Recent listens November 22 🎶

Neuro-Defragmentation (New_Words)

Got to be my favourite compilation of the year. A weird thing: as a whole it feels like it could be from one artist, just variations on beautiful, dreamy, synthy ambient from folks I’ve never heard of. But it also doesn’t all sound the same. A second weird thing: several tracks remind me of what I’m trying to do in recent months with my own music. Strange synchronicity.

Funki Porcini shows up, with a nice floating thing with far away voices that is nothing like what I remember him doing on Ninja Tune back last century. Mind you, I could point to someone else who did downtempo beats stuff and is now much more in the ambient camp. 😇

Some of the same artists are doing dancey vinyl on New_Words’ sister label and the album is tagged “grime”! 🤔 I guess if anything that weird, beatless version of grime that I never quite understood as a kind of dance music? It’s got the kind of sound selections and vibes that show up in dancier contexts, but no sign of drums here.

I hope New_Words are selling well off Bandcamp, because it’s bizarre how few people seem to have picked this up. Previous releases quote write ups from other music shops, so… 🤞

Teebs – Did It Again (self-released)

A nice wee single with Panda Bear from Animal Collective singing on the first track. Teebs is a producer with connections to that LA beat scene that included folks like Flying Lotus, Gasface Killer, Ras G, et al. He doesn’t release often, but when he does I pay attention. His style’s prettier, more delicate than most, often featuring acoustic sounds such as guitars, harps, and so on. Still groove-based in a very good way.

Nueen – Diagrams of Thought (Balmat)

I’m really impressed by this guy. Mostly drum-free, so I guess you’d say ambient, but in a bright and quite melodic way, not droney. And then there are beats and bassy moments that definitely sound like he must listen to plenty of dance music, even when sometimes those sounds are more like punctuation than a steady dancefloor thing.

I smile because it’s literally Balearic music – he’s from Menorca from memory – but not sure it sounds like how people use that as a genre descriptor. Great, anyway.

Cleared – Of Endless Light (Touch)

Beautiful softly swelling tracks, at their best when they have a bit of a metronomic slow mo pulse under them, not vying for attention but just stopping the drones from feeling settled. “Dawn” is heavy in a great way, but the title track is superb.

James Devane – Beauty Is Useless (Umeboshi)

It strikes me everything I’m writing about this time around is something that sounds like it could’ve been released a while back, with a few contemporary flourishes. This is slabs of kinda dubby, but also pretty and bright, techno, reminiscent of Kompakt about 15-20 years ago. Something like the Burger/Ink collaboration maybe.

When I say “slabs”, most tracks don’t really change. Like Devane’s set up some kind of musical system, hit record, let the system run for a bit, then at some point stopped recording again. I kind of love that in this context. Easy to get lost in it.

Recent listens October 22 🎶

Purelink – Purelink EP (UwU dust bath)

Loving this US trio’s throwback ambient techno vibes, like the best of 90s R&S or something, but the definite standout for me is the pair of remixes by xphresh (Ben Bondy/Special Guest DJ). Cheeky use of a pop acapella recontextualised beautifully, plus a close to instrumental version if vocals aren’t your thing. I see there’s vinyl on pre-order if that’s what you’re into.

Jack Woodbury | Peter Liley – Unfathomed Waters (Genre Defying)

Beautiful textures and moods from these Wellington NZ composers. While it leans really ambient, I also love the noisy explosive stuff near the end. There is no way those later tracks, distorted duets between crashing drums and roaring sax, are not directly influenced by Colin Stetson, but I’m fully into it. “Enter the Temple” in particular.

I do find the name of this Rattle Records sub-label pretty cringey. 😬 Oh well! I’m definitely going to write this one up for AmbientNZ.com when I get a minute.

Accelera Deck – Alligator (self-released)

The idea of a 2-hour, 15-track single is hilarious. But it was a rec from a friend and I read what the artist has to say and was immediately into it:

“…I usually start each new recording with a rough outline, or concept. Maybe just a single word…, with Alligator I decided to treat the beats as textures and explore all the permutations in a similar spirit as how I think Seefeel or Basic Channel/ Rhythm & Sound would”- c.jeely

I normally immediately avoid huge releases, keep it punchy (even if the music isn’t) I reckon. But I’ve really enjoyed just chucking this on shuffle and dipping in and out of as much or as little as I feel like. Tasty ambient dub kind of thing. I like the sound of it in the literal sense and the conceptual one.

Dettinger – Intershop (Kompakt)

Not at all a recent release, but I loved revisiting this recently. The remaster on Bandcamp sounds cracking.

I bought this at the Kompakt shop in Köln in 1999 and listened to it on my Discman as I travelled across Europe by train. So really nice memories there, which surely contributed to how much this blew me away, influenced my own music making and has continued to make me happy over decades. Track six is one of my favourite pieces of music.

There’s a thread of contemporary stuff I like (c.f. those xphresh remixes of Purelink 👆) that picks up from where folks like Dettinger left off, whether it’s coincidence or influence. I bought Jan Jelinek’s first album as Gramm at the Kompakt shop too, and I’m hearing that loungier end of his sound these days too. I listened to some really relevant thoughts from Kode 9 about how music actually develops, which I really agree with. It’s not a straight line.

Womb – Feeling Like Helium (Sonorous Circle & Arcade Recordings)

I never quite got Womb’s 2018 debut album (“got” in either sense!) but this single stood out and stuck with me, so four years late I shelled out and picked it up. It’s a beautiful song, but I reckon what probably lifts it for me is that re-played vocal part. The kind of thing I might expect in either some carefully produced pop or electronica, but being played live in the context of a quite loose indie band… it gets me in a way that this technical description probably doesn’t do justice to.

Recent and decent listens 🎶

Ha, that title is verging on Stinky Jim. Here’s my whole Bandcamp collection, if you want to have a nosey, otherwise jumping straight in.

Adrien75 – 100 (self-released)

Ha, I’m contractually obliged to mention Adrien’s latest, since there’s a track on here called “Upton In Berlin”.

The album reminded me straight away of Adrien’s release back in the day on Move D’s label, where he was virtually/label-ly rubbing shoulders with Jan Jelinek, Moufang himself, and so on. The connections are the dusty hazy chords and dubbed out atmospheres and the switch between muffled drum machine beats and breakbeats.

It doesn’t feel like a throwback though – it’s also hard not to also think of the new schoolers who are on that retro cycle and bringing these sounds back, rejuvenated and exciting again. I’m thinking of that unnamed, loose collective connecting Kansas to Berlin (and Australia via Ben Bondy and also the Daisart label), names like Huerco S, Uon, Ulla Straus, Exael, and on and on.

Floatinghead – Live at The Third Eye (self-released)

My idea of tasty jazz. I somehow never went to the Third Eye, which I think is now shut? This reminds me of what I like from Sam Gendel, Sam Wilkes and associates. Super tasteful sparse synthy passages, a lot of groove from start of finish (never a shuffle), catchy melodic bits, and when it all goes skronk it’s welcome contrast. Horns from Lucien Johnson and Bridget Kelly are great, but it all works together really well. A great set!

Carmen Villain – Only Love From Now On (Smalltown Supersound)

The opening track with Arve Henriksen is so beautiful it’d be easy to miss just how good the album is as a whole. The insistent, ringing percussion and shimmering layers work so well with Henriksen’s playing. Easy to draw the dots to Jon Hassell but I also find it pretty distinctly its own thing. Elsewhere a lot of flute intermingling with the electronic beds and soft percussion. “Subtle Bodies” is another fave.

Bad Channel – INTLBLK005 (International Black)

Nice dub techno two-track from Harvey Sutherland and Kane Ikin, excellent Melbourne producers. Not sure what more to say. Sparse, warm, rounded off (not spiky), and every element placed beautifully to serve the groove. I wrote “sparse” to dodge the usual implications of “minimal” suggesting something abstract or cold, I don’t get that vibe from this at all. Sutherland’s love of house comes through.

Kris Keogh – Processed Harp Works, Vol 3 (Muzan Editions)

Exactly what it says on the tin. Northern Territory-based harpist and electronics bod, Keogh dropped the first volume of this via New Weird Australia 11 years ago and I still listen to it. Beautiful lush harp parts and really really digital managing of that acoustic source. Sometimes harsh and jagged, sometimes sparkly and dubby. The combination really really works for me, such a rich and beautiful sound source, and then the frisson created by the digital processing… something about that really hits the spot.

Yeah, I wrote “frisson”.

A video breaking down a Jet Jaguar track

I made this video, breaking down the track “Griselinea Lucida” from my latest solo album Room Tones. It was a pretty interesting experience. I run software training as part of my day job and that set me up to be pretty relaxed while making the video, which I did record live in one take, and pretty self-critical afterwards. 😅

I never, ever want to be a “content creator”. But I do really like to share and I have learnt so many useful and musical techniques for my current music-making environment via videos. I was also partly inspired by Auckland musician Kraus breaking down his track “Candy”. This video is all about a relatively different way of making electronic music to how I do it, but it was still just fascinating to me and great fodder. I hope stuff I share and perhaps take for granted will trigger ideas for others.

Bitwig challenge: modulators and oscillators

I use software called Bitwig for writing music and I came across this modulators and oscillators challenge. I’ve written a bit of music following the tight rules on that page and made a wee video. They call it a “beat battle”, but that seems kinda hilarious given the rules involved.

The video and the music might be of interest even if you don’t use Bitwig and even if you don’t make music. I dunno.

The rules, from the page I linked to in the first paragraph, are:

  • max one bitwig instrument track
  • one note clip with max 8 bar length
  • 120bpm
  • one instrument of your choice
  • max 20 modulators
  • max 10 effect devices
  • operators are allowed & desired
  • unlimited note effects
  • no 3rd party plugins
  • bitwig 4.3 beta allowed
  • selectors/layers allowed but you’re limited to one instrument
  • no grid
  • submit as *.bwclip

My top listens in April 2022 🎶

The albums I listened to most in the last 30 days, according to Last.fm

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher (Dead Oceans)

I reckon more Bandcamp customers have bought this one album than have bought all of the 729 other albums in my collection combined.

I gave Punisher a go when it came out and moved on without a second thought, but then I watched a YouTube video from this channel Professional Musicians React where they had one of the three co-producers plus a guitarist from the band in the studio, and they tricked me into liking it. 😉 I’ve had this very ambivalent thing going on with this channel’s content for a while now. I sort of hate it. On one level, the stuff they gush over is exactly what I don’t, both in terms of their taste in music and what matters to them about the music too. You know, they’re enthusing about playing with Michael Buble or whoever. But on another level, it’s become my light comfort TV, and I genuinely enjoy watching it.

Anyway, lyrics-wise I love stuff that sounds like a string of really, really specific recollections or observations. So it sounds personal, but the whole shifts from confessional-feeling to impossible to read in any one way. There’s often a strong sentiment there, but also a decent kind of mystery. Something to chew on.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg (Sub Pop)

Huh, I can’t embed this one from Bandcamp. Oh well, here’s the video for “Chaise Longue”.

I stumbled over their song “Wet Dream” first a few months ago and found it really fun and funny, then promptly forgot about them until I heard “Chaise Longue” last month… nek minit, I’ve played the whole album multiple times. It’s not one I’ve bought yet, because I’m paranoid it’ll have a really short shelf-life.

