Just in at the wire, the October 2013 roundup! Some really, really good stuff this month, from some new faces as well as a few prolific people I’ve covered before. It’s all ambient or sort-of ambient this month, so aficionados, get reading and listening!
Global Sounds from the Ambient Music Facebook Group
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m uneasy with social media. Its overall effects on social behaviour (read: antisocial) will keep scholars busy for a hundred years, as we gradually forget what talking to people was like, and we also forget the days when you didn’t know every excruciating little detail of your acquaintances’ lives. But it does have its uses, and one of the positive ones occurs when it allows people with a common interest to come together and share. One such example is ambient music group on Facebook, which is very interesting to keep track of. There’s a LOT of talent out there. Since the November comp is on the way, I’d better mention this one while I can. This monthly series is a great idea, and the tracks have been carefully selected from the pool of talent out there. The sounds on this comp are quite classic, mostly drifting drone ambient of the kind Make Your Own Taste just loves, pieces like Peter Davidson’s “Indigo”. But there’s a couple of other interesting experimental tracks like “Notte D’estate” by Simone Uzbazur Elafiliel (that’s a mouthful), which features field recordings and has almost a medieval feel in the instrumentation, and the rhythmic pulse of Luke Stark’s “Throbber”. Perry Frank’s “Deserts” is some very pretty piano ambient. Overall, though, I have to say that every track on this first compilation is really, really good, so you should get this — and it’s free, so it’s a great introduction to these artists’ work. A very professional and well selected compilation. Go get it!
Busy Beds – OST: Seascape With Sharks and Dancer
This is a charming collection of short instrumentals that indeed does sound like a very dramatic soundtrack. The pieces vary quite widely from romantic post-rock themes (“Salty Sunrise”) to very beautiful piano-based pieces to some cinematic and psychedelic loopy/IDM-ey beat stuff (“This is a Pose”), as well as some purer ambient pieces (“My Ghost is Your Ghost”). This is actually pretty flawless from start to finish. The highlight tracks are “Truro”, which will have Helios fans drooling all over themselves, and “Delivering”, which has a swooning beauty that should appeal to just about anyone with a heart. A really fine album that’s the score to a play but still works really well divorced from its source inspiration.
This is a very interesting dark ambient/industrial ambient-type collection that is quite experimental but works well as a coherent whole. More minimal than a lot of dark stuff I hear, usually one or two sounds are the focus, such as the bass synth and metallic sounds on “Disbelief”. There is some variety here, though, such as in “Hope”, which crosses over into beatier ambient with some chiming percussive sounds. There are also some really bleak pieces, such as “Depression” with a rather expressive bass wave. Presumably the titles reflect a journey to, well, death, so it’s not cheerful, but the slightly lighter tone of “Hope” does leave us in a better place at the end of the listening experience. Each title and piece does accurately reflect the state of mind it’s meant to express quite well, as in “Anger”, with it’s dissonant, angular sounds. A pretty neat little album that I recommend.
Earlyguard is both prolific and consistently good, producing albums of longform spiritual ambient music that is very soothing (see this previous mention also). Isolation is a quiet, subtle release with a mournful, hazy tone. Perfect for a fall day, I must say. Sustaining interest over 50 minutes is not easy, but Earlyguard is definitely a master of this kind of minimalist composition — you can put it on in the background, but if you listen closely there are small shifts in tone and shade and little pseudo-melodies that crop up, and you find yourself staring at the wall and blanking out while listening. Very nice indeed! I reckon Earlyguard is one of the best long-form ambient composers on the globe right now.
Hilyard’s a busy guy too, which is a good thing, because he does wonderful stuff that is dark ambient but with lighter, more hopeful overtones (the same effect that Lähtö has on me). This is a split with Elam. Hilyard’s tracks are a little darker (as befitting the title) than his usual stuff I’ve heard, but feature his trademark waves of slightly distorted sound with nice harmonic overtones. “Omnium-Gatherum” gets quite loud and features a big bass melody underneath. “A Warm Dissonance” is actually not dissonant. It’s beautiful autumnal ambient of the kind we’ve come to expect from Hilyard. Elam’s track, “The Filth of Imagination” is quite Gothic in tone, with more big bassy notes, dramatic piano and vocal samples. It goes through a few movements in its fifteen minutes. A very good track. This is a free download and a good introduction to the artists’ work.
Jack Hertz and Scott Lawlor – Into the Eternal Darkness
Jack Hertz should not be a stranger to netaudio ambient fans, producing a pretty varied body of work in different subgenres of ambient. This collaboration with Scott Lawlor on the Nostress netlabel is very much dark, experimental ambient. Hence titles like “The devil is not as black as he is painted”! This ain’t designed to make you think of chirping cardinals and babbling brooks. The sounds on here are low, dark, bubbly, rustly and unsettling. An aural journey to the dark side. I’ve noted before that I get a lot of dark ambient submissions — dark times, dark music, I guess. But when dark ambient is done well, it’s a very compelling journey. The massive “A mighty flame follows a tiny spark” is a great slab of swirly eldritch darkness, and the impressively long-titled track “In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost” (I wonder how long that would be translated into Welsh?) features some insistent percussive sounds suitable for accompanying a witchy rite in those dark woods. One of the better dark ambient releases I’ve received.
Farrugia is back with another wonderful post-rock/ambient fusion (see my mention of a previous release in this roundup), with an emphasis on unabashed beauty. “Mist” and “Ambient Sketch #3” are some great subtle, emotional ambient, while “Morning Tide” adds a plodding beat to his customary ringing, reverbed piano and guitar, and “Above the Fog” soars on some clouds of airy guitar. Farrugia is making some great music of interest to anyone who wants instrumental music to be uplifting and enlightening.
It’s always nice to hear something very distinctive, and Thom Smith’s work is definitely something new to me. Not that the sounds are new, but the way he’s assembled them is quite refreshing. This album’s content is very varied and is hard to pin down in terms of a genre, which is also quite impressive (and rare). “Shadows of the Past” is very dark and experimental, while other pieces such as “High Pressure” and “Forest Lullaby”, while also quite experimental, are very pretty, the latter featuring a slow drumbeat. “Elemental Focus” is a very pleasant post-rock piece that lightens the tone a bit. Smith makes excellent use of percussive, metallic sounds as well as a big palette of innovative noises (check out “Living in the Wild” for an interesting variety) that he combines well. “End of Time” combines some rather dramatic vocals with a weird distorted vocal sample. I’m really not sure what to call this, so let’s say it’s a fine achievement in the area of experimental ambient/sound.art.