2023 Winter Music Preview ~ Ambient & Drone

Starting today, we delve more deeply into the winter release schedule, which already includes hundreds of titles: a boon for those who have packed away their 2022 playlists and are looking for something new.

Our earliest 2023 submissions arrived in late summer, a sign that some artists really have their act together ~ or were ready to put last year behind them before it was over.  We’ve been playing some of these albums for more than a season, and now we’re finally able to share them with you!  This winter’s musical slate is already enthralling, one of the finest in years.

Our cover image comes from John Bence’s Archangels on Thrill Jockey Records.

Ambient

We All Have Places That We Miss. Hollie Kenniff has a knack for capturing the dominant feeling of the present day: an aching nostalgia for things past.  To semi-quote Samuel Beckett, we can’t go on, we must go on, we’ll go on.  Her new LP is grateful for people and places that are no longer with us, pausing to reflect on the impact they have left (Western Vinyl, February 10).  Colour-based sets are fun, as listeners can compare synaesthetic notes with the artists.  Each piece on Colours of Air is named for a shade loscil and Lawrence English hear in the pipe organ and electronics.  Will we hear the same shades?  The joy is in the associations (kranky, February 3).

 

The always reliable IIKKI Books continues its twin offerings with Observatories, a paired pair of pairs.  First there is the lovely music from Ian Hawgood and Craig Tattersall; now add the book of photography by Tereza Kozinc & Klavdij Sluban, now combine the two to form an aural and visual keepsake (January 19, pictured left).  Ian Hawgood’s Home Normal launches the year with ghost and tape‘s Freeform, a gentle work laden with modular synth and chime tones (February 3).  Billow Observatory does just what its moniker implies on Calque, opening their windows to the sound of flowing water and the sight of little puffy clouds (Felte, January 13). Hummingbird returns on Fluid Audio with another beautiful work, available in elaborate packaging.  The hardbound maps edition of Langd (Length) comes with maps, prints, slides, photos, travel cards and more (January 6).  Recorded in a watermill on an old music box, Maze & Lindholm‘s Carillon sans timbre ni marteau is a meditation on the cyclical nature of time.  We think it would have been a great New Year’s release, but fortunately it’s already streaming in full (Totalism, February 15).

 

Russ Young‘s Cloak fits the definition of calming ambient music.  Inspired by “aquatic textures and underwater pianos,” the lulling suite may be just what one needs in the new year (Audiobulb, January 7). Those with leftover holiday money to spare may be interested in Laraaji‘s Seque to Infinity, a hundred dollar box set that combines his 1978 work with unheard recordings from that period.  The 4-LP set includes extensive liner notes and photographs (Numero Group, February 10).  Sometimes the music played before one performs in concert is more relaxed and instinctive than that played during the concert itself.  Aaron Tap plays Music For Empty Theaters, while finding freedom in the ability to unwind and experiment (January 6).  Ceremony of Seasons returns with its second pairing of wine and music, this time “a Mendocino grown, carbonic macerated Nouveau wine” and the wintry music of Brett Naucke.  Cast a Double Shadow is designed to accompany a long frosty evening, while providing tendrils of warmth (February 3).

 

There’s a fine line between ambient piano music and piano music that falls into the category of modern composition.  After dwelling in the latter category for years, Tristan Eckerson makes a shift on Journey Test, changing his moniker to Purple Decades.  The album is preceded by a very lovely video, as seen below (Beacon Sound, January 27). Sailcloth‘s Resting Fields was composed as the score to the short film I.  The music sounds just like its title, with gentle contributions on harp and violin (February 3).  Jonathan Ammons‘ Far From the Hearth combines electronics with strings bowed and plucked.  The music was conceived as the score to a cold environment, which makes this the perfect time for release (January 20).

Electronic Ambient

Chris Coco is the King of Chill, and has been for decades.  His latest umbrella project, The Chill Out Tent, is a series of events and compilations.  Recognizing that a compilation of pre-existing music “is effectively the same as a playlist,” this series contains exclusive, unreleased gems.  The Chill Out Tent Ambient Volume 1 is out February 15 on Disappear.  Free jam and synth combine on Moonlit Panacea, laid atop languid beats.  Rome’s Rainbow Island suggests a state of mind, an imaginary, yet hopeful place (Riforma, January 18).

Ominous plants, giant worms and tentacled spaceships decorate Giron‘s Something Strange in the Mountains, which draws on kosmische, with a sci-fi vibe.  Modular synth adds a pleasantly retro tone (Verlag System, February 10).  On the experimental tip, David Curington presents two releases this season: Hold Screen (Squeaky Clean) allows synths and filters to play, as if the parent has left the room (January 6); Assured Listening is a single extended piece prompted by a corporate word cloud, a collage of disparate sounds and frequencies (February 3), both on Square Ears.

Dark Ambient

John Bence is carving himself a niche in the field, infusing his albums with history, mythology and grace.  Archangels flies into the spiritual realm with synth and strings, chant and field recordings.  Psalms and Tarot find equal space; there’s room for everyone in this inn (Thrill Jockey, February 24).  Cowley-esque, ritual ambient is represented on Silent Chaos‘s Pure Chaos, a collection of singles, outtakes and installation pieces on the confrontationally-named We Don’t Give a Fuck label.  Call it the opposite of Christmas (January 23).