As well as the fun, tight music, I really like how the lyrics are kind of chatty and often refer to very contemporary stuff without ever sounding forced IMO. Most of it is pretty mopey, but the music typically isn’t at all. My current fave is probably “Piece of Shit” which covers those contrasts pretty nicely.

Flin van Hemmen & Jozef Dumoulin – New Dance Moves (Shhpuma)

So if I’m going to be honest I don’t remember why I bought this and I regret it. Stink. I listened to it through for the first time while walking around Blenheim on a rainy day. Maybe that spoiled it for me.

Jack J – Opening the Door (Mood Hut)

I loved that one Jack J song “Thirstin'” back in 2005, so when his debut album suddenly appeared all these years later I gave it a good four or five listens. But I didn’t “buy on sight”, as they say, and I don’t think I’ll revisit it.

There’s some sort of reggae numbers, some sort of jazz fusion ones, all in a very indie 80s vein … some songs, some instrumentals … just none of it grabbed me.

Dimitar Dodovski – TUN008 (Móatún 7)

Compared to Dimitar’s last EP, this collection of beautiful electronic instrumentals is much more focused on tuned percussion sounds and interlocking rhythmic parts. Those things are always there, but this EP seems particularly about that and just in general particularly focused. I don’t mean to make it sound like there’s only one thing going on here, because there’s a nice range of feels and tempos. For example “Do While Bamboo” bounces along with crisp drums and deep bass, while “Future Horizon” floats, with nothing like a classic “band” rhythm section to pin it down.

I love letting these things roll around in my head. Perhaps surprisingly I’ve found the EP really good driving music.

Ben Green – Lauchie Cox (Music Company)

I held off on buying this for ages, as I was pretty into it, but I thought it might be too nice-nice for me. Pristine, pretty instrumentals focused on piano, but a full one-man-band thing going on with clean guitar lines, soft electronic percussion, minimal basslines… all with a bright sheen over them. Something in here takes me back to, I dunno, Daniel Lanois, Michael Brook, the Real World label. It would be easy enough to dismiss this as just the noodlings of a decent enough instrumentalist making home recordings. I almost did. But at the start of the month I bought it and I’m really glad I did. It’s just sincere chill out music, I suppose.

Vlad Dobrovolski – Playbacks For Dreaming (Muscut)

So this album by a Russian producer was scheduled to be released on Ukrainian label Muscut. Given Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the owner of Muscut has said he really can’t release Russian music at the moment, so … now you can’t get it. I pre-ordered and still got the files. So I don’t know if I should even bother to write more about it at this point. I like the music, though.

AFTA-1 – _UNDFND (self-released)

Heh, I actually only listened to this album once last album, but its 19 tracks are enough that it showed up in my top 9 listens.

This came out in 2019 and I’m sure it’s a Karnan Saba recommendation. Kind of a beat tape I guess, but at the mellow and melodic end of such things. Definitely stands up.

Priori – Your Own Power Remixes (Naff Recordings)

I got this EP for the DJ Python remix. I knew and liked 3 of the other 4 remixers on the EP, so was willing to take a punt, but that DJ Python mix is still the stand out for me.

Priori’s own music is very specifically retro, basically pastiche of a kind of very clean almost-trancey-but-pretty-chilled techno from the early 90s. I think of Sun Electric, of Higher Intelligence Agency. I’m not that into it.

DJ Python often has a really 90s vibe happening too, but quite a different one. In this case, his remix puts me in mind of a really specific vein of instrumental trip-hop that I might be the only person in the world to connect up. Kind of bedroom techno and 90s hip-hop aesthetics crossing over. Things that showed up on Mo’Wax, like Plaid remixing UNKLE vs. Major Force, Autechre remixing Palmskin Productions, or that “Street Mix” of Innerzone Orchestra’s classic “Bug In The Bass Bin”. I don’t know if this remix really sounds like any of these things, but it makes me nostalgic, anyway.

My top listens in March 2022 🎶

The albums I listened to most in the last 30 days, according to Last.fm

The Humble Bee – Light Trespassing (Motion Ward)

Another month, another top listen thanks in part to being something I put on while going to sleep. 😅

Quite a few of The Humble Bee releases I know about have long evolving tracks, but this is 10 tracks and clocks in at just over 40 minutes. It must be a pop album! The opening track basically lets you know what you’re in for throughout: a gentle, tinkling melody slowly develops as it repeats, expanding from a tinny dictaphone feel to fuller, noisier layers of what sound like snippets of tape recordings. I think there’s a guitar loop and piano on top? Not sure.

On the rest of the album things are almost invariably very lo-fi, but deliberately so. Mismatched loops that pop and click each time they come back around, plenty of tape wobble, scuffing the microphone as a feature not a bug. These kinds of textures have been my thing for decades now so on one hand I did question whether I really needed yet another album in this vein. But, whatever, it’s a goodie!

I think of The Humble Bee as one half of The Remote Viewer, a duo I had a lot of time for around the turn of the century. So he’s been doing his thing for decades and there’s something I find pleasing about him showing up on pretty new labels like Motion Ward, among the kids knocking out new forms.

Various artists – Thanking You (Black Truffle)

This is two years old, but I just picked it up. Black Truffle is run by Oren Ambarchi, one of a handful of Australian experimental musicians who I’ve followed closely for more than a decade now, but I got here through investigating NZ ex-pat Tim Coster for AmbientNZ.com. It’s a really interesting collection and I’d say most of it is too weird and/or engaging to fit the tag “ambient”, although it’s almost all drum-free and electronic sounding. Sometimes if I’m listening on my computer I wonder if I’ve accidentally got audio playing from a website.

To pick out one example, Delphine Dora’s “quelque chose de hazardeux” is a track of many evolving parts, all of which sound like she’s played them. Things kick off with a lively and almost accordion-like keyboard playing a motif that’s almost like some kind of fairground organ thing, but this abruptly stops and starts revealing other layers of mysterious metallic plucking and bowing sounds. Then there’s a whole middle section where the track heads off into a long, different mellow passage on a different keyboard. Things routinely get pretty dense and dissonant and it’s the opposite of a lot of the more loop-based music I’m often listening to. Probably part of what I found refreshing about this compilation!

Various artists – Fundraiser compilation: ВОЛЯ (Muscut)

Hmm looks like the font I use on this site doesn’t include Cyrillic. “ВОЛЯ” (“VOLYA”) is Ukrainian for freedom. This is a collection of Ukrainian musicians, leaning heavily towards electronic and instrumental music. There’s a bit of a band jam on one track and there’s one song. I’ll admit I’ve hardly digested the compilation yet, but it’s diverse and interesting and of course I was happy to support the cause.

I started following the label last year, having got very into an album by the label boss Nikolaienko, and there’s now unsurprising waves of anger and dismay coming through my Bandcamp app. Muscut has released albums by Russian artists in the past and in fact I bought one recently, but as of now is suspending the release of any Russian music.

Sam Hamilton – Super Positions (self-released)

Free if you like. Hamilton’s from New Zealand, though based in America, and this album is another one of the things I’ve picked up in the course of researching and writing up AmbientNZ.com.

This is a really diverse mix of instrumental music, from a piano solo through a couple of field recordings and a 34-minute acoustic drone performed on harmonium and strings to langorously evolving digital loops of electric guitar. The latter is actually the opening track and it put me in mind of Oren Ambarchi back when he was doing solo but highly processed guitar music circa Suspension, without sounding like a knock off in any way.

I will say it’s a long album to listen through: an hour and 45 minutes is maybe an hour longer than my ideal album length! And two tracks out of nine make up almost an hour of the run-time, which is also a strange sort of lopsided feeling. But, hey, there’s also nine distinctive, interesting things to listen to, and they’re giving the thing away. So it’s definitely worth checking out, IMO.

Old Saw – Country Tropics (Lobby Art)

I got here via Adrien sharing this Aquarium Drunkard article, Cosmic Pedal (And Lap) Steel Situations :: Winter 2022.

Ever since KLF’s Chill Out I’ve been interested in ambient music that has touches of pedal steel in the mix and I think of this album in that context, though it’s perhaps a largely acoustic kind of ambience. I very fondly remember seeing Susan Alcorn play at Meow years ago and I wrote about Luke Schneider in one of these monthly round ups. While Alcorn typically plays completely solo and Schneider goes deep with electronic treatments, both severing the country connection, Old Saw is definitely a band and their music also really leans into Americana. Pedal and lap steel lines slide about on top of drones made with fiddle, organ, and guitar. Banjo and acoustic guitar buzzes and shimmers.

I really like all four tracks here.

Wild Card – Wild Card 2 (self-released)

Wild Card is a trio of Marcus Fischer, Paul Dickow (aka Strategy) and William Selman. I know the first two and checked this out off the back of Fischer announcing it. It’s four tracks of what I take to be jammed or at least performed soft electronic stuff, with plenty of foley-like percussive scuffing and susurration and what a workmate decades ago used to refer to as “science sounds” (electronic oscillations with lots of echoes). Unlike Fischer’s solo material I don’t hear any obvious guitar.

all light hits u – Moving, Rising (self-released)

Ooh, careful, I think all three tracks on this EP have drums. The opener keeps feeling like it might go into dnb territory, but it’s all hints and nods and never quite kicks off. Um, to be clear, I like it that way. Deep chords and echoing sounds, using the vocab of dance music to say something soothing and restful.

I found this release having picked up something by the trio Purelink last year that I really liked. All light hits u is two out of three members of that trio. I see Purelink just dropped a full album on Lillerne Tapes. They’re also affiliated with the above label Motion Ward, and the release is mastered by Shy (Uon, who has releases on Motion Ward, Western Mineral Ltd, etc.).

Julia Gjertsen & Nico Rosenberg – Paisajes Imaginarios (Constellation Tatsu)

I wrote about this last month and don’t have much more to say about it.

Kate Carr – dawn, always new, often superb, inaugurates the return of the everyday (Forma Arts)

I also wrote about this previously, when I’d been listening to it a lot last August. The only thing I’d add this time around is that I reflected how much Kate does stuff where she’s making noise herself. So although I tend to think of her music as being based around field recordings, in this case very location-specific ones, she’s sometimes almost like a musical foley artist. I don’t have any particular thoughts about that, but it just reminded me that even in something as niche as making music with field recordings, there’s quite a range of approaches and possibilities.

My top listens in February 2022 🎶

The above chart is based on number of separate tracks played during February, recorded via last.fm. Most releases are in my Bandcamp collection, Prince being the only exception last month.

Julia Gjertsen & Nico Rosenberg – Paisajes Imaginarios (Constellation Tatsu)

Not many new listens in the last month, but this is one and I thrashed it. I may as well be honest that one reason this’ll be at the top of the list is because it’s a good one for going to sleep – but it’s more characterful and also diverse than that might sound. It’s a collection of piano-based instrumentals, but often more rhythmic and sometimes hypnotically looping than you might expect if someone said “ambient piano music”. More like a Cluster record than The Plateaux of Mirrors, if those references mean anything to you. There are great chuggy synth lines too, such as on the well-named “Atlantis”. As a whole the album has a fuzzy, recorded-to-tape quality to a lot of it, which you might consider lo-fi.

Seaworthy & Matt Rösner – Snowmelt (12k)

These two released their first album in 2010, taking just shy of 12 years to release a second one. The first album was principally Seaworthy’s acoustic guitar on top of untouched recordings made mostly underwater. This one the concept is something about the sound of climate change, and I think there’s more electric guitar, in the vein of say “Albatross” or something, as well as more synth-y sound beds. The field recordings are still there, but not so baldly right there.

