The Light Scatters. Even the release is a collaboration between labels Ricco and Beacon Sounds.
Marconi Union’s Weightless remains on the chart eight years after release, so the obvious question is, will Prospector Sound‘s Red Sargasso be able to surpass it? This is a solo effort from Richard Talbot, halfway through his fourth decade in the ambient arena. We’d say that he shows no signs of slowing down, but ambient music is supposed to be slow (The Ambient Zone, April 29). Dead Can Dance keyboardist Jules Maxwell returns with Cycles, a meditative set that includes a bonus copy of Nocturnes for those who purchase the vinyl (Ghost Palace, March 25). The strings are the thing on the long and lovely Secret in the Heart, which reunites Nick Podgurski + Zachary Paul for an uninterrupted 50-minute piece (New Firmament, March 22). The duo of William Basinski & Janek Schaefer have been working at an unhurried pace for eight years on “on reflection …”, and the quiet set will be unveiled on April 29, dedicated to Harold Budd (Temporary Residence Ltd.).
Has anyone been sleeping well lately? To prepare for hypnagogia, Quiver Vex practiced sleep deprivation to investigate the liminal stage between waking and sleep. This isn’t something we would recommend; but the end result is a soft series of lovely pieces that may indeed help one to rest (Room40/A Guide to Saints, March 25). Sharing a common theme is drift nowhere past / the adventure of sleep from Reinier van Houdt. Parts of this double-disc set first appeared during the exemplary AMPLIFY 2020 online festival, and were recorded as part of a monthly pandemic effort to record a track on the 22nd of each month. Disc Two incorporates themes of sleep, time distortion and liminality (elsewhere, March 22). And Trio Ramberget concludes the 24 Ways project with Volume III and a box set in late May. The somnambulant trombone, double bass and bass clarinet may be used as a sleep aid, but the album is also meant to reflect the 24 hours of the day and the daily companionship of music. February’s Vol. 2 is below (Piano & Coffee Records).
We’re going to try coining a term: librarydelica. We’re not sure if the term will catch on, but those who like the way it sounds should check out the calm sounds of Euglossine, whose Some Kind of Forever blends the traditions that comprise the portmanteau (sound as language, March 25). Just like a famous Lenten figure, Swartz et went into the desert to meditate about emotion, humanity and purpose. But unlike Jesus, he brought a synth. The results can be heard on Desert Meditation (April 8). In September 2020, Tomáš Niesner watched helplessly as his beloved Bečva River was polluted by chemical waste, killing massive amounts of wildlife. Walking the river he walked as a child, the artist collected field recordings which he integrates into the gentle yet heartbreaking Bečvou (Warm Winters Ltd., April 1).
It’s nice to hear nature seeping back into ambient music, which has drifted into more isolated themes over the past two years. c o m t e folds field recordings and light saxophone into Cipher, due March 22. Cipher ends with a track titled “Stream,” which in Spanish is Arroyo, the title of Jon Porras‘ new album. Much calmer than his work in Barn Owl, the new album was influenced by the birth of the artist’s daughter, and may be a huge aid when played in the nursery (Thrill Jockey, May 20). Birds sing on Michael Scott Dawson‘s Music for Listening, a calm work for solo guitar inspired by a phone call with a nonagenarian grandmother. We’re not sure if she’ll like the skull on the t-shirt though! (We Are Busy Bodies, April 8).
We admire the description “synths wrapped in a cloud-like fleece.” The Rain in the Trees is a restive set from Graintable, honoring the spirit of the Pacific Northwest (Ransom Note, April 8). Sometimes preview tracks leave a lot to the imagination, but The Corrupting Sea provides a 42-minute preview of Talking to Trees. The album captures the awe of being under a canopy of branches and leaves, and its crunchy tone is akin to a forest walk (Histamine Tapes, May 13).
Physically and metaphorically, Peter Coccoma‘s A Place to Begin begins in winter and ends in spring. The misdiagnosis of a loved one led the artist to walk along the frozen expanses of Lake Superior’s Madeline Island to think about maranasati, the awareness of death in life. He emerged with a new awareness, reflected here in a series of thoughtful pieces where he is joined by cellist Clarice Jensen and violinist Oliver Hill (Whatever’s Clever, May 20).
We doubt anyone will find a more descriptive title than Slow, Quiet Music in Search of Electric Happiness, from the guitar quartet Instruments of Happiness. Using a church’s natural reverb, the four composer-performers each have a 14-minute track within which to investigate their craft (Redshift, April 23). Continuing the church theme, Kit Parker‘s EP In Spite of Darkness includes organ tones, a track titled “Stained Glass” and a guest remix from Kelpe (Drut Recordings, March 25). Pedal steel, poetry, vibraphone and field recordings each find warm homes on Heart Music, which exudes a folk-like vibe suitable to the onset of a prairie spring. The album comes from Post Moves, who also runs the label Lobby Art (April 8). Pedal steel is also key to East Portal‘s self-titled debut, giving a musical voice to the “strange new comforts of the quarantine drift.” The first single, “Untitled #1,” is released in two days with a sweet snowy video (AKP Recordings, April 8).
