Happy new year all! January has been a month where I have been immersed in some terrific music. And of course towards the end of the month, it has become almost customary that I share it with you. This time last year, my 'Monthly Discerning Audio Chart' consisted of a mere sentence about each album. Nowadays, the list is near enough a reviews section and requires some degree of typing on a rainy Friday afternoon!
It would be all to easy just to put them off until Tuesday and get myself in the studio to process some new sounds I've recorded...but, I'd best resist. Here goes...
RYONKT - "Window To The Room"
I've been waiting for this to come out on limited CD release label Under The Spire for some time now and I have to say, now I've got the album, it is not what I was expecting from the artist. I must admit, I'd expected that Ryo Nakata may have honed the beautiful electro-acoustic sound collages he is renowned for and released an album full of these on this label. Interestingly, he has instead gone down the drone route and has woven a collection of sleepy soundscapes of simple, minimal construction.
My first listen to this album involved it being loaded onto the iPod and listened to on repeat for hours as I slept. It didn't take me long to nod off to these shimmeringly beautiful tones. Indeed, stripped back drone music has been done countless times before and it is difficult to REALLY stand out in this scene. That is, unless you are able to do it just right and oh how Ryonkt has managed to do just that. This is an album so delicately drenched in subtle detail that it is going to take most of the year for me to be fully acquainted with it as a whole. Field recordings are usually fragments of detail that an artist might record to add extra sound and narrative to an album - in Window To The Room, they are used throughout in a sparing fashion and reduced to very low volume. Minimal is a word thrown around a lot these days, but as I say, to get it just right, it takes that little something special...and here, we have a perfect example.
SHAULA - "Haze"
Also out on Under The Spire is 'Haze' by a relatively unknown Japanese artist called Shaula. Before this, little is written about the artist around the net and so it is intriguing to listen to this collection of dusty guitar-drones. The album itself reminds me in places of one of my favourite releases of 2009: Pillowdiver's 'Sleeping Pills'. It's a similarly heady collection of drones and guitar compositions that is just brimming with tone and tiny detail. The pieces vary in length, some are more drone based than others and some pieces bring the harmonic tones of Shaula's guitar to the foreground. There are subtle underlying field recordings and detail throughout, dispersed on a bed of noisy drones. This is a superb release and is simply not to be missed. As Under The Spire is a limited run CD only label, you'll not be able to get an mp3 or FLAC version. Therefore, you'd be advised to head over to http://www.underthespire.co.uk/ and order your copy...
VARIOUS ARTISTS - "Hibernate Sampler Volume One"
At the tail end of last year, British label Hibernate Recs released a free sample album featuring an hour of music already released earlier in the year by the label. Hibernate as a label is reasonably new in the scene and with this sampler you can get the perfect taster of what it is about, if you haven't already bought anything from them before. I can vouch personally that much is on the horizon for the label in 2010 with some top artists penned for release and various shows throughout the year.
Now, as a sample release, we've a collection of drone and electro-acoustic tracks varying in length and tone. It makes for a superb listen and an excellent introduction to the label and the artists respectively. What's more, it's free!!! All that is required is that you join the mailing list as a way of staying informed about up and coming releases on the label. Visit http://hibernate-recs.com/ for more information, to download your free sampler or to order one of their releases.
NORTHENER - "1976"
British musician Martin Cummings produced a very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable electro-acoustic/ambient album for Hibernate Recs released in October last year. Designed for a continued listening experience, the tracks merge in and out and flow in a different manner to the typical fade techniques you'd hear from most artists in the scene. This is perhaps the main ingredient to this listening experience as it prevents the need to skip tracks, in fear of missing something! The album is full of guitar tones, plucked, played or sculpted into a drone wash and it is punctuated by an array of field recordings.
The album effortlessly merges from slightly more epic moments, to moments of tranquility and restfulness.
For me, the guitar is the driving force for this album and it provides a melody that will ensure continued listens from me throughout the year.
LANGUAGE OF THE LANDSCAPE - "Memories Fade Under A Shallow Autumn Snow"
I had just finished downloading Chris Tenz's album 'Forlorn Memories' on the Soft Phase netlabel and set about my usual routine of scouring my favourite netlabels to learn of new releases. I hopped over to Phantom Channel, a regular port of call, to discover that along with Cory Zaradur, Chris Tenz has put together a new album under the guise of Language Of The Landscape. To be honest, I had not heard of either artist until that very day and I am delighted that I did. For this album is one of the best I have heard in a while. This sits comfortably with my opinions of Phantom Channel as a label as the last three releases on it have been simply stunning. The one gripe for me lies with the typer's-cramp I endured whilst writing in the track titles on iTunes. Every name/title on the album is very long!! Not to worry - it matters not, since this is breathtaking ambient music that I am glad I downloaded. These three pieces never become chaotic or awash with noisy drone fragments. It just offers an unparalleled stillness that is hard to capture without the music sounding as if it is missing something. This album is very very restful and still throughout and has been designed perfectly.