Helado Negro – Far In (4AD)

This is a new (to me) release that I listened to a couple of times via Deezer. But there’s quite a lot of tracks so it came right up the list. I got here off the back of listening to yacht rock playlists. It’s all very mellow with cool grooves and chunky drums. I didn’t find any of the songs particularly compelling, unfortunately, but I might try again later. I’ve listened to a few of his releases over the years and he did a great song with Mouse on Mars once upon a time.

Negro’s singing reminds me a bunch of Erlend Øye / Kings of Convenience, Ruspo, and one or two tracks actually had me thinking of recent The Phoenix Foundation songs sung by Luke Buda. So this Ecuadorian American reminds me of Norwegians, Brazilians and Kiwis. 🤷‍♂️

N Chambers – Air Example (Love All Day)

Norm Chambers / Panabrite released a new album in the last month or so and I thought for once I’d go back and give the albums I already have a listen, rather than reflexively buy a new one. I own two albums and maybe I was just in the wrong mood (all month?) but I found this time around these gurgly, slightly tropical feeling synth noodles left me cold.

Lord of the Isles – Geoglyph EP (Dusk Delay)

A great EP, with two beatless tracks bookmarking mellow technoish jams. I hadn’t heard of this producer before this release, but he’s been at it for years. One of those super solid releases where no particular track stands out, but that’s because they’re all good.

Paintings of Windows – Canvas (PseudoArcana)

Almost 20-year old debut of Antony Milton’s location-specific project Paintings of Windows, based around field recordings made in a tent at night in Paekakariki. It’s very quiet, while at the same time seems obviously part of that decades-long NZ tradition of strange guitary noise recordings which I think of as more of a South Island thing. I like the intimacy of this. It ends with a very lo-fi recording of a song, almost a blues.

R Beny – Eistla (Dauw)

I have a really strong memory of listening to this in a hotel room in Sri Lanka in 2016, which is two years before the album came out. 🤔 To be honest, I found the music on this album literally forgettable, revisiting it I felt like it was the first time. But it was enjoyable enough to give it a couple of spins again.

R Beny is part of what sometimes gets derisively called “houseplant ambient”, after YouTube videos where nerds set up their modular synths to gently burble with an attractive houseplant in shot. I bought this off the back of a split tape between him and Paperbark, which I still really like. But I haven’t found a release by either one of them that I like nearly so much.

Mirko – LP1 (ROOM40)

This was released in 2016, but I don’t think I listened to in Sri Lanka. 😂 It came up on shuffle and I ended up coming back to it. I haven’t heard anything since from Mirko, but Lawrence English’s ROOM40 label tends to serve up these kinds of releases that are on the verge of what I consider ambient, but just that bit weirder and edgier. Worth the price of entry for the immediate drama of “In Conversation” alone. But tracks like “One Hour” are indicative of that sort of ambient thing in a different way: it seems like it’s going to be straight up drifty niceness, then in the second half a fast and insistent bassline comes along and a bit of distortion. It’s not scary or anything, it just leans a little more towards rock moves than most beatless electronic music.

Prince – Sign ‘O’ The Times (Super Deluxe) (Warner)

I chucked this on while making dinner the other night and it ended up 9th most listened for the month! This is the first Prince album I listened to from start to finish as a kid, and I’ve probably listened through it more than a hundred times over the decades.

Like Bowie, Prince had a run of interesting and inventive records with some amazing songs and was no doubt very influential to many great artists, but … there’s actually only one or two of those records I like to listen to from start to finish.

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is just an ideal song, in my mind. I’ve pulled it apart in my head over and over, but it also still hits me. So it technically fascinates me, but I also still just feel it and feel that it works as a song. So much is so otherworldly: the pitched electric drums, the glucky organ-like sound, the drunken chords, the roaming and random vocal parts (including the Joni Mitchell quote) and the way it all finally feels like it’s coming together just as it ends… Wow!

While the details excite me and have inspired me, perhaps the most inspiring aspect is that it reminds me how (duh) good music is almost independent of all the little details. A great track can be great because of the technicalities, great with its technical “failings”, or great in spite of them.

My top listens in January 2022 🎶

The above chart is based on number of separate tracks played during January, recorded via last.fm. Most releases are in my Bandcamp collection, which is also where you’ll find releases with only a couple of tracks that inevitably fail to show up here even if I love them to bits.

J – my seat and weep (Daisart)

I listened to the duo Picnic quite a bit last year and J is one half of them. This album even includes a Picnic track, because why not? I think of both Picnic and J is very much part of a particular contemporary vein in ambient music I’ve had a crack at writing about, which often combines a sort of monged out, fuggy textured loops, occasional submerged beats and small, often trebly field recordings that lean very much towards ASMR. Sometimes there’s some sort of dream-pop-ish guitars and pianos. It’s all a bunch of Venn diagrams, because it’s not like all the acts I’m thinking of do all these things and none of them do all of them all the time.

One way in which my seat and weep is a bit different to most things I’m thinking of is that it features three vocal tracks, all of which involve a woman speaking softly. For example, “More Room To Breathe In” is a couple of looping muffled piano lines, sometimes in reverse, and Angelina Nonaj doing a whispered spoken word with plenty of background noise, like a phone memo. Overall the effect is a step further towards the ASMR thing. Perila’s gone there before, as has Ulla with her lockdown collage of disembodied voices. But here, I dunno, I’m not that into it. There’s also multiple remixes tacked on the end of the album, as there was with the Picnic one, but I couldn’t tell you anything much about them to be honest!

Overall, although I’ve listened to this album a lot in the past month, I wouldn’t be too surprised if my listening falls off in favour of going back to some other albums covering similar ground.

Scattered Light – Beacons (Shimmering Moods)

I hardly wrote anything about this album last month, and here it is all up in my listens again! I’ll admit it’s one of several this month that I chucked on to fall asleep to. Really what I wrote last month still stands. The title track is probably the one if you wanted to get a feel for what it’s all about. Oh that tape warble.

Borrowed cs – A Path and Grooves (both self-released)

While sifting through B-Lo’s end of year list on Facebook I realised I hadn’t checked in on Wellington muso Cory Champion’s Borrowed cs project for a while. I ended up picking up two releases and gave them both plenty of play.

A Path was released a couple of months back and is, uncharacteristically, drums-free. It’s only 5 tracks so kind of funny it came in ahead of the 9-track Grooves. The opening title track was enough to sell me on the whole thing: it opens with a slightly tense synth motif and then somewhere past 7 minutes just sort of hangs suspended… and keeps going past the 14-minute mark. Yeah yeah, this could be your idea of a nightmare, but I love it! Those subtle shifts in timbre and murky echoes. Other tracks are a nice mix of either sustained synth pads or dubbed out melodies.

2020’s Grooves definitely does what it says on the tin and I still love that Champion released the damn thing on burner phone. 😎 A diverse array of quite minimal beats and basically a good time throughout. Perhaps unexpectedly, I’m not that into the two dub-tech numbers (“Ghuznee Dub” takes 1 and 3). There’s also another sneaky beatless track in there, with a kind of susurrating percussion layer that somehow makes me think of all the shakers and shizz you’d get on cosmic jazz records. But, somehow, minus the jazz?

Marsha Fisher – New Ruins (Full Spectrum Records)

The label was having a sale, so I scratched about and bought a More Eaze two-track and this selection of what is apparently processed worship music. It’s only 4 tracks, but it made it up the list because I really listened to it that much. The 17-minute closing track “Clouds Over Shoemaker Marsh” is the stand-out for me. That title made me think of Ambient 4: On Land, Eno’s only good ambient album, which may help my appreciation.

Alex Carpenter – Excavation Patterns (de la Catessan)

Another release that’s only got 4 tracks, yet made its way on to the list. Gentle guitar instrumentals, surely with loopers and such. This is a reissue of what I think is Carpenter’s first release, from 2005. Although I thought this was sounding good enough to buy and gave it a good crack, it never quite gelled with me. Kind of the opposite of the experience the label boss writes about on the Bandcamp page, if you click through.

Perhaps it’ll be one to come back to in winter. I dunno.

Landtitles – Your Voice In Pieces (Slowcraft Records)

I discovered this when the creator shared a link on lines – there are download codes in the topic if you want to try your luck at getting a copy for free. I paid because the label has a 50% discount running at the moment and it seemed nice to give material support.

To be honest, I think if I put the Scattered Lights album and this on shuffle I wouldn’t be able to tell you whose tracks are whose. That might come off as a bit dismissive, but certainly it’s a great example of what it is and I really like it. Some tracks are a bit more expansive, some a bit more moody. Overall, it’s still very soft and gentle instrumentals led by wandering keys, the wow and flutter of tape, and sometimes other crackling and glitching textures.

Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever (Darkroom / Interscope)

Three months of listening to this album a fair bit, it seems. “Your Power” is still my number one listen, though I certainly have grown to appreciate a couple of the other more beatsy ones, like “NDA” and “Overheated”.

Yumi Iwaki & Ryan J Raffa – Living Distances (Muzan Editions)

I bought this album a bit over a year ago and I’m really not sure why I listened to it so much in the last month. It’s a split rather than a collaboration. Both Iwaki and Raffa fit the mould of contemporary synth noodlers posting their vids of their hardware on Instagram, and both have offered up five tracks that are relatively diverse here. Perhaps it’s that relative diversity that’s had me listening again. Amongst soaring synth pads and bright staccato synth bubbles, there are also tracks with a bit more drama than you might usually expect, like Iwaki’s “Spiral Flow” or Raffa’s comparatively poppy “Correlation”. Overall, Raffa leans a bit more towards dramatic lead lines and filtered noise, while Iwaki drops in reversed stuff and also her own voice (I assume), adding layers of wordless sung syllables to “April”.

My top listens in December 🎶

The above chart is based on number of separate tracks played during December, recorded via last.fm. Most releases are in my Bandcamp collection, which is also where you’ll find releases with only a couple of tracks that inevitably fail to show up here even if I love them to bits.

Dijon – Absolutely (R&R Digital / Warner)

I wrote a lot about this in the previous month’s round-up and obviously kept thrashing it in December.

Brin – Water Sign (Sound As Language)

December Brin binge 1 of 3. This has the most in your face moments of the three albums I picked up at the start of the month, but is still broadly ambient I guess. Brin’s thing sounds to me like live processing of samples and sources through a big chain of possible effects. Who knows? I’ve no idea how I’d hear this if I didn’t know the techniques, but there’s a lot of shuffling things about at different pitches and speed, lots of loops of sound being snatched and grabbed and made to suddenly stutter or lurch. The explicitly digital, CD-skipping quality might be jarring if you’re not someone who happens to have obsessed over all things “glitch”, when that was briefly talked about as a genre 20-25 years ago.

Anyway, in contrast to the explicitly digital stuff, the source materials often sound warm and soft, with nature sounds showing up here and there: birds, water, and so on. And the unpredictable flow of the music often feels somehow “natural” – I guess why I’m imagining Brin performs it rather than painstakingly editing it all together.

Dimitar Dodovski – Until The End Of The World (self-released)

The whole of this EP is a very enjoyable listen, but it’s worth pointing you to the patient pulse of “Belgrade Memories”, I reckon. “Love on a Real Train” but with an insistent drum as the backbone, and beautiful distinct harmony on top. It works perfectly.

