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

Two things bug me about how 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 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!