We’ve heard a lot of music recorded during COVID, but The Turning Point is the first we’ve heard recorded while the artist had COVID. After coming down with the virus on Christmas Eve, Blanket Swimming toyed with old cassette tapes, synth improv and FX, and came up with this “slow dance record” (Panurus Productions, April 1). Days in the Abyss‘ Here Forever is like a darker version of Wall-E, an EP score to the story of a lost drone who realizes that he may not be alone (April 22). Kemper Norton returns with estrenyon, which was inspired by UFO sightings in Cornwall, plus the subsequent hysteria (March 31).
97 minutes of Lost Loops are presented on two sides of a tape from Lomond Campbell, whose last work focused on locked grooves. Piano is the key element, but the selling point is mood (One Little Independent, March 25). Another peaceful, tape-based work comes from Georges Daou, who creates a Sanctuary where music and poetry meet. The effect is meditative, like a sonic pew (Ruptured, May 6, pictured left). Tipping toward the dramatic, One Far West‘s The Country Trodden uses classical loops as the basis for enhanced, immersive soundscapes (April 15). John the Silent records a rare mono album in Mungo Sessions, so you’ll only need one headphone (Somewherecold, April 22); and City of Dawn offers a deluxe art box edition of As the Universe, So the Soul with metal print, Polaroid and sticker (April 15).
One of the season’s higher-profile releases is Ghost Poems, from Earthen Sea. Composed in the early days of New York lockdown, the album folds in the sounds of domestic quarantine, but makes the overall timbre warm and cozy (Kranky, April 15). In similar fashion, Billow Observatory‘s Stateside is “a record of swaying quarantine temperament,” appropriately released on blue vinyl. The duo is comprised of Jonas Munk (Manual) and Jacob Kolb (Auburn Lull), and bears the note of nostalgia that became so comforting in the anxious spring of 2020 (Felte, April 8). Another noteworthy team-up comes from the Mille Plateaux label, as The Leaf Library + Teruyuki Kurihara combine their skills on Melody Tomb. The first track to appear is Kite Beach, found on 2021’s Objects Forever compilation Object Ten (March 25).
Graziano Tassi captures the mood of melancholy on Blue, which includes nods to trip-hop and jazz. This is music for the chill-out room or a rainy day on the sofa, the first of two blue albums in this article, followed by Blue Sleep below (April 2). Lapsus‘ lapping waves offer a reminder of the languid pleasures of beach life. These days are not far away! The set was recorded in Sa Casa des Carbó, a fisherman’s house in Ibiza, in a year when Ibiza wasn’t happening at all (Lapsus, April 1). On Dingsbums Homage, Johanna Knutsson offers two tracks that are meant to be heard as one. The suite stretches from the beach to the skies and back again (Patience, March 31).
Lifestyle 03 is the concluding part of a trilogy from FMS-80. The title is short for “FM Synthesis 1980,” a Yamaha DX style that was once dominant in ambient-electronic music. Our favorite title is “May You Live Carefree Without Worries” (Rednetic, March 30). Geological changes and ambience are a perfect match, explored by Hiroti Takahashi on Paleozoic. If nostalgia is all the rage, what might we call a yearning for the time before humanity? And what lessons might this bear for the present day? (Dauw, April 29). Ambient, drone and glitch hold hands on Queimada‘s Mi Piel EP, a surprisingly restive and coherent set given the fact that it was inspired by European riots. Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast (SØVN Records, April 1).
Okada returns with another deep and melancholy set of four sprawling tracks, sprinkled with piano, rain, lugubrious beats and stretched voices. Fragility is out April 15 on n5MD. SPRO‘s Bilac is the second release from Chile’s Nocuedo Editions, a sparkling melange of synth tones, veering between melody and abstraction (March 31). Here’s a fun press description: “RIYL music that barely holds together, aliens and floating bubbles.” The album is Atte Elias Kantonen‘s POP 6 SUSURRUS, and after listening, we’d have to agree, while throwing in woodpeckers (mappa, March 22, pictured right). Seth Kasselman offers a series of playful vignettes on Analogous Fools, alternating between the textural and percussive while saving a space at the table for jazz, which arrives late in the set, food still warm (Warm Climate, April 1).
more eaze invites guests to join the table on oneiric, which includes some auto-tuned vocals on the ironically titled “we don’t talk about it.” The clear 10″ also folds in influences from the modern composition arena, making for an engaging listen (OOH-sounds, April 1). Lying on the border of ambient and electronic, vocal and instrumental, is Level 1 Mage, from guitarist Erik Gundel. One doesn’t expect to hear screaming on an ambient release, but it does occur from time to time, and surprises here late in the set (Dear Life, April 8).