Brin & Josiah Steinbrick – Bliss Place (self-released)

December Brin binge 2 of 3. This is probably my fave on first listens. I don’t know Steinbrick’s solo stuff but the description on Bandcamp says this album consists mostly of “spontaneously recorded sketches” that he made, then processed by Brin. It doesn’t sound all that far from the solo Brin album, but has some bigger standouts IMO. Some more stable looping rhythms also give it a weird downbeat / dub feel from time to time.

Scattered Light – Beacons (Shimmering Moods)

Very pretty, melodic ambient stuff. Gentle chiming tones, drifty chords, soft beds of noise. Sometimes things go a bit tape-left-in-the-sun, which makes me think of a beatless Boards of Canada.

Brin, Dntel, More Eaze – Futurangelics (Cached Media)

December Brin binge 3 of 3. Despite being into all three producers involved in this collaboration, it didn’t click with me for a good six months. But given those involved, I periodically gave it another go and now I’m so glad I did it. I really can’t tell whose contributions start and end where. Amongst the washed out electronics there’s some nice twangy guitar, some autotune vocals (More Eaze?) and digital stutters (Brin?).

Music For Dogs – Spoor (Cached Media) and Christoph El’ Truento – Foraging (Cosmic Compositions)

I cranked both of these back in September, so they may be two of my top listens of Q2 of the 21/22 financial year. 😅 Solid investments. Nothing new to say about either, really.

Tim Koch – Scordatura_MD (self-released)

About 18 months on from Scordatura, Tim’s put out these alternate takes on that material. It’s definitely the same ingredients as the previous album, prominently featuring a combo of stammering, swirling guitar deconstructions over similarly tweaked and reworked acoustic drums. Tim shows how those ingredients can result in multiple flavours of sometimes thoroughly baked goods.

The radio-single-length “The Huntsman” is actually one of the stand outs for me, though I don’t think the languid pacing (read: length) of other tracks detrac(k)ts. The super-long “Grief Cyclist” is great, with its clear and bright ringing guitar notes, and the almost 8-minute closing track “Vows II” hangs around much more in the sense of being afloat than of loitering.

My top listens in November 🎶

Dijon – Absolutely (R&R Digital / Warner)

I listened to the album multiple times off the back of this track, “Many Times”. I love it, and love the video, even if I feel a bit queasy.

Dijon is referred to as an R&B singer, but knowing nothing about him before this video and listening to the rest of the album I thought, as much as that makes some sense on some tracks (especially “The Dress”), he also sounds like he’s into Americana and rock and a lot of stuff. There’s beatless guitar ballads and all sorts.

Breakbeat-led “Talk Down” kicks off with the lines “Listening to Gillian Welch / Ooh, I can’t help myself”, FFS. (On the album anyway, not sure what he’s singing in this video…)

I wasn’t into the whole album in equal amounts, but I still wish I could buy it. There’s heaps of ideas, heaps of cool bits, and it sounds like Dijon likes other singers and musicians I like. The rough feel reminds me a bit of Cody Chestnutt, in a good way. The R&B-and-not vibe reminds me of Blood Orange, also favourably. But not all the songs hit for me. “Many Times” and “Talk Down” are a couple of faves, but some of the soft numbers like “God In Wilson” are pretty great too.

Ulla – Limitless Frame (Motion Ward)

So at the end of July I said this wasn’t my fave release by Ulla, despite having listened to it a lot for a couple of months. Well, it really clicked with me this month. Still probably not my fave, but I have been a bit obsessed, so…

Given how I’ve been overspending since Bandcamp Friday became a thing, it’s a pretty good sign that I’m still listening to an album regularly six months on from when I bought it.

I also found it to be a good bedtime listen, which always clocks up a lot of plays. Chuck something on at night and pass out at some point.

Etelin – Frisson (Lillerne Tapes)

I still listen to Etelin’s 2018 release Hui Terra, and I rate it really highly. On Bandcamp I wrote the following about that one:

Delicate and curious explorations that I can listen to again and again. I don’t have kids but the backstory about this being made as a new parent somehow makes sense to me.

Backstory aside, I could say the same about Frisson. Only 4 tracks, but I must’ve listened many times for it to be near my most listened. I guess it’s an ambient release, and in particular the last track is a synth drone kind of thing, but even that is engaging and interesting in the context of what’s come before. IME, anyway.

William Tyler & Luke Schneider – Understand (Leaving Records)

Another release with only 4 tracks, so, yeah, I thrashed this one. Country vibes, with guitar and banjo, in an instrumental and I guess ambient context. But certainly quite different to long-time country + ambient adventurer Andrew Tuttle, say.

The plodding home organ drum machine and repeating guitar lines on “The Witness Tree” remind me of JJ Cale, but in a sort of Paris, Texas mode. Good times.

I’ve realised I’m a bit judgey about Leaving Records being overly new age, but I’ve also had some good times with several of their albums in recent months!

Grouper – Shade (Kranky)

I’d never gone so far as to buy a Grouper album. I regret buying this, to be honest. Not sure I get what Liz Harris is all about. Maybe it’ll click later.

Kris Keogh & Endurance – In Autumn (Self-released)

At time of writing it looks like I’m one of two people who’s paid for this album, which is a real shame as it’s some deeply beautiful ambient music. I’ve been following Keogh since his first excellent processed harp album 10 years ago, and a set of all-synth duets might sound like they’d hold less textural good times than someone going ham on a harp… but no, it’s excellent stuff. (Yet another 4-track release that I thrashed sufficiently to have it show up here.)

Luke Schneider – Altar of Harmony (Third Man Records)

Excellent Nashville-based ambient music maker Belly Full Of Stars hipped me to the two Luke Schneider albums I listened to, in response to some online chat about the crossover between ambient and country music. (Thanks, Kim! 🖤) If I’m reading rightly, this is entirely the sounds of pedal steel, but worked into huge power ambient numbers that are often completely divorced from their source sonically IMO. I was impressed, but not in love with it. We’ll see how we go.

More Eaze – Yearn (Lillerne Tapes)

When I picked up the new Etelin release I started noseying back through Lillerne’s back catalogue. I’d recently heard More Eaze’s collaboration with Dntel and Brin and was pretty into that. Turns out her solo work is pretty great too. Another 4-tracker, and worth it for the last track alone. But that’s not too dismiss the others!

G.E.K. – Faculty of Perception (Otomatik Muzik)

A Danish duo of sax and trombone, apparently, but definitely synths in the mix. Seems like the label is quite experimental and difficult, but this release is relatively accessible, if, say, you find Colin Stetson a good time. Chugging, propulsive (but drum-free) instrumentals.

My top listens in October 🎶

The 9 albums I listened to most in the last month, according to last.fm play stats.

In October I spent plenty of time with Signer’s recent music, listening to EPs from his Isolated Dreams series, but because they’re all only 2-3 tracks long they don’t show up in the above chart.

Taylor Swift – evermore (Republic Records)

I can’t remember why I decided to check this out. I’ve never particularly liked previous Swift singles, but I knew she’d more recently been writing and recording with the members of Big Red Machine (Aaron Dressner of The National + Bon Iver) and I thought that sounded interesting. She shows up on multiple tracks on Big Red Machine’s new album actually – probably the only legit release on Bandcamp that involves her?

To be honest, I’ve never really liked either The National or Bon Iver, but they’re still of interest to me. I try on stuff they release from time to time, wondering if it’ll click this time. So far, nah, though I liked their contributions to a Mouse On Mars album a few years back now.

Anyway, I liked evermore enough that I listened to the whole 15-track album more than once and then thrashed a few tracks. I don’t enjoy the album from start to finish, but, to my wife’s great disappointment, really like some of it.

Having said I never got The National, this song where their singer showed up was one of my faves. They sound great together imo.

BON – Pantheon (Shimmering Moods)

So I only listened to this twice, but because it has 18 tracks, it’s near the top of the chart. As a test to myself, I tried to remember what it sounded like without giving it another listen. I remember ambient synth instrumentals that sounded like someone was playing them. No drums, so samples or other textures that I remember.

This is 1 of 4 albums in the chart from the label that released my Recording last Jan.

Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever (Darkroom / Interscope)

What I knew before listening to Billie Eilis for the first time was: she’s a pop star people say can really sing, something about some jazz influences, and lots of nerds get excited about her brother Finneas’s bass-heavy production.

I heard these two songs first via a react video, and immediately really liked both of them. The incredibly spare, darkly-mixed sound of “Lost Cause” felt like a throwback to weird 90s productions like Moloko before they got famous for a house remix, or when DJ Vadim remixed Icelandic band Gus Gus on 4AD way back, or early singles by Arlo Park. But the whole thing is bigger and more banging.

While I really like “Your Power” from the start, it’s the sub bass stuff that comes in later that’s the real hook for me.

I wasn’t that into the rest of the album in the end, but from the play stats I gave it a decent hoon. Eilish is obviously a really competent singer, but I do find the thing where she’s singing really softly, almost talking sometimes, then it’s turned up really loud quite … intense? I love that about “Lost Cause”, mind you. And Finneas’s beats and arrangements are often great, but at the risk of sounding more-alt-than-thou, I’ve been listening to so much more out-there shit for decades now, so the most I can say about his reputed innovations is that I am glad sounds like this are meeting with massive commercial success.

Tawdry Otter – Dark Mansion Of Forbidden Beats (self-released)

Jinkies! Adrien aka Adrien75 dropped a great Hallowe’en release here, laced with samples from oooold horror movies and related material. It has a classic melodic IDM kind of thing going on, but if that phrase gives you chills then don’t let me put you off! Expect chunky drum machines, bouncy breakbeats, and bright synth and guitar melodies.

Nueen – Circular Sequence (Quiet Time Tapes)

This comes only a couple of months after his last release, but it’s at least as good imo. Soft and new agey synth stuff and the title seems apt. Lots of repeating sequences of notes, but with things slowly evolving. In my favourite moments, like on “Moving II”, the different sequences feel like they’re going at different speeds and it’s a pleasure to not even try to keep track of what’s going on.

Kraus – Chocolate, Candy, Love and Dreams (self-released)

Super crisp, unadorned FM synth numbers here from Kraus, quite a sideways step from his more psych material. The lack of fx makes it feel quite intimate and purposeful, even in a 100% digital domain. “Horse Pyramid” wins track name of the year, I think.

Fa.R – Machine.Learning (Shimmering Moods)

This album is only 7 tracks but clocks in at just under 80 minutes long. Most of the tracks are like little suites or megamixes. Or they’re just long. 😄

The fantastic sound palette makes me think of the noisy end of dub techno, with plenty of hiss and crackle and submerged synth chords, but the beats never come. It’s one of those albums where any given moment just sounds so good to me. You could do the virtual equivalent of a record needle drop at any point and not be like “oh you have to really hear this from the start to get it”.

W.E._aa – (Shimmering Moods)

What I just wrote above about the sound palette of Fa.R’s record could equally apply to this, although I’d say the noise is even more to the fore on this.

Compositionally they’re pretty different, with this album often involving faster rhythmic sequences, electric-piano like chord sequences, and more sudden changes. And cats. Not just on the cover, there’s a lot of meowing on one track.

