Hey, lookit me slowly catching up on my submissions emails! And I did greatly enjoy the stuff you will be reading about and checking out below, much of which is free or cheap to own on your very own device. This revue we have some pure ambient, some scary music and even some rawk n roll! It’s a big one as I continue to clean house, but let me assure you it’s not watered down. You must sample each of these recordings, or risk being cast into the realm of the hungry ghosts. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Cousin Silas – East
Talk about value for your money, whether you decide to pay or not! This album on the We Are All Ghosts label is massive, and very ambient, which means you can basically throw the sucker on and bliss out for quite a while. Which you will. It’s so long that it’s hard to isolate bits to talk about, but there is some really beautiful pure ambient on this recording (“Of Dreams and Memories”, “Slow Sunrise”, “Secrets”) but also some IDM/slightly beaty stylings (“Dreamsville Club”, “East”) and lovely post-rock guitar/piano explorations (“Of Passing Days”, “Of August Days”). You don’t even notice that there’s a 30-minute track, “Slow Rotations”! (which is very expert synth pad space ambient, by the way). Cousin Silas must be a very productive person. I greatly enjoyed every single one of these nineteen tracks, and how many albums can we say that about, let alone one that’s like, a bazillion minutes long! If I did year-end lists and shit, this would go on a 2014 best-of, no doubt. But I don’t, so it won’t.
Eensdenkend – Aeon
I love getting good ambient sent into my life, for without it I’d be nothing. NOTHHHING. Anyway, here’s another totally free album that ranks up with the best stuff I’ve heard. This Hungarian act knows how to take over your mind with enveloping walls of sound. That’s how I’d describe this, really — there’s spacious ambient that makes you feel you’re galactic cruising, and then there’s this stuff, pulsing and undulating and cocooning you for a more comforting, close, womblike effect. Things get into the territory of guitar wall-of-sound ambient at times (“We saw the yesterday storm”) and there’s some other post-rock touches (“Daydreams of a black widow”), but to me the main appeal here is the artist’s grasp of great drone sounds (“Amber clouds”, “Deep white”). Some really cutting edge ambient drone sound art is to be found here.
Bunai Carus – Veil
A good, sneaky combination of delicate ambient textures with sound art, IDM beats and noise, this unprepossessing EP kind of sneaks up on your mood. There’s a very creative combination of beats on “Lucid”, which has a busy rhythm track over some tranquil pad sounds. “Loca” enters the territory of glitchiness, a mood which pretty much sticks around for the rest of the recording. IF you like creative, innovative use of very busy beats, you will unquestionably want to check this out. IF you really don’t, you might want to avoid, because it might make your hair fall out. But for me, the beats on this EP create a nicely hypnotic mood when played at a low volume. Very professional stuff.
Utu Lautturi – Live @ Houseforest
Lautturi is a prodigiously talented Finn who makes very moody sound art inspired by the dark side of the mind but also by nature, which is on display in this wonderful live recording, which combines jarring noise music with the sounds of wind, birdsong and other environmental noises, blended with Lautturi’s experimental sounds (lots of gong and bowl-like stuff) as well as his most interesting vocal sounds. It’s a little really early Popol Vuh at times, a little New Age, a little tribal, a little gothic, a little Zen ritual (and I practice that, so I’m not one of those people who uses the word Zen incorrectly), as Lautturi goes from a delicate whisper to a full-on cacophony of roaring and whining sounds. “A Natural Ritual” is calm and beautiful, “The Dark Side” is quite visceral dark ambient sound art, and “In Swollen Tongues” veers from abstract noise to more tranquil textures. A braver artist you will not hear, that’s for sure.
EGB – Shadows in Paradise
EGB’s music occupies that grey area where ambient music and sound art meet doom music, with even touches of goth or black metal entering the scene. It’s not dark ambient per se, more a sort of gothic psychedelic ambient based on megalithic slabs of treated fuzz bass, as on the opening track, “Reviver of Colors” with it’s upfront bass buzz and psychedelic wall of backing guitars. Impressively, though these tracks were recorded from 2010-14, there is a nicely consistent feel. “Mysterizer” is a psych guitar workout, but most of the tracks are based on a wall of sound with the distorted bass upfront and the orchestra of Valhalla throbbing away behind. Sort of psychedelic heavy music distilled down to its most brutal elements. Despite the noise, it has a strangely tranquilizing effect and does sound best played a bit loud. And it’s free, noise fans!