Forlorn is the feeling of the past two years, captured by Daniel Menche on his album of the same name. We expect we’ll still be hearing pandemic albums for a while, even as conditions ease around the globe, leaving physical and psychic scars. These two side-long pieces capture the feeling of isolation, including the dissolution of time markers (Room40, April 1). Cole Peters tackles a similar subject from a different angle on A Certain Point of Inertia, folding in field recordings from his native Manitoba. The winds whip around the sonic field, forcing residents into isolation (Room40, April 8). From here, it’s a natural transition to the reissue of Lawrence English‘s Viento, one of the all-time finest – and harshest – wind albums, recently highlighted on our revamped list of The 40 Best Winter Albums of All Time. Room40 rounds out the month of April with Blue Sleep, a meditation on the color and its associations, conceived by Lydian Dunbar after a remarkable day of surf and a brief nap. And further down the line, we can expect Guitar Studies I-III from Zimoun; as with many Room40 releases, the limited edition is paired with a book of photography and prose (May 6).
“How quiet can you go and still hear something?” This is the question asked by the Reyes/Stokowy Duo on their thoughtful album Northern: Ashroud Is My Country. Bass, piano and effects are stripped to their essence; notes decay and fade; but true silence seldom emerges, save for the spaces between the tracks (American Dreams, May 6). One of the season’s more organic releases comes from percussionist Michael Anklin, who also uses field recordings and synth to produce an immersive, three-dimensional sound. Mekonium is released March 25 on Sais.
Lost Tribe Sound’s Salt and Gravity series continues with Federico Mosconi‘s Air Sculptures. Even in the midst of sustained chords, one feels a sense of grander themes, of lightness struggling to break through (April 29). Adrian Copeland‘s If This Were My Body completes the series on May 6, the artist’s cello drone well-known to fans of the project Alder & Ash. The album could just as easily fall under Modern Composition, but we like to keep our series entries in one place!
As with many recent releases, Hallow Ground’s Epiphanies was delayed by vinyl production problems. This double-white vinyl is finally ready to meet the general public on March 25, and includes Lawrence English, Siavash Amini, Valentina Magaletti and more, reflectng on the idea of epiphany through sound. Organ and choir are part of a multi-angle approach that morphs and surprises. Fresh from his collaboration with Strië, Scanner (Robin Rimbauld) offers the synth-toned La Fenëtre Magique, originally presented as the final episode of Steven Anderson’s “Magic Window.” Masses of sound gather and disperse over its half-hour span (Werra Foxma, April 4).
Jana Irmert uses the sounds of the earth ~ lava rocks, gravel, sediment ~ to form the sedimentary layers of What Happens at Night. The results are as mysterious as the magma beneath the earth (Fabrique, April 29). Giants K‘s Lėti spans ambient (“Query”) and drone (“Savage”), painting with a granular, electro-acoustic veneer. The title means “Slow,” which is also the name of the artist’s 2013 album (Cronica, April 26).
Kenneth James Gibson is joined by special guest Less Bells on Groundskeeping, a picturesque album that seems to expand like a desert horizon in the noontime heat, despite one track that refers to snow. Listening is like a slow walk through the seasons (Meadows Heavy Recorders, May 6). On Music for Modified Melodica, Kaori Suzuki plays the instrument with foot bellows to create a cavernous sound filled with vast, undulating tones (Moving Furniture, March 25). Brian Wenner recorded Black River Hymnal in one take as Hurricane Henri raged outside. Fortunately the artist survived, as well as his music (April 1, pictured left).
David Lee Myers calls his music “nonambient” but includes “ambient” as one of his tags on Bandcamp. We’re going to sidestep that entire discussion and place Lustre under Drone. The timbres are occasionally harsh, certainly not lulling, and after 53 albums, he’s earned the right to create his own terms (April 15). What do you get when an ambient artist and a drone artist join forces? A love letter For the Reverend Jason Molina. The collaboration between Veins Full of Static and Ghost Signs is released April 1 on Decaying Spheres.
Inspired by Byzantine history, surrealist poet Andreas Embirikos and the island of Cyprus, Wild Terrier Orchestra‘s Even the Chimera is an engrossingly literary release. Title aside, this isn’t an orchestra, but a multi-tracked work by Dimitris Papadatos with guest vocalists, dense in drone and layered textures (Haunter Records, March 25). Oliver Coates adds cello drones to the self-titled album from The pale faced family on the hill, a secretive collective who recorded their album in a church at the start of the pandemic (Line Explorations, May 6). Organic drone is played on the piano, concertina and melodica on Rest of the World, a spiritual set from the duo Treatments. Like much recent music, it was recorded on Zoom, safe but hopeful (Dead Definition, March 25).
Angelicus combines drone with tribal rhythms and light, interwoven lyrics on the diverse Approach, an outlier in the genre (Improved Sequence, April 1). Drone, noise and occasional harsh beats meet on The Liberated Mind, on which en creux experiments with feedback mixers while prompting unsettling interactions. She refers to the recorded sounds as “forever lost” in that they are impossible to duplicate in exact form (Otomatik Muziek, March 24). Multiple timbres meet on OHYUNG‘s Imagine Naked! The artist practiced patience as a disciple to survive the pandemic, and applies these lessons here. As a result, the sound is more subdued than on previous efforts, enveloping yet challenging (NNA Tapes, April 22, pictured left).