Champignonsdesbois – Missed Calls (Shimmering Moods)

A collection of 18 short field recordings. I found myself wanting to listen to something where the field recordings are worked into music, like the Longbrows release I was listening to a lot last month.

My top listens in September🎶

Joy Orbison – Still Slipping (XL Recordings)

So Joy O seems pretty eager to say this isn’t an album, but it is 14 tracks of original music that are a great listen. The whole thing is scattered with vocal recordings from people in his life, and someone early on says “The second you just change the language to mixtape, nobody cares.” Whatever it takes to get the thing out!

There’s a lot I love about Joy Orbison. One thing is that he’s definitely making dance music and he’s using interesting textures and sounds that you don’t often hear in dance music, and which totally take me back to mid-90s electronica. It might not be the first time around for me hearing these nerdy sounds, but in the context of this kind of low-key bass music they just work better, hit harder, whatever.

Music for Dogs – Spoor (Cached Media)

It’s a jazz duo, I guess, but I’d be pushed to call this a jazz record. Blippy electronic drums, most tracks are kind of sketch-like, and then every now and then … a clarinet solo. I really like it. One of many things I stumbled upon via Adrien’s recent BNDCMPR playlists (Ambient and Beats). The funny thing is I probably got him on to Cached Media, but I missed this release when it came out in February.

Longbrows – Manywhere (self-released)

The latest Longbrows release is, like his last, field recordings tweaked and worked into musical compilations. This one’s a travelogue, with each track a kind of relatively abstract vignette of a different place and time. Often the recordings themselves capture some musical moment, or else the tones of the field recordings are drawn out in a harmonic or melodic fashion, so it’s perhaps not as abstract as I make it out to be.

While most of it is definitely beatless, just to mix things up, High times in the low countries is almost like an 80s hip-hop instrumental, with rhythms of horses on cobblestones, bell melodies, and a dog worthy of a song by The Baha Men.

Place: Georgia and Place: Columbia (Place:)

So I’ve been getting very into a producer called KMRU over the last year or so, and I saw he was selecting tracks for a compilation called Place: Nairobi. At the time it hadn’t come out yet, but it got me checking out the Place: website and Bandcamp page. The folks behind this series describe “Place:” as follows:

A location specific electronic music compilation series where all proceeds are donated to local groups working on environmental causes in that area.

The series seems pretty switched on, from what I can tell, but also not very well supported, if the little fan icons on Bandcamp are anything to go by. 🤔

Anyway, yeah, compilations of electronic music from specific places. Largely what I’d call either techno or ambient, with a scattering of electro. I got to wondering about how neither compilation sounds particularly of its location, to my foreign ears. But I imagine if you had, say, metal compilations from around the world it would be similar: you wouldn’t necessarily spot the country of origin from just listening. Arguably this will be more exaggerated with instrumental music.

Christoph El’ Truento – Foraging (Cosmic Compositions)

When I started AmbientNZ.com I unsurprisingly revisited a whole lot of local ambient music, and this Truento release from 2019 floated to the surface. I think of Chris’s stuff normally in the context of hip-hop – maker of many beat tapes and producer for Home Brew, @Peace, etc. – even though I know his El’ Truento output ranges all over the place.

This is a warm and bright collection of interesting instrumentals. Among the soft and wandering synths psychedelic touches abound, from reversed stuff, roaming guitar lines, to flutes and inscrutable recordings. It is not washed out drones, earnest acoustic felted piano, or anything you might call noise, so it steers clear of a lot of the most common tropes of contemporary ambient.

Jörgen Kjellgren – Hollawood (The Slow Music Movement)

4-track EP that’s basically nice guitar instrumentals in Americana territory, with some interesting electronic texture.

I don’t have that much more to say! But I listened to it a lot. Genuinely calming.

Perila and Ulla – Silence Box 1 (Silence Box)

This is a nice mix of delicate instrumental bits with field recordings, often sliced abruptly or otherwise almost dumped on the track in slabs of sound. Perila comes from a background in doing ASMR stuff, which I never picked from her solo releases, but it makes some sense here.

I was writing about Ulla in July. Her and Perila also have a collaboration called LOG that I’ve listened to a bunch. Not sure what’s going on with these Silence Box releases – they’re all by the two of them, who are as far as I know from Russia and USA respective, and the Bandcamp page says the label is from Portugal. But anyway, this is the one that caught my attention and I listened to it repeatedly.

Szymon Kaliski – Out of Forgetting (Audiobulb)

I can’t remember why this 2013 release (recorded in 2009) went on my Bandcamp wishlist in the last couple of months, but it’s been a very enjoyable listen over the last month. It’s relatively short – 7 tracks – so I probably listened to it more than some of the albums that came in higher up the chart (Longbrows and Joy Orbison’s have twice as many tracks).

Anyway, it kicks off with glitched up piano stuff, which I’m pretty partial to. I feel a bit like I’m often saying this about music I like, but in the end each track is its own thing, like the person making it was just focused on making that one piece of music the most that track it could be.

My top listens in August 🎶

Li Yilei – 之 / OF (Métron Records)

I’m sure collections made in managed isolation or under lockdown are already becoming a bit tired, people wishing things were otherwise and all that. But Yilei’s collection of things made in isolation after they returned to China as their UK visa expired is definitely worth repeat listens, whatever the backstory. ASMR-like tiny recorded details and super-clean digital synths play off each other, creating kind of new age flavours in places, but elsewhere the use of wind instruments and surprising tones make things pretty edgy.

Jessy Lanza – 24/7 (Hyperdub)

Surprisingly easy to listen through from start to finish, which many remix releases are not. I really like Lanza but found her third album a bit too much of the same same, so am glad these remixes are so good. Great to hear her voice and compositions in new contexts. There’s great range here, my faves being the more skittery syncopated things. Foodman never dropping the bass (as always) made me really happy. The screwed intro to Loraine James’ mix is another lovely highlight. Possibly the contrasting sounds – Kate NV’s retro pop vibe or Visible Cloaks’ usual low-on-beats and trippy business – make the beat-heavy tracks stand out too. And yeah it’s easy to put on and listen through; since it’s a short EP, its high placing on the list reflects a lot of me doing just that.

Joggers Vol.1 A Communal Compilation (Jogging House?)

If you give the musician Jogging House money via his Patreon account, you get access to a Discord server as one of the perks. Through that Patreon and that Discord has come about this compilation – as in, it’s music organised through that Discord, exclusively by members of that Discord. A million years ago I participated in a compilation for members of the Atom™ mailing list, which is about as close a point of comparison as I can come up with, although no money changed hands. I don’t mean to make it sound like I think this is sinister, I think the whole thing is pretty damn cool.

To the music: it’s pretty, synthy ambient-ish electronic stuff, leaning towards soft and intimate rather than say epic or cavernous. If you know Jogging House or his label Seil Records you probably won’t be surprised by any of the contents. But a lot of the music is very enjoyable to listen to, which given most artists are absolute no-names even within the micro-audiences we’re talking about, is nice to hear in more than one sense.

Sam Wilkes – WILKES (Leaving Records)

This has awesomely detailed notes on Bandcamp, in lieu of liner notes, and I love it. Wilkes lists Coltrane first in influences, and I get it. The thing opens with a Coltrane number, in fact, and the record is dominated by the sax playing of Sam Gendel, who Wilkes has also done a couple of releases with now. But, being on Matthewdavid’s Leaving Records, it’s not just a jazz record. It’s synthy, beaty electronic backdrops with lo-fi sampled vocal loops and such and it’s jazz, in a way that might live up to the words “acid jazz” if you’d never heard that genre. It’s also short, so its high placing in my list reflects many a listen.

I forget how I got here almost 3 years post-release – I assume it was via a Louis Cole binge, as he plays on this plenty – but I’m happy I did.

Frog of Earth – Frog of Earth (wherethetimesgoes)

Just a chance listen from the ginormous What are you listening to? topic on the lines forum. Apparently a frog-themed concept album out of Dublin, from January this year.

Drum-free synth instrumentals that I wouldn’t call ambient. It’s great stuff, but I’m not sure what else I’d say beyond that.

Pil – Wish For Good Timing (C Minus)

More of that contemporary ambient from the same circles that include Picnic, DJ Paradise, Huerco S (though he doesn’t like ambient music, and fair enough), Ulla Straus and others. Kansas City via Berlin? I dunno. I don’t have much to say, but I do like it.

Sonmi451 – Seven Signals In The Sky (LAAPS)

I’ve been following Sonmi451 since we were labelmates on Monotonik 15 years ago. This is a brand new album from him and he’s still in roughly the same territory, but refined and polished for better and for worse. More orchestral sounds, almost a bigger-budget feel. It’s undoubtedly beautiful but I’ll admit, even as I always rush on to the next thing anyway, this isn’t one I can imagine myself coming back to very often. We’ll see.

Kate Carr – dawn, always new, often superb, inaugurates the return of the everyday (self-released)

Another case where what I’m listening to crosses over some with my music-making, as Kate released Montano’s A Distant Light last year. Her own music is very focused on field recording and in exploring and manipulating sound, with this particular release contemplating a particular roundabout in London with a whole lot of interesting history. She’s using a geophone and contact mics here, which, if you need a translation, really means that the sounds involved may not sound anything like what you would hear if you went to the location in question. The notes on Bandcamp are well worth a read.

Midcentury Modular – Noncompetitive Music (Fallen Moon Records)

This is the only one in common with last month’s top listens. Not much more to say.

My top listens in July 🎶

I’ve decided to take the stats I normally share on social media each month, provide links, and write something. As per Disquiet’s great post about why you should blog, blogging is mostly for the writer. So I’ll try and see what that does for me.

I use last.fm to capture basically all music I listen to: MP3s on my computer or phone, plays on Deezer, and plays on the Bandcamp app. Despite last.fm feeling like a bit of a ghost town now, some freaks have built a new last.fm chart visualisation app, Musicorum, which I’m using for this image of what I listened to.

Two things bug me about how last.fm does its charts. First, they’re based on number of different tracks you play, not amount of time spent listening. I picked up and listened to Chad Munson’s Lost Language quite a bit in July, but its 50-minute duration is made up of two tracks, so it’s unlikely to show up. Conversely, an album with many short tracks will end up at the top of the charts even if I just listened to it once or twice.

The second thing is that I listen to a lot of compilations, but I guess because each track has its own artist name they don’t always show up in last.fm charts as one album. Weirdly, MP3s from my phone show up as one album, but not on my laptop. 🤷‍♂️

I bought three compilations in July that I really liked and listened through multiple times, plus the new Strange Behaviour compilation I’m on, Ambient Maladies:

  • Jogging House of Seil Records put together A Communal Compilation, which is a lot of unknown artists making gentle synth-led ambience;
  • a hefty charity record, Slow Sketch 2: Reflections of the Ambient Community, which is quite diverse for an ambient comp, but leans towards the more earnest and droney end of ambience; and
  • recent obsession Nikolaienko led me to what looks to be his label, Muscut, and the compilation Test Pressing III, which contains Muscut artists plus Andrew Pekler, Jan Jelinek, and more doing often weird and murky electronic experiments that I find hard to sum up in a sentence.

Right, here’s links and thoughts on that top 9.

Matt Rösner – No Lasting Form (Room40)

I’ve been happily listening to Matt’s collaboration with Seaworthy on 12k for a decade or more now and was excited to stumble upon this new solo work via browsing Lawrence English’s Room40 label.

