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”.