DOWNLOAD HERE: http://www.phantomchannel.co.uk/?blogentryid=4545254
RAFAEL ANTON IRISARRI - "Daydreaming"
On Boomkat, I was introduced to a vinyl edition of this now classic Miasmah album from 2007. For me, this is the first I'd heard of it for some reason. 2007 was a year when I'd only just discovered ambient music properly, so for me, I guess much of that year was about purchasing the obligatory titles from backcatalogs by the likes of Brian Eno, Steve Roach, Robert Rich etc...Considering the genre has been going for a lot longer than 2007, I have missed much fantastic music from the past. I cannot complain however, since one of the joys of music is of course discovering albums you have missed over the years. Which is all too easy to do! So, here with Daydreaming we have a collection of delicately draped piano soundscapes littered with occasional sound effects and accent noises. It's a formula that has been imitated by many previous artists and a formula that is still a source of inspiration today - taking almost classical music values and sculpting gentle cinematic ambient music through means of electronic manipulation. It is a well known and well explored formula, but one that I can't see me ever getting tired of. Irisarri has produced a masterpiece here, and it is well worth getting since it makes for a beautiful listening experience.
AKIRA KOSEMURA - "Polaroid Piano"
On the modern classical versus electronic tip, here we have a new release on by Japanese artist Akira Kosemura. Throughout 'Polaroid Piano', we are treated to a beautiful array of delicately playful short piano melodies that are accompanied by creaks, clangs and scrapes. All of the tracks are playful, melancholy and almost child-like in tone. What keeps me listening is that it is all so very simple but there is just so much to listen to. The one track that I am not keen on if I am honest is 'Tale', which features children's voices. It is just a little too saccharine for my palette. However, that aside, the rest of the album makes for a solid piece of work by Kosemura and I will be relaxing and smiling to this music for much of the year.
IAN HAWGOOD - "Snow Roads"
The prolific and talented Ian Hawgood sparks off his 2010 with a release on Dragon's Eye called 'Snow Roads'. A predominantly drone and field recordings based album, this one is absolutely full of detail. It's another fine album that marks a thoroughly solid start to the year. Some tracks are short and chiefly field recordings based, others are mainly drone orientated and some are a combination of these elements. On listening to this a lot over the month, I feel that this is some of the best work I've heard from him to date and I shall enjoy listening to this collection of music for a very long time. It is so gentle and the mood of the drones and melody shifts from the restful to the eerily mysterious. In between these changes in mood are very short field recordings pieces that allow the mind to drift off to unspecified far away places. This is a thoroughly well written album that simply cannot be missed.
THE LOWLIGHT MIXES - "Slo-Mo"
I like many am a regular listener to Dave Michuda's Lowlight Mixes, a selection on soundscape collages he mixes using various tracks from the ambient, drone, electro-acoustic and modern classical scene.
With 'Slo-Mo' we are treated to some gentle and restful material from the likes of Budd & Eno, Celer, Porzellan, Lexithimie and ahem...my good self under my Spheruleus guise. Some of the tracks have been time-stretched to suite the mix (hence the mix title) and generally, this is as good a selection for an ambient mix as you're likely to find. Pieces tastefully chosen woven together well by Dave just as we'd expect.
You can download the mix by visiting here:
CARL SAGAN's GHOST - "At The End Of It All"
I was intriugued to discover that fellow Earth Mantra artist Carl Sagan's Ghost had released a new album at the end of last year on the Soft Phase netlabel. I wasted no time and downloaded wthout a prior listen, since much of his output is first class ambient music. And 'At The End Of It All' certainly doesn't disappoint. If anything, I think it even somehow manages to top his release on Earth Mantra 'Darkness And The Light'...and that's saying something. The soundscapes here are so very professionally put together. The whole album is so very atmospheric. It can be so difficult to create immersive soundscapes to this high level it is difficult to explain the talent that is apparent throughout this release without just urging you to head over and download it. The fact that this is free download material is astounding. This is some of the best pure ambient music I have heard in a very long time...