June rattled along as months do, bringing with it storms and heatwaves before collapsing into July. This month’s column features a vast array of ambient music; from dark drone and techno to wonderful orchestration. Each record feels so different to the next, and to listen them consecutively is to hear such a range of sounds offering myriads of emotions. Anyway, here is the best music that June had to offer:
Album of the Month: 扎克 – ORCHESTERAL TAPE STUDIES
Released on the increasingly influential Past Inside the Present label, Orchestral Tape Studies is a compilation album ‘curated’ by 扎克 (Zaké). Based on looped orchestral samples, which then incorporate original field recordings and production, OTS is a remarkably meditative record, that despite its short running time is one that brims with ideas. Presented in four parts, Zaké describes OTS as “intended for listening at low-volumes” and it’s is a mellow, pleasant listen. Opener Pure Violet is classic Tired-era Stars of the Lid; a horn gently blows in the background as strings delicately meld together to form a cohesive whole, while the ominous sound of wind hums beneath. Infinite Ocean is delightful; the violin sounds like it is buried beneath sand but the way the melody curves is joyous. The repetition lulls you in and seems to wrap you in a cocoon of serenity, with the barely audible wisp of wind now only adding to the calm. Zaké describes himself as a “healing sound propagandist”, and OTS is a wonderfully peaceful record. Solar follows suit, its violin slowly rising up and down throughout the track. Combined with how plaintive the strings are, it makes you feel as if you are being talked down from a panic attack, and that the song exists solely to rid you of anxiety. Closing track Stata is perhaps the most complex; this time the violins are more pronounced, the notes sharper and higher – it never strays into disquieting because rather than sounding foreboding, the strings are instead steeped in melancholy. It’s an acutely poignant end to a record of mostly tranquil stylings. Orchestral Tape Studies is a fascinating album, one that feels like an aid to ridding yourself of a 2am anxiety spiral. It’s a record of beauty and poise, and each note feels perfectly placed. It may just be half an hour in length, but it’s a special 30 minutes.
Other Good Stuff
SARAH DAVACHI – PALE BLOOM
Sarah Davachi’s latest solo record is Pale Bloom – a refined, minimalist piano centric album very much in two halves. Side A is composed of the Perfumes suite; a triptych of gorgeous classical piano tracks which makes subtle, interesting references to Bach’s Italian Concertos. Perfumes I feels like a radical departure for Davachi; her work is often characterized by dissonance, her trusty organ often acting like a scythe against the aural senses. But here there is just soulful piano, and it swoons with beauty. The simple, sparse production creates a feeling of real intimacy. Perfumes II is more complex; the piano is melancholic, there is a sense of desperation as Davachi jumps notes – this is compounded by intense, ethereal vocals from Fausto Dayap Daos. Side B is taken up by the 21-minute-long If It Pleased Me To Appear To You Wrapped In This Drapery. The song is centred around bursts of violin and viola, each one defined by the other – a musical conversation in which they each seem to yearn for domination. They screech and howl before her organ arrives to seize the day, its mournful groan overriding everything that came before, finishing the record with something approaching brutality. Pale Bloom offers further proof, if any were needed, that Davachi is among the great ambient composers of the last decade.
NORVIK – ECHO THEORY
The latest record from Norvik is the soulful Echo Theory, a shimmering piano-led album. Opener Suadade offers both intense drones and the subtle swirl of piano that delightfully twinkles round the edge of the disquieting centre. Ludic is deeply melodious, the piano is rhythmically tight but carefree – it swerves through the track with abandon. Hiraeth brims with hope, a glistening synth slowly expands through the track, each note stretching off endlessly before gloriously collapsing. Album highlight Nepenthe is driven by deeply emotive pianos, each note played with delicate intensity, rising higher and higher as the song plays; you can feel the vastness of human emotion across its four minutes. Echo Theory is a record that gleams with hope and warmth, a slice of brilliant summer ambience.
ADAM WILTZIE – AMERICAN WOMAN OST
Adam Wiltzie returns with his first music of 2019, the lush score for the film American Woman. The sound is instantly familiar to anyone who knows A Winged Victory for the Sullen, with the record founded upon restrained but deeply emotive strings, soft, glimmering drones and glacial piano. Scene’s from a Daughter’s Disappearance has a gentle, expanding drone piercing through its middle as a calculated piano plays over it before the song morphs into a beautiful but mournful violin finish. The album naturally has a sense of