 

Fresh from her work on the Surge score, Tujiko Noriko continues in the cinematic vein on Crépuscule I & II.  Whispered vocals appear as the tracks grow longer and the music grows darker, especially in the chilling 13-minute “Golden Dusk.”  Suitably, the album is released on Friday the 13th of January (Editions Mego).  The same day, See Blue Audio releases Pit Full of Ghosts, a suitably spooky set from Isolated Community.  The duo gives voice to the spirits of Northumberland, haunted and hallowed in equal measure.

 

Dreading Valentine’s Day?  Devin Sarno has the perfect score.  Misshapen Heart is a commentary on the state of the world, the fact that Sarno insists it’s not a “doomsday soundtrack” suggesting it is (Perceived Sound, February 3).  Grant Chapman‘s Indentations is a mournful album, recorded on a laptop after a period of “loss and betrayal.”  One can hear the hurt in the sampled words, and read it in the titles: not an easy listen, but therapeutic (Métron Records, January 31).

Drone

Lawrence English’s remarkable Room40 label continues to blow us away with its professionalism, quality, and variety of releases, which have graced numerous ACL year-end charts.  Our Label of the Year in 2021 almost won again in 2022 and is already the frontrunner in 2023, with a remarkable ten albums up for pre-order, stretching into early spring.  This is how to run a label!  We’re listing everything here to keep it tidy.  The 2023 slate begins with Simon Scott‘s Long Drove, a return to the fens that inspired Under Sea Level.  The album is a meditation on “rural trauma” (a phrase we’ve not heard before, but love), the threat of climate change and the love of threatened land.  Scott combines field recordings of wind and ancient posts with soft instrumentation to create a sense of time and place (January 20).  Chamber ensemble meets musique concrète on Inland Lake (le lac intérieur), from Lionel Marchetti & Decibel.  Light poetry is included as well (January 20).  A week later, asher tull takes the wheel with the droning ten-part Automatism, which combines water recordings with electronics and radio waves.  Then on Zane Trow‘s envoûteuse haleine, it’s raining; let’s call this winter the Season of Water at Room40, remembering that it’s summer in Australia (February 3).

 

The prolific øjeRum plays an old piano and pours the sound into radio waves on Vågnende Jeg Ser De Døde” {“Awakening I See The Dead”), creating a gentle sort of haunting (February 10).  Megan Alice Clure captures voice mail snippets of herself playing piano while “between things;” Furtive Glances is as transitory as those liminal moments (February 25).  Continuing the ivory theme, Matt Rösner records Empty, Expanding, Collapsing on a restored piano, opening the windows to let in the rain (March 4).  On Atmospheres and Disturbances,  Philip Samartzis ventures to high Swiss altitudes to gather the sounds of snow and ice, freeze and melt, and cold desolate wind (March 14).  The Clear Distance continues both threads, as Bill Seaman and Stephen Vitiello operate with piano, banjo and found sound, starting with a track titled “The Fog Moved Across” (March 14).  And as spring approaches in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere descends into fall, Room40 will release Vakning, a hot recording from Francesco Fabris & Ben Frost capturing the sounds of volcanic fissures in Iceland (March 10).

 

Did all 3000 copies of the triple LP, as well as all of the CDs, really sell out before the end of the year?  We’re hoping that some copies were sent to distributors, because Kali Malone (featuring Stephen O’Malley and Lucy Railton)‘s Does Spring Hide Its Joy is a keeper.  While we would normally prefer vinyl, the CD version is an hour longer, but of course there’s always a digital copy.  These long tracks take their time, with no regard for watches and calendars, unfolding as they want, finishing when they are done (Ideologic Organ, January 20).

Mute Frequencies turn field recordings into drone on Radio Revolten by amplifying sounds normally unheard or ignored.  Radio waves, electromagnetic frequencies and kicked rubbish all find a place.  The pieces were recorded live, providing an additional layer of disorientation (MFZ, January 20).  Karlrecords will be releasing two records on opposing sides of the drone spectrum this season.  Martina Bertoni‘s Hypnogogia is the more organic set, constructed with cello and electronics, partially inspired by Solaris while tipping its hat to modern composition (January 20).  PITA / FRIEDL‘s same is loud, raucous and percussive, bordering on experimental noise (February 17).  For now, one can only hear Havoc by playing the videos;  Manuel Klotz & Sicker Man present cello noise with a touch of modern art (blankrecords, January 23).

 

Mark Harris / JOHN 3:16 investigate occult rituals with the driving Procession, which also fits in our Rock and Post-Rock category.  Click through to see another JOHN 3:16 album available for pre-order, but not being released until April 2024 ~ now that’s advance planning! (March 3).  And the loudest album in this category comes from Uncertain, who blends musings on body modification, magick, jailed children, fascism and more on the unapologetic The Descending Spirals of Time.  We’re starting to think that Friday the 13th is the new Halloween, even in January! (Bluesanct).

Richard Allen

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