Matt says of his process that “There were months where I didn’t record a single note, I just listened in a very detailed and deliberate way.” and for me the results reflect that slow and deliberate approach. I find the album hypnotic and quite its own thing. There is nothing I can point to that’s particularly formally distinctive, like the sounds he uses or compositional tricks or whatever, but I couldn’t point to any other beatless instrumental music and say “this record sounds like that”. The repeating sounds through most tracks often include piano- and bell-like noises, which make things feel not quite electronic and more environmental.

nueen – Nova Llum (Good Morning Tapes)

Literally Balearic music: chill out stuff from a guy from Mallorca. Often tracks feel kind of retro, from the slow breakbeat on Split which could be off some 90s 12″, to the crisp, sparkling synths and dramatic chords of Time=Feel which nods hard towards 90s ambience a la Global Communications’ classic. A great collection of tracks that flows really nicely.

Paq – Hyphae (Crash Symbols)

Another one that sometimes reminds me of the 90s, but more in the territory of the first few Air albums, some Skylab or something – and at times going way back to the Perrey & Kingsley records that people were sampling and making references to then. So, sometimes 90s, sometimes 60s and 70s via the 90s – thanks retro cycles! I mean, you have tracks with names like Atomic Samba! Overall, the album has a great psychedelic feel; a set of instrumental tracks that sometimes head off into space, but more often have a solid groove. Sometimes you’ve got old school drum machines, sometimes rolling, acoustic-sounding drums. Some double bass, some vibraphone, whatever spacey sounds making up the rhythm section, and often the kind of squeaky synth melodies I associate with old Moog records.

Midcentury Modular – Noncompetitive Music (Fallen Moon Records)

I got here because it’s a label that released me in the past – if I’m looking at a label to release my stuff it’s because they already put out things I like, so maybe that’s no great surprise. But then, after buying this, I discovered it’s the alias of a guy I’ve chatted with plenty via the lines forum. This release and Grosse’s do nothing to ease my feeling that ambient music is mostly practitioners listening to each other. 😅

Anyway, what we have here is a really tasty collection of synth jams. I would call it ambient, but it’s not in the washed-out or droning territory you might think of, and some tracks like entering the tunnel have a really driving pulse to them. The sounds lean towards grubby and fuzzy, with sounds collapsing into noise on some tracks, rather than all delicate sparkles and such. Some tracks like ciat 2 have chunky bass pedals, but my faves tend to me the lighter suspended tracks like the pair wandering flower garden and staggered blooms.

Ulla – Limitless Frame (Motion Ward)

I named Ulla’s first album as the single album on my end of year list for 2019. It felt like the thing I most wanted someone, anyone to check out. Ulla has turned out to be really prolific and I’ll admit I’m almost hitting the point of overload. I think this counts as her fourth solo album (so that’s three in the last year and a half), plus she’s done numerous shorter releases and amazing things with Perila, both under their separate names and as LOG.

I’ve listened to this heaps since it came out in late June and I think I have to admit it’s not my fave. It’s more diverse, e.g. one track is a mellow saxophone solo, another a murky piano lament (over 8 minutes!) and another sounds like guitar noodling – a bit more processed, like on Clearly The Memory, but still quite a departure from what she has been doing. On the split release with Oceanic, Plafond 4, she did things like this that I really liked, but here these tracks just don’t grab me and make me buzz like her more abstract moments where hard-to-describe sounds loop-but-don’t, coming and going and changing form. Still, that’s not to say it’s not a good record and I’ll still be jumping on whatever Ulla does next.

Grosse – Untitled (self-released)

From time to time I do the assignments from the Disquiet Junto, and Marc Weidenbaum has a Slack workspace for contributors to chat. I hang out there a lot and get a lot of recommendations. Grosse is another of the Slack members. He put out two releases concurrently in February. I finally picked up a copy of this one and have no regrets.

It’s another set of electronic instrumentals, each quite different from the next, and none landing neatly in the territory of a particular genre. I don’t have much more to say than that!

Womb – Holding A Flame (Flying Nun)

Something with singing! Heh, the only one. I will say Womb songs sound pretty samey to me, but it’s a samey I love. They remind me a little of a slightly sad-sounding indie I associate with the 90s, but I couldn’t name an act they specifically remind me of.

For this to make the charts means I listened to it a lot, because it’s just a four-track EP. Compare with e.g. Noncompetitive Music‘s twelve tracks.

Suuri-Pieksä – Fitolampa (Triangle & The Snitches)

Four lovely synth tracks, my fave being the dubbed out second track, which has this beautiful synth progression through loads of echoes accompanied by gurgling and lurching sounds like a tape being mangled. Something about how pretty and friendly the synth line is (and that it sounds like it’s being played, with variations) pairs beautifully with the quiet pitch mayhem happening in the background.

Nikolaienko – Rings (Faitiche)

Probably quite typically for me, most of what I listened to in July is music that I got in the same month. But this has stuck around for a while now. I don’t feel like I can describe it adequately. From the descriptions and so on I understand it’s mostly music made with tape loops. Perhaps because of that it has a retro electronic feel that goes all the way back to 50s and 60s recordings. There’s Forbidden Planet burbles and reversed bits on Mirrorage, plonky wooden percussion sounds wandering in and out on Hidden Track and a lot of gently looping synth tones, particularly on each of the tracks named Ambianta. I love it!

Recent listening 4/2021 🎛🎶

I’ll try and keep this tight: here’s five releases I’ve been listening to a lot since January. Thanks to the ongoing phenomenon of Bandcamp Fridays I’ve bought way too much music over the past year – you can always go look at my Bandcamp fan account for the whole damn list.

Lido Pimienta – Miss Colombia (Anti-)

One that came up from end of year lists, specifically Pitchfork’s The 22 Best Songs by Latinx Artists in 2020. I was blown away by the single Eso Que Tu Haces, and the more I dug into the album the more I found to enjoy. Many songs are cumbia of some flavour, but also arranged with layers of woodwind, brass, steel drums, and more. I’d love to understand more of the lyrics, but apparently Duolingo only gets me as far. Who woulda thunk?

I enjoyed this little documentary too.

Beatrice Dillon – Workaround (PAN)

Another one from lots of 2020 end of year lists. I’d love to know what Dillon was working around here, if we’re to take her track titles as being at all descriptive, because these sparse rhythm workouts sound like they were definitely always supposed to be this way. Synth stabs and drum machines suggest the lineage of house and techno, but the beats here never sit still. No extraneous stuff, often just a few chords and a drum machine, sometimes with an unadorned acoustic instrument playing alongside. And best of all, while the beats are often on the move, they don’t sound complicated or virtuosic. Just naturally roaming about with plenty of variety. The standout tracks for me are the ones with live tabla, such as the opening Workaround One.

LCM – Signal Quest (Orange Milk Records)

This trio create an otherworldly combo of sax with meandering keys and electronics. More like quiet fusion moments than the other releases on Orange Milk are. Really affecting and has rewarded repeat listens. I don’t have more to say on it, but if you like kinda new age-y things or quiet jazz fusion you may well enjoy this.

Picnic – Picnic (Daisart)

A beautiful thing from a duo associated with c-, some kind of social group of ambient music makers from Kansas, USA that includes exael, uon, Ulla Straus, Perila, Huerco S, and so on. As per some of those other acts, the music tends to involve floating synth chords and ASMR crackles. There are sometimes rhythmic bits but it’d be a stretch to say there are beats. Often things feel quite small and delicate – neither washed out in reverb like a drone record, nor covered in dub fx either.

The four different guest remixes bring more rhythmic takes, particularly Huerco S’s version of Folds and Rips.

Jonnine – Blue Hills (Boomkat Editions | Documenting Sound)

I’ve been quietly plugging my way through the Boomkat Editions | Documenting Sound releases, which were a collection of releases the webshop put out from musicians responding to COVID and 2020 and the rest. So far this album from HTRK’s Jonnine is a real standout. It might be the weirdest of the 5 albums I’m writing about here, but on the other hand it’s the most retro. Moody guitar, bass, drum machines, and layered vocals could all be from the 80s. Songs sometimes feel like just strange sketches, but almost always in a good way! The advertising copy refers to The Cure circa The Top, which is not what I would’ve thought of immediately, but I get it.

Recent listening 1/2021 🎛🎶

Happy New Year! It’s been a while since my last wee round up. What with the Bandcamp Fridays and all, I’ve consumed a stupid amount of new stuff which you can always nosey through on my Bandcamp fan page. But here’s six more releases I’ve enjoyed a lot in the last six months or so. All ambient stuff this time.

The Arteries of New York City – The Arteries of New York City (Bloxham Tapes)

Beautiful mysterious lounge bar jazz wanderings juxtaposed with more abstract atmospheres. The vocal closing track is a perfect way to go out – almost feels like a spoiler to mention it, sorry.

Jonathan Fitoussi – Plein Soleil (Transversales Disques)

Pretty, drum-free arpeggiating synth stuff, like taking something like Tangerine Dream’s ‘Love On A Real Train’ and exploring every branch that one track could take you down. 

The label is primarily a reissue label, which perhaps gives you a feel for how this is fairly retro. Still, it’s a clean and clear sounding beast compared to the more collagey or murky things I’m writing up elsewhere in this post.

Ike Zwanikken – For Little Limp and Tunnel Vision (Storage Media)

Four more ambient tracks, sometimes punctuated by majorly muffled or distant-sounding drums (but it’s always kept sparse). There’s a lot little events, layers and subtleties in these tracks, but mostly they just sound great. 🌹

Ike is from New Zealand and this was recorded in Berlin in 2017, but only released this year. It’s a massive contrast to the equally detailed, skittery dancey stuff he’s also put out as Ike.

Jeannine Schulz – Serve (self-released)

What I hear is a combination of grungey tape loops – plucks (guitars?) and chiming synth sounds – mixed with rich organ type keyboards. RIYL Marcus Fischer, Taylor Deupree, or both!

Schulz appeared seemingly out of nowhere this year and has cranked out a crazy number of releases. I haven’t checked out any others closely yet, because this has been enough. Really relaxing without being cloying, imo.

Robbie Elizee – Windows 95 Startup Blues / Central Standard Time (self-released)

All 3 tracks are absolutely cracking drones. I never know what distinguishes what I love from what I don’t, but this release has that thing.

Around the time of Black Lives Matters protests kicking off again earlier in 2020, there was a request on reddit for recommendations of Black musicians making ambient and this guy went in for a bit of self-promotion. I’m glad he did.

Nate Johnston – A Constellation of Similarities (AEMC Records)

A collection of curious little mysteries and surprises, mixing wandering synths with wordless male harmonies reminiscent of Beach Boys slow numbers, acoustic instruments, and who knows what else?

This is the first single-artist release from a record label that has evolved out of a Facebook group, Ambient and Experimental Music Community (AEMC). For all that Facebook might seem like a diminished and still-fading thing, I have to admit this group has been a quietly enjoyable “place” to spend some time. Social media platform guilty pleasures?

My first tutorial video

Not much more to say that I don’t cover in the video.

Evolving chords using multiple time signatures.

Well, a few comments:

I was keen to explain the overall thing right at the start so those who didn’t want to watch 8 minutes could get the gist upfront.

I did maybe 8 takes and this is a straight run through with some slight edits to the audio.

I didn’t script the video, but I had a plan in mind.

