So I totally missed out on doing a netaudio roundup in June due to some crazy life circumstances. Since that’s one of this blog’s more notable features, it stinks. It happens in the best of families, however, as an elderly English boss of mine used to say. In any case, I have an embarrassingly large cache of treasures I have received since May, so I’ll start with this roundup and hopefully get to a part II very soon. So if you submitted something recently, you may well get a mention in the next week, unless something new and horrible happens to me.
I continue to receive many quite wonderful submissions, which, while not surprising to me, has certainly warmed the cockles of my heart. Read on to unearth some musical treasures of la genre ambiente!
Neal Gardner – We Are Infinite
This brand spanking new release of short ambient pieces jumped right of my speakers and grabbed my attention. And not just because my middle name is “Neal”, spelled the same way. Neal Gardner is a Californian composer who must have been spending some time on Mount Palomar, because this is a classically celestial suite of pieces. I would actually say that for the most part the music is a bit too melodic to be considered pure ambient per se — it’s far more redolent of the works of great early electronic legends such as Cluster, Vangelis, Kitaro, Schulze et al, though of course with more modern sounds in the Pete Namlook vein. In other words, this stuff could be the soundtrack to a really awesome sci-fi film. Gardner uses sweeping pads and nifty little electronic percussion sounds like a master, meaning it sounds full of soul, not like a robot. That’s about half of the album — the other half is piano-based pieces sure to satisfy the most ardent Harold Budd fan. Gardner has an excellent grasp of how to make compelling electronic music that’s futuristic but emotionally satisfying. He’s got a bright future in this genre.
Marconi Union and Jah Wobble – Anomic
Neither of these names should be new to serious fans of ambient music. Marconi Union’s been making compelling soundscapes for quite some time, and if you don’t know Wobble from PIL, you should know about his collaboration with Eno. So I reckoned this should be an interesting release, and it is. Wobble’s unmistakeably thick, dubby bass sounds (I’ve heard he uses TWO Ampeg cabs onstage) perfectly underpin Marconi Union’s dreamy excursions of guitar, synths and equally dubby reverbed percussion — it’s kind of like, oh, I dunno, The Mad Professor making an album with Vidna Obmana. Yeah, like that. Except these guys are names unto themselves and don’t need silly comparisons. This is some pretty hip stuff, sounding like the musical representation of 3:30 a.m. in a hot barrio somewhere in the tropics. Highlights are “Times of Despair”, which sounds like a cooler dub version of Tony Levin with Gabriel, the late-night poetry recitation/ambient combo of “The Rain has Stopped” and the mysterious groove of the title track. This combo of molasses-thick bass with ambient expertise is a smashing success.
Starving Daughters – We Were Eggs
Here’s a pretty far-out album by an LA-based psychedelic combo. Took me a while to get around to listening to it, but I’m sure glad I did. This is a cosmic stew of Kraut influences (definitely Amon Düül II), early Floyd, and of course West Coast U.S. psych. And it’s executed perfectly, from the compositions to the production. I find it much easier to digest than Dungen’s unholy racket (which I am in the mood for sometimes, I must admit). There’s no main vocalist — the band instead mainly uses odd vocal samples to provide extra interest over their proggy excursions, which mainly consist of spooky organs, some very groovy and vintage-sounding drumming, and some pretty amazing Kaukonen-style electric guitar. I can smell the incense as I listen! Highlights include the jerky rhythms and dramatic soloing of the title track, the macabre carnival atmosphere and heavy riffing of “Full Moon Mutants” and the spaghetti Western sounds of “Four Bullets for One Man”. Really, I could pile on the superlatives, but I’ll just sum up by saying that this one of the best vintage psych revival albums I’ve heard, and I’m something of an aficionado. Just as good as Swedish experts My Brother the Wind, and that’s saying something. You don’t need drugs when you’ve got music this spacy to trip with!
Dead Leaf Echo – Thought & Language
There’s a bit of a shoegazey 4AD-style revival going on at the moment, and that, my friends, is not a bad thing at all. That stuff was pretty much the best thing about the eighties, providing us lonely intellectual geeks with our own little cult of sensitive tunes based around chiming, delayed guitars, soft, reverby vocals and songs about pretty, poetic things. Dead Leaf Echo’s debut hits all the right buttons, a generous helping of gentle male and female vocals, trippy guitar with lots of delay and chorus, etc., and some very memorable, melodic songs. My own preference is for things that are rather mournful and ambient, so for me, “Child” fits the bill perfectly. It starts softly but eventually picks up in an uplifting finale. The ambient pop ballad “Thought” is also lovely, as is the stately closer, “Flowerspeak”. If you like the vibes of eighties/nineties shoegaze and neo-psychedelia, especially those beautiful, otherworldly guitar sounds, I guarantee this album was made for you.
The Glass Hour – Ever After
Now for something a touch out of my comfort level. The Glass Hour is an act that combines ethereal female folk-style vocals, harp (real harp, that is!), ambient and modern progressive rock touches in the vein of Iona, Mostly Autumn or even Nightwish. There’s definitely a pre-Raphaelite flavour to this collection of elfin folksongs that should appeal to admirers of Enya, Clannad and Loreena McKennitt as well as the aforementioned prog groups. Now I should point that if you don’t have a New Age bone in your body and love heartland rock to the exclusion of everything else, stay away. This is definitely for the poetic sort who enjoys Celtic balladry. Highlights include “Lament”, which combines lead harp with fairly heavy prog riffing and a Gilmour-esque guitar solo, and the light ambient of “What Birds Believe”. Certainly it’s refreshing to hear the harp, which is a lovely instrument, used in combination with ambient music, and the genuine folk atmosphere of the album is quite appealing. A very pleasant listen.
A couple of extra things
Ukraine-based Ummagma has a split out with Finland’s Virta which you should check out. Ummagma makes some of the best dream pop/acid folk stuff around, and their contributions to this split come from their concurrent debut albums, which make for a great introduction. Virta’s two tracks are really lovely also, sort of an ambient/jazz horn fusion. Pretty neat stuff. Get it free here.
Dutch act Silmus has a really nice ambient album out, not digitally as of this time, but if you are a connoisseur of the genre you should definitely visit his site and listen the three tracks there and consider getting a hold of it. Very dreamy, sparse, minimal post-rock/ambient from an artist we will be hearing more from.
Benjamin Finger’s Listen to my Nerves Hum, a vinyl and CD release, is an interesting one. The album is a sparse collection of solo piano pieces with various rather odd vocal parts, field recordings and sampled things popping in and out of a few. Not ambient music per se, but it does succeed in setting a mood without wearing out its welcome, which is the risk of making an album based around one instrument playing fairly simple pieces. Your highlights are “Road to Salema”, which is very pretty, with the chords ringing out with just the right amount of reverb in the pedals, and “Ode to Blissa”, which is full-on avant garde piano and sound collage that reminds me of the kind of modern composition done in the 50s and 60s (say, Feldman).