In Formation – Summerlancholia
Always nice to hear something a bit distinctive, and this EP leads off with some ambient textures and some spacy, almost monastic harmonies directed via The Beach Boys (“Voks”), then turns to a rather cute, glitchy piece, “Welcome Home (We’re Happy For Now)” that’s almost Japanese-happy, it’s so nice, even with the whimsical monologue in a British accent. “Emilia Clarke” is more dancey in a space-age, futuristic fashion, while “Dissipate”, while it still has beats, is melancholy and sorrowful. The concluding “And Thus With A Kiss, Goodbye” returns to those church-y, vaguely Sigur Ros-y ethereal vibes. This recording is peculiar, but it’s a really good kind of diverse eccentricity, and since it’s free, you’d better go give it a listen, hadn’t you?
Ali Murray – Poems of Emily Brontë
I have a soft spot for Mr. Murray’s work, because I love a good slice of psych/ambient folk, having made a lot of that music myself back in the day (I had my admirers, I’ll have you know). Anyway, on this EP Scotsman Murray, who hails from the Hebrides and whose music has an appropriately windswept bent, has set some of the famous Emily’s poetry to music, which sounds like he is opening himself up to the risk of being considered twee. But Murray, a consummate master of acoustic drama, expertly prevents that by investing these nineteenth century words with a finely tuned Celtic sense of passion and sorrow, particularly on the all-too-short “I Know Not How”, with some delicate fingerpicking to boot. “If Grief for Grief” is turned into a sweet acoustic pop song. I also love the blended guitar parts and the minimalist ending of “It Is too Late”. Great stuff.
The Movements – Like Elephants 2
Wasn’t sure what to expect from this “psychedelic rock” album, but it is indeed very West Coast 1968 in tone, but with the sounds channelled through the neo-psych eighties of bands like The Church. It’s not quite sunshine pop, despite the sun-drenched glossy production, but it’s definitely feel-good, with lots of chimy-rattly guitars worthy of Jorma and Paul and a liquid light show. The singer has a very clear, controlled, expressive voice, which is refreshing here in the age of indie rock and its cadre of terrible warblers. There’s even some hot, bendy, vaguely Eastern solos such as you’d have heard back in the day. The songs are mostly groovy, midtempo and slightly anthemic. The closest contemporary band in sound that I know of is maybe Dungen, though this is less clattery and bashy and is prettier overall. Songs like “Icecold” have some great arrangements, in that particular case involving a web spun of piano and Rhodes. This is a really good album sure to appeal to any psych fan with taste — even if I wanted to say something negative about it, I don’t think I could have found anything! There’s a Like Elephants 1 also, which I will also be checking out.
The Common Men – Four
Some more rawk here, and I have to say it’s been refreshing to have some more good rock sent my away amongst all this ambient stuff. The Common Men have a pretty glorious sound going there, heavy use of electronics in a most futuristic way, but with the energy and drive of classic post-punk (and indeed the vocalist has a bit of a Richard Butler/Peter Murphy/John Foxx/Ian McCullough sort of vibe going there, quite cocky) and even a little of the better end of nineties alternative (say, Whipping Boy). In fact, this album reminds me a bit of Ultravox’s classic Systems of Romance in its combo of futurama cold-as-ice electronics, fuzzy rock energy and glam-rock attitude. The sound is a fair bit more dense than that, but you get the point. If you want a quick highlight, “I Hope You’re Alone” sounds like the aforementioned Ultravox melded with Boy-era (ie good…) U2, and “The Same Ground as Me” thunders enough to fill a stadium quite nicely. A really good, well-arranged and confident rock album (emphasis on ROCK, not “indie”, thank god), this, of the kind you don’t come across much any more.
Other People – Somewhere Far Away
This is a full album of solo piano pieces. And that’s it, with the exception with a couple of electronic touches. The pieces are simple and melodic, minimal and ambient. Some are more minimalist than others while some are more consciously based on traditional classical styles (“Fumbling in the Dark”). A couple of the pieces are quite similar to what that Eluvium fellow does (“Coda”), but I’m pretty sure that Eluvium doesn’t own a monopoly on evocative solo piano pieces. What can I say, if you love the tickling and tinkling of the ivories and nakedly emotional compositions, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this album a lot.