ACL 2022 ~ Top Ten Ambient

The best ambient albums of the year include a set of short stories, an ode to a remote island, a celebration of sailing, a score to ice diving and an expression of hope from Ukraine.  Fans of classic ambience will find tributes to clouds and winter; armchair travelers will encounter two diverse destinations; and video gamers will be treated to a score from a favorite artist.  Every selection is distinct.  The diversity reflects the range of the genre, which has surpassed all earlier definitions of “background music” and now rests firmly in the foreground as well.

This is one of the strongest collections the genre has seen in years; literate and literary, this list kicks off our countdown in style!

Arun Sood ~ Searching Erskine (Blackford Hill)
A multi-media extravaganza with a personal connection, Searching Erskine offers field recordings, interviews and a sense of time and place.  The island of Vallay is accessible only two hours a day, and was once the home of a glorious mansion, now reclaimed by the elements.  This sonic diary is a slice of history brought to life, a reclamation of a lost legacy, an unearthed treasure brought to the light.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Cafe Kaput ~ Maritime (Themes and Textures) (Clay Pipe Music)
A sort of continuation to the Applied Music series, Maritime: Themes And Textures does for the ocean what Eno’s Apollo soundtrack did for space. This airy, breathy concoction of lush ambience feels best suited for lazily floating on the water. Although Cate Brooks borrows a couple of titles from the UK Shipping Forecast, much of Maritime is suited to the gentle coastal waters on tranquil, summer days. There’s the occasional moment when the skies darken and choppier waves beckon, but on the whole, this is smooth sailing. A delight. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Galya Bisengalieva ~ Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive (One Little Independent)
As leader of the London Contemporary Orchestra, Galya Bisengalieva has played on numerous soundtracks already, but Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive is her first as composer. We have been fans since her second EP arrived back in June 2019, but this album – a score to a Netflix documentary – really caught our imagination. Galya focuses on a single character, the ice diver Johanna Nordblad, and uses drone and field recordings to capture her world. It’s so effective, you don’t need to see the images to understand what is happening. We expect many more scores to follow. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Heather Woods Broderick ~ Domes (Dauw)
For her instrumental debut (!), the artist has managed to produce a work of cello that makes full use of its complex harmonies’ volume. Experimenting with interwoven loops, she emphasizes the instrument’s expansive sound to the point of giving it a physical presence; even if you do not listen to this album loudly, it is possible to feel the weight of every stroke, its mass building up as the loops interact. That is not to say this is a drone album – even at its noisiest, clarity is paramount, like watching a landslide at a distance, both titanic and simple. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Ian William Craig ~ Music for Magnesium_173 (Fatcat/130701)
Of all the artists we cover, Ian William Craig was perhaps the least likely to record a video game soundtrack; and yet here it is.  The tender, slowly-branching album is a perfect match for a game of interlocking puzzles.  Craig is in fine form as always, his gorgeous falsetto hovering over clouds and mist, punctuated by occasional electronics, a periodic table of notes.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Jim Perkins ~ Immersed in Clouds (Bigo & Twigetti)
Immersed in Clouds undertakes the difficult experiment of exploring how music can suggest rather than represent. Minimal in several senses of the word, Jim Perkins’ latest EP is exceptionally brief, clocking in at under ten minutes, while relying, for most of the five tracks, solely on the sounds of the violin. While ambient composers certainly don’t have to embrace minimalism as an aesthetic strategy, the genre often thrives under limitations. The tracks end almost as soon as they have begun. But instead of channeling lack, the soaring, swooning strains of Anne de Bruin’s violin achieve ambience, lingering long after the album’s run time. (Jennifer Smart)

Original Review

Koloah ~ Serenity (Salon Imaginalis)
Many Ukrainian artists were unable to listen to music in the immediate aftermath of the full-scale invasion, let alone produce any new material. Most had to leave all their gear behind while fleeing to safer parts of the country, amongst them Dmitriy Avksentiev, aka Koloah, who left Kyiv taking with him only his laptop (and his cat) in the early days of the war. And yet, while displaced, Koloah managed to create an album of beauty and transparency. Radiant, never mournful, Serenity builds on from the ebb and flow of the shimmering “Seachless”, the only track, completed not long before February 24. With ethereal choral voices countering the rumble of war in the closing track “Dyvo” (“miracle” in Ukrainian), Serenity opens a path to that unknown part of ourselves which surpasses us. (Gianmarco Del Re)

Ukrainian Field Notes III

Neal Heppleston ~ Plankton and the Whale Shark (Self-Released)
An ambient album about the sea. “How commonplace”, one might say.  But in the (eclectic) execution, more than the theme, this album becomes distinctively and beautifully intense. Heppleston and his ten (!) collaborators have crafted a seascape of perfectly mixed sensations: meditative and noisy, droning and melodic, electronic and instrumental. In the titular track, the powerful sonic contrasts of the ocean give way to a krautrock banger straight out of a prog fantasy album, only to move onto a modern composition piece that would not be out of place in an Ólafur Arnalds record. This results in an interesting dynamic: the ambient parts collide and integrate with other types of music, rendering it much deeper and engaging than it might seem at first. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Sontag Shogun x Lau Nau ~ Valo Siroutuu (Beacon Sound/Ricco)
This charming release combines the work of two artists and two labels, and can be purchased in two types of elaborate packaging.  Recorded on the Finnish island of Kimitoön, Valo Siroutuu (The Light Scatters) is decorated with the sounds of summer.  Bells ring, birds tweet, children play, and all the while, the ocean laps at the corners of the music.  How long can the reverie last?  As long as the music plays.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Steve Roden ~ stars of ice (Room40)
One of the benefits of releasing a wintry album in February is that it’s equally relevant to the environs when voting on the best of the year in November. If we’re not (currently) experiencing snow to the height of the drift on the cover, we’re certainly feeling the chill in the air. So Steve Roden’s slow, rumbling ambient track that underpins the looped fragments of old vinyl perfectly fits in with the season. It’s remarkable how much a dusty run-out groove sounds like trudging through crisp snow; it is also remarkable how the music continually evolves without any obvious shift in mood. This is a piece to give you the shivers for all the right reasons. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2022 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part VI – Avant Music News

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