Snuggled away in our respective homes, Matthew Sweeney and I have been doing some listening to some excellent new recordings.
Loss brings a unique emotionalism to ambient music: an almost unrelentingly brooding and mournful tone that is certainly a far cry from pretty new age melancholy and wonderment. These monochromatic drones were recorded in one take with no subsequent edits, and the moods that they evoke penetrate deep to something close to the painful heart of life. For each piece, a single emotional moment, one that may all at once entail uncertain hope, grief, resolution, and frustration, is dwelled upon. Moreover, at no point on Loss does the greyness part for a mushy, vaguely beatific blue sky of strings, pianos, and synth that signifies “hope”. There are moments of release offered on “Endure” and “Loss”, but because they sound to be of more ambiguously positive feelings of acceptance and reflection, these moments too feel true to the concept behind the album. Loss is such a resolute undertaking at immersing the listener in the emotional story of loss, it is difficult not to admire. (review by Matthew Sweeney)
For The Only Way is Down, sound artist D.N.P. worked with a software simulation of the now ancient Russian ANS synthesizer. Here is yet another worthy release to take the plunge into the absolute extremes of isolation ambient and dark ambient. It is refreshing too, of course, to see how employing such a deceptively simple sonic template can create very evocative musical spaces, in this case a pitch-black waking nightmare. (review by Matthew Sweeney)
Rowe has been churning out fine tracks for a while now of pure, blissful ambient, and it’s nice to see a longer conceptual release from him. This does indeed sound very much like an elegy, with a refined (but not mannered), dignified sorrow redolent of dignified early music composers like Tallis but also modern composers like Pärt, albeit rendered with synth rather than live instruments. I’m not suggesting this We Are All Ghosts release is the pinnacle for Rowe, more a step in the direction of the masterworks that he clearly has in in him, waiting to be composed. Rowe has a great sense of how to let notes breath and interweave. I look forward to much more music from him.
Negative Spectrum – The Outer Darkness
If I could be glib (and I can be), this new dark ambient album is “none more black”. Previous NS releases have been gothic, ambient, symphonic, and yes, dark ambient, but this one’s full on death ambient, and I have to say, in those terms I’ve probably never heard a scarier recording! The sixteen-minute “Invocation” is the calling card of the album, a spacious Lustmordian trip to the crawling chaos that verges on being Ligeti style avant-garde as well. Big, echoey, deep … just a great track. In fact, utilizing that sense of remorseless galactic space is one of Negative Spectrum’s finest musical traits; not a moment of running time is wasted on tracks like “Bahomet Enthroned” and “Father of Lies”. My fave, though, is probably “The Left Hand of God” with its spectral synth voices reminding me of Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna”. I only sort of like dark ambient because I find much of it samey. This, though, I love because it has soul and depth and is doing more than just trying to be scary. I feel the same way about D.N.P., mentioned above.
Off Land – Drone Variations Vol. 1
I should probably retitle my ever less frequent roundups “The Off Land Report”, since it always seems I’m talking about Off Land. Ah well, I like what I like! This is an album of remixed tracks from Off Land’s previous work, as Quinarian, and in dronifying the tracks Tim Dwyer has made them unrecognizable, hence basically making this a new stand-alone release. And a fine one for fans of peaceful but deep ambient drones. The closest reference of note is probably Loscil, though this is just as good, if not better. There is a deep spirituality in Off Land’s music that is not commonly found, even in ambient music. Picking a favourite track would be silly – the whole thing just needs to be put on and absorbed into your pores.
nnord’s Orbital was one of my top ambient albums of 2014, so it’s a pleasure to have this single-track follow-up come so quickly. This is an epic 21-minute journey that, like its predecessor, recalls the glorious, grandiose days of electronic soundscaping by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and in this case, even a hint of late 70s/early 80s Vangelis at his most elaborate. It’s also a dark-sounding recording, as the title would suggest, with pulses of bleak, dark bass synth, ominous percussive sounds and overwhelming waves of synth pads. It goes through a number of sparse, evil-sounding movements before a final melodic flourish closes the proceedings. This music totally floats my boat, and fans of vintage epic synth voyages will agree.
Janes scenic drive – American Mercury
This is an alter ego of our boy Phillip Wilkerson. The album is three tracks of lightly sequenced, sunny ambient that calls directly to mind the early days of West Coast ambient from people like Robert Rich and Thom Brennan. Part 1 is very, very Brennan-esque — those are some vintage sequencer sounds! It’s magical and bell-like, as sunny as the cover. The 31-minute second piece is more ruminative, like a Floridian sunset — it reminds me of Kevin Braheny’s best work. Part 3 brings back more energetic sequencing, conjuring visions of taking a drive down a deserted coast road (I think my brain is looking forward to my upcoming Florida vacation!). That Wilkerson can basically dash off such great material is a testament to the sheer scope of his talent for this kind of music.
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