I didn’t even mention the software being used, but I figured it was about a writing technique, not about the specific tools used to achieve it.

The track I’m talking through here is Escalators, Violins off Quiet, and in this take I didn’t bother to mention that the title is pretty prosaic – the track has a squeaky escalator sample and violins in it – but also was me resisting going all in on an “escalating violence” pun.

The other track I mention near the end that uses similar techniques, but with multiple MIDI parts pointed at a mono synth, is Phase off Everything Happens, For Some Reason.

Recent listening 7/2020 🎛🎶

I guess I’m doing this kind of round up every 3 months then.

Huron – Happy Transmission (Rad Cult)

A beautiful set of wandering synth sounds that at times made me think of Boards of Canada minus the rhythm section. Quietly diverse, but not just all over the shop. And, yeah, do judge it by its cover. Really good fit.

Part of the steadily increasing proportion of stuff I buy from fellow music makers in online forums, Slack workspaces, Facebook groups, etc.

The Japanese House – Good At Falling (Dirty Hit)

I first got into this one woman band via this song, which isn’t on the album.

The album is in a similar vein, with a lot of processed vocals pitched and stacked and mangled, sorta new wavey electric guitar licks, and such. It struck me the arrangements are a lot like melodic IDM artist Lusine, just with full songs on top.

The album does get it a bit samey, but I love the highlights. I’ve listened to tracks like We Talk All The Time and Lilo so many times and am not sick of them.

Polygloss – Coronal (self-released)

I’ve listened to this a lot in the last month or two and it’s really taken me to some weird places, in the best of ways. It’s some guy I follow on Twitter for laughs and music nerdery – he just casually self-released a really tight album on one of those days when Bandcamp were waiving their fees.

Not sure I’ve got any useful descriptors for this. Synth music, quite spare and sometimes genuinely odd, but never in a way that’s hard work or sort of willful about it.

Klara Lewis – Ingrid (Editions MEGO)

Buy on Bandcamp.

A single long track developing from a cello loop over 20 minutes. I read comparisons to The Disintegration Loops, but this is more your classic crescendo from quiet to a roaring wall of noise, via slowly evolving spectral weirdnesses. It’s great imo.

Kmru – Saal (self-released)

I probably found this in this reddit thread promoting Black artists who make ambient music, one of several such lists that popped up in response to the death of George Floyd. I don’t see how buying Kenyan music supports the BLM cause, but I really liked these two tracks and wanted to buy them regardless.

Two ten-minute drone tracks that are a nice mix of field recordings and near-static tones. Quiet and quietening, IME.

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – Basalt Sphere (self-released)

This moody 20-minute long track reminds me of gamelan, gongs, chimes, and sometimes like something really big is starting to fall – a bit of a glacier, a large rock, a building. Tiny ghost vocals lurk in the mix and small changes really shift the rhythm of the elements. I love this kind of thing that can sound like not much is going on, but also sound like it never really sits still.

This New York synthesist’s looooong and slowly evolving tracks have been exciting me for a few years now, 2016’s Cognition – Observation and this 2014 video of a performance in San Francisco being particular faves.

Lowe’s been going hard out on Bandcamp in the last while, uploading his back catalogue and unreleased stuff alike, and I’ve been enjoying this one, Basalt Sphere, and Phosphenes in recent months.

Hadi Bastani – Emergence (Flaming Pines)

Yet another one I’m going to struggle to describe. Instrumental electronic stuff, with a real mix of sounds, from a moody building drone a little like the above Ingrid, through what sounds like scraping metal and feedback, to Raster.Noton-ish pulsing drum machine stuff, to gentle guitar arpeggios. His notes say “It brings together a host of field recordings, found object recordings, live improvisations, recycled sounds, synthesis, and voices, produced in Tehran and Belfast over the span of 10 years.” It’s really pretty diverse and I found it super-engaging.

I was paying special attention to Flaming Pines’ releases leading up to our Montano release on the label, and I’m very glad I listened to this one.

Hawthorn – Evening Dreams of Space Flight (self-released)

Impressive little debut EP (though that huge final track brings the total play time up to almost 40 minutes. I do my best to avoid the pretty empty word “cinematic” when describing instrumental music, but it’s probably apt here. Any of these tracks sounds like it could be a contemporary soundtrack piece.

The third release in this round-up that’s from someone I “know” online, in this case from the Disquiet Junto Slack.

n-So – Out of the Valley (Moderna Records)

Dramatic piano pieces, adorned with synths and other electronics from time to time. Sometimes I think it threatens to get a bit OTT for me, with its rich harmonies and such, but it never really tips over the edge. I’ve found I can put it on when I first wake up or put it on when I’m trying to sleep at night, and it always sounds good.

Fourth release from someone I “know” online, this time lines.

Supermalprodelica / Kerozen – Saint-Arnoult (Scum Yr Earth)

Quiet lockdown noodling from France. The quietest end of techno, I guess. Soft and pleasant loops and pulses that I found really restful.

I have no memory of how I found this – I seem to be only one of five people who’ve bought it, and one of the others is my bandmate Adrien who is there because of me. 🤷‍♂️

Stem-splitting software

So one thing that makes me feel generation-gapped is the whole Melodyne world of music tricks. I know what it does, but I just can’t muster up any enthusiasm to go there. The closest I’m getting is the new generation of cheap or free apps to split a song into what remixers call “stems”, being the bits of a song like its vocals, drums, bass, and “others”.

Spleeter is one such app that’s available for free as a command line thing here: https://pypi.org/project/spleeter/ There’s instructions on how to install it on your computer out there, and a web implementation where you just drag and drop files into your browser here: https://splitter.ai/

A couple of months back my buddy Tim Koch linked me to another one I’ve already forgotten and instantly dissected Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams for me, at my request. Even from a Youtube ripped MP3, converted back into MP3s, the results were pretty good. These algorithms are weird things. So clever, so quick, and I feel like maybe twenty years back when I was first mucking with Autotune and such things I would’ve been absolutely delighted. I can imagine my younger self sitting there for hours splitting up tracks, slicing and dicing component parts, reusing them in unintended ways, etc.

But I have to admit right now I’m barely interested. It’s fun to check how well they work, but I have no appetite to do a live dub of, say, some obscure 90s number, nor to speed up split out break beats (literally not that, not break beats) from some cluttered funk tune to find some undiscovered Amen replacement.

Still, I was interested enough to make this post, I guess.

Recent listening 4/2020 🎛🎶

It’s been five months since I last did one of these, excluding when I pushed Ulla Straus’s Room as an album I loved from 2019. So here’s ten releases I’ve been listening to a lot in the interim.

Chelsea Jade – Personal Best (self-released?)

I keep coming back to this album from 2018 and it’s one I’ll happily listen through from start to finish. I’ve listened to it a lot over summer. Many great pop songs, full of great hooks, fantastic lyrics, and all kinds of curious audio sparkles. I saw her live earlier in the year and the beats were surprisingly pumping over a PA. Ace.

Legowelt / SFV Acid / Haron – Plafond 1 (Bakk)

I’ve been enjoying the whole Plafond series. Chiefly techno-ish artists doing something closer to ambient music, but often with a sense of drama and climax. I’ve got the first 4 and recommend any of them.

Frederik Valentin & Loke Rahbek – Elephant (Posh Isolation)

I absolutely thrashed this Danish duo’s 2017 debut, Buy Corals Online (Editions MEGO), and while this hasn’t hit me quite so hard yet, the not-too-glossy mix of synths, bass, piano, whatever else is going still makes me very happy. There’s a bit more digital sheen to this one, more overt signs of what once upon a time was called “studio trickery” but might just be on someone’s phone these days.

Anyway, I unreservedly love the opening and closing tracks, and the whole is short enough to easily digest too. 🖤

Robin Saville – Build A Diorama (Morr Music)

Walking music from one half of the excellent Isan.

I still revisit Robin’s album from 2013, Personal Flowers, and have a strong sense I’ll be listening to this 7 years down the track as well! I love the delicate sounds – the mix of electronic and acoustic chiming and bubbling. It’s ambient, but not a washed out drone. (Not that that doesn’t have it’s place, but!)

Mapstation – Present Unmetrics (TAL)

Another new release from someone I’ve been listening to for years. Mapstation is Stefan Schneider, formerly of To Rococo Rot, Kreidler, and The September Collective. It’s been well over a decade since a solo album and this is an inviting, roaming mix of synth bass, euphonium and noisy electronic debris. Schneider is a bass player and I can imagine that’s key to the way these weird little instrumentals are warm, somehow tuneful, and swinging, despite also being glitchy, rough and strange.

mHz – Form (Kasuga Records)

This is the first time I’d heard this kind of thing coming out of New Zealand. Wellington Mo H. Zahreei has the best initials for this kind of technical, spare music! A meticulous set of tracks in the territory of Alva Noto, SND, raster.noton. Alternately percussive bangers and fizzy harmonic stuff – sometimes within the same track.

The physical edition comes on SD card. 😎

Kilchhofer / Hainbach – Acosta (Marionette)

If anyone knows something else like this, let me know. Percussive, rhythmic synth music but the beats mostly feel like hand drums. Pretty and tuneful as much as it is abstract. Also a pretty amazing split, in that the music of both artists sounds so of a piece. Kinda cool that their tracks are intermingled too.

Jeff Parker – Suite For Max Brown (International Anthem)

I can’t pretend to listen to much contemporary jazz. I ended up here because Parker is in noodly fusion band Tortoise. This turns out to be a cool stitched-together-at-home jazz record, perhaps my only disappointment being that there’s no other vocal track after the fantastic opener.

Deltidseskapism – Nattmusik (Source Records)

Is it a bit abstruse to write about a 16-year-old CD that hasn’t made it online in any form? Oh well, looks like it’s pretty cheap on Discogs. After some discussions with my Takamu collaborators, Adrien & Tim, I ended up ripping this and listening to it multiple times.

France Jobin –Scènes (LINE)

Another one from 2017, this one a tribute to Finnish producer and musician Mika Vainio, who died that year. It’s by far the quietest selection in this post. Jobin’s compositions always sound to me like she’s sculpting sound in the sense of subtracting from whatever source she started with. I put it on at night, to sleep to, I put it on for close listening too. While I guess you could describe this as drones, that shouldn’t imply that it’s heavy or grungey.

I obsessed over Jobin’s Intrication a few years back, which still might be my fave.

One album from 2019 I loved

If you like any kind of ambient music, give Ulla Straus‘s Big Room a hoon. I passed it over on first listen as “nice enough”, but am glad I came back to it.

I bought and/or downloaded 105 releases in 2019 and 35 of them are from previous years going back to 2000. And predictably enough, some of the things I most enjoyed listening to in 2019 were from those earlier years, e.g. Etelin’s I-have-no-vocab-for-this Hui Terra, Barker’s Debiasing, and Chelsea Jade’s Personal Best.

Perhaps in part because I already overwhelm myself with so much new (to me) shizz, I always feel a bit overwhelmed by end of year lists. So I’m leaving this post at just one release I’d recommend. But if you so wished you could basically track my buying habits entirely via my Bandcamp collection or most of my listening via my ancient last.fm profile.

Recent listening 11/2019 🎛🎶

Five things from the last couple of months.

Fumitake Tamura – Tamura 000 (Black Smoker Records)

This came out in May and is a CD-only release. I loved this guy’s previous releases, and have no regrets on finally caving and buying a CD direct from him, even if it cost me a year’s rent. Almost. Very pared back mostly instrumental hip-hop, with a palette that reminds me of SND and other microsound and sometimes Chain Reaction artists like Porter Ricks (who he did sample once upon a time).

If you want something more readily available, try his collaboration with Japanese MC Hidenka.

Julia Reidy – In Real Life (Black Truffle)

Baffling and intriguing: I seriously have no other album I can point to that sounds like it, except her release from earlier in the year. Reidy plays finger-picking 12-string guitar that reminds me most of acoustic blues, and her sparse vocals are sort of along those lines as well, but through Autotune. And the two tracks here stretch to about 20 minutes each, with a bed of quite uneasy-listening synth and organ parts under the guitars and vox. The end result is actually a bit more accessible than it might sound, at the least in comparison to her previous release, the aptly-named brace, brace. 😅

Lontalius – All I Have (PBWH)

Great second album from Lontalius, one of the better musicians to come out of New Zealand this century so far. Nice and concise; I think he said something about wanting it to fit in the palm of your hand, which works. 🙌

It’s in part produced by R&B producer Om’Mas Keith (Frank Ocean, et al) and separately by Jim Fairchild (Grandaddy, Modest Mouse). It certainly feels like an indie record through and through to me, but does contain a lot of tasty ear candy for folks like me.

Jonas Meyer – Konfusion (Serein)

A very tightly contained set of what I’d comfortably call an electronic record, but with a lot of use of acoustic material (instruments and otherwise). Only one of the six tracks clocks in at less than five minutes, but it’s one of those albums that feels like there’s absolutely no fat on it. And heaps of character. I couldn’t be sure of his influences at all, although the types of sounds and the way they’re used sometimes reminded me of Giuseppe Ielasi’s albums for 12k.

The cover art is on point: is that intricate pattern a digital creation or a photo of a delicate sculpture? Some combination?

Belly Full Of Stars – brokendatapool (Courier)

Apparently I can’t post one of these without a link to someone whose music I “met” via lines, and in this case she’s a Disquiet Junto contributor like me. 🎛

A great four track EP of short electronic instrumentals, where each track is based on some kind of glitch or used materials or software that’s somehow obsolete.

Fun animations

Really enjoying what I’ve found of this guy Johan Rijpma.

Always fun when someone takes a physical thing and makes it unfamiliar, in this case through weird angles and through choreographing the familiar thing happening en masse.

I like how this one only reveals how it works at the end… I never would’ve guessed what was going on.

The problem of mindfulness

This article by a Philosophy PhD really resonated with me: The problem of mindfulness.

I enjoyed it for the critique of people saying mindfulness is somehow free of values or beliefs, because that never made sense to me, but I also liked that it’s not just a giant dismissal of a set of techniques that, personally, I’ve found pretty useful.

But, you know, everything has limits. This rings true:

[Mindfulness is] not much help in sifting through competing explanations for why you might be thinking or feeling a certain way. Nor can it clarify what these thoughts and feelings might reveal about your character. Mindfulness, grounded in anattā, can offer only the platitude: ‘I am not my feelings.’ Its conceptual toolbox doesn’t allow for more confronting statements, such as ‘I am feeling insecure,’ ‘These are my anxious feelings,’ or even ‘I might be a neurotic person.’ Without some ownership of one’s feelings and thoughts, it is difficult to take responsibility for them.

Feeding back

On and off for the past 7+ years I’ve taken inspiration from a weekly assignment called the Disquiet Junto. Marc Weidenbaum, who runs the thing, offers up some usually basic steps for creating some audio, challenging you to make something and get it online for feedback and comment within a few days.

This week Marc picked up a tweet I shared with him via the Disquiet Junto’s Slack and has made it the jumping off point for the assignment.

The original tweet I thought would be a fun musical cue:

https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane/status/1185797836585213953

It was nice to contribute to the Junto in a different way like this, as I haven’t been actually doing any of the assignments for ages. It got me thinking how I’ve been doing this kind of thing for decades. I think it was in 2000 I agreed to coordinate a remix chain where a bunch of us online in different parts of the world took it in turns to remix the previous contributor’s track. Someone in the project had to build a custom website to upload the files to, because there was no online file-sharing service I knew about. It took forever on dial-up to get the stems… I think I probably downloaded them from work. Back in the days, when work internet and devices would be 100x better than at home.

Here’s a playlist of Junto assignments I have done. It’s probably more fun to click through to tired ol’ Soundcloud and read about each assignment.

Recent listening 09/2019 🎛🎶

Here’s another five things I’ve listened to a lot in the last six months or so. All relatively short releases, which is probably an accurate reflection of this year’s listening.

Saariselka – Ceres (Longform Editions)

Slide guitar, electric piano, just under 18 minutes of niceness.

I really like Longform Editions‘ whole thing of trying to put out long and slowly evolving tracks as an alternative to jumping constantly between things. It’s nice synchronicity with the new Montano tracks Shanan and I have been writing over the last year, which tend to be no less than 15 minutes a piece.

I’m a fussy bugger, so have bought maybe only six of the Longform Editions releases so far. But I listen to everything at least once to see what’s going on.

Kate Carr – City of Bridges (Longform Editions)

At 36 minutes, this one is most definitely longform. Field recordings and enigmatic collage. I like releases where I don’t know how much is in the field recordings and how much is not.

Bonus points for keeping in moments of interference from mobile phones. 😅 Most “field recordists” (ugh) freak out when that kind of thing happens.

Barker – Debiasing (Ostgut Ton)

I’ve listened to this so much this year. It’s techno, but no beats. So kinda also like Berlin school chugging synth stuff (Klaus Schultze), but not as boring. 🔥 Four concise tracks that do their thing and then stop.

Released on the label of Berlin techno Mecca , Berghain.

Adrien75 – Snow Walking (self-released)

Adrien writes:

For the 20th anniversary of the Adrien75 e.p. (a seven song 12″ released on the long defunct American IDM boutique label Carpet Bomb in 1999) I’m happy to present this new seven song e.p.

And, yeah, it’s a great collection of melodic IDM, with a couple of pulsing four-to-the-floor numbers near the end. If Boards of Canada territory isn’t your thing, maybe check ‘Germany 1999’ at least. Happy reminders of old Farben / Jan Jelinek records.

Loidis – A Parade, In The Place I Sit, The Floating World (& All Its Pleasures) (Anno)

Unsurprised Four Tet is into this. Here’s what I already wrote on Bandcamp:

This is the most dancey alias of Huerco / Pendant I’ve heard – crack up that the 2nd track goes 5 minutes before a beat drops, tho 😀

Like his other aliases, this reminds me a lot of stuff from 15-20 years ago, but never like a total ripoff. And it’s a great sound.

Recent listening 08/2019 🎛🎶

Here’s five things new to me in the last six months or so. Leaning towards stuff you might not have heard. Switzerland, USA, Ghana, NZ.

Martina Lussi – Diffusion Is A Force (Latency)

A varied bag of electronic instrumentals that are fairly hard to pin down. I was vaguely reminded of Laurel Halo’s release on the same label, Raw Silk Uncut Wood, but no really useful points of comparison jump out. I already wrote on Bandcamp:

A great collection of tracks that often feel like their own little worlds, but work well together as well. Impressive when someone has their own voice across such a range of music, imo

Olivier Creurer – Bits (self-released)

Again, this is one I already wrote about on Bandcamp:

Living up to its name, this single track moves through a bunch of different bits, each one a curious little world.

Something intimate and inviting about a beatless album that’s not washed out in reverb too.

I apparently like describing things as little worlds. 🤔

It’s one of two in this list I discovered via the lines community, and Olivier’s comments about his approach there might be of interest to other music-makers.

GALTFaculty – E B O W (Human Pitch)

I keep coming back to this short and sketchy release. Me on Bandcamp again:

I’m not going to pretend I’m schooled up on Ghanaian beats, but the loops on here have the greatest feels. Sometimes loopy sample house hits just right. This is one of those. Favorite track: Owned It.

Rosenau & Sanborn – Bluebird (Psychic Hotline)

The second I heard about via lines. A duo play guitar and synths/samplers live and record the whole room, with the doors open. It’s really simple in the most enjoyable and direct way. Bonus points for the track where one asks “what did you think?” and the other complains about the ending. 👌

Paperghost – This is a Miracle Village (Sonorous Circle)

I reckon Zach Webber’s own words do the trick:

This album is my first fully instrumental release. Exploring West Coast synthesis combined with collage’d samples, field recordings and live instrumentation. Tape wear and degradation interplay the soundscapes to create an aged warped sound throughout the album. Created after watching too many hippie-cult documentaries the album acts as a kind of crypto soundtrack, a soundtrack for a film that does not exist.

Actually, there’s plenty in there that could make me wary – if he’d said “cinematic”, well, that’s a bit of a red flag for me – but I’ve been listening to this a lot and totally recommend it.

Gay pop

I’ve always listened to some out and out pop. Sure, it might all be a bit of a Serious Film Guy Defends The Quality Of Toy Story 2 scenario when just this week I was buzzing over the sounds of a faulty extractor fan in the takeaway joint I was in, but it’s true.

Over the past few years, when I’ve been making playlists for the car or whatever, I’ve been tending to put in really straight (heh) pop songs that are explicitly gay, even just through use of pronouns. I thought to post some of it, after this:

So, yeah, here’s that Lontalius song (which is great (obligatory self-serving link to a remix I did in 2013)) and then some even more pop things I’ve been listening to.

Eddie / Lontalius has been tweeting about his love of Phoenix and I get that kind of vibe from the instrumentation in this, though the vocal is doing its own thing. (I also still put tunes like Everything is Everything and of course If I Ever Feel Better on my playlists.)

Lontalius remixed Troye Sivan, which I think is where I first came across the latter. This vid had me thinking of Marc Almond and Pierre et Gilles, which did have me wondering if there was more mainstream gayness going on than I remembered back in the day, but.

Absolute killer chorus with that chugging guitar, and (spoiler!) when it comes back around the last time with just Troye singing and a much higher guitar line it gives me that perfect hanging-in-mid-air-when-are-we-going-to-land feeling I want in a pop song. The breakdown and the drop, I guess.

I reckon this Sivan / Jónsi collaboration is as beautiful a pop ballad as you get. Yes, that’s Jónsi who fronts the Icelandic band Sigur Rós and who would more commonly be called post-rock or ambient perhaps.

I don’t remember how I came across this next song. The first time I played it to my wife she said “Michael, years of gym classes has changed you” … which may well be true.

The ascending harmony in the “take him to the pier in Santa Monica” bit gets me every time. But also all the mad reverb games that mess with the perceived space of the track. Sparkly!

Then this came along:

This comment on the above:

When I read about a “boy version” of this song I was thinking “like a straight version? ew” I was a fool and I apologize.

😁

I haven’t found that many Kiyoko songs I really like, but she did a big duet with Kehlani, who has a feature on this next tune.

Structure-wise it’s a totally no surprises feature verse, landing where you’d put the rap in a pop song. But lyrically it flips the song from something absolutely commonplace to something I’d never heard on the radio before – but which I really wish was commonplace.

This last one I came across via Melody from RNZ tweeting this:

https://twitter.com/MelodyRules_/status/1074380693264691200

We’re back full circle to a bit more of an indie vibe. King Princess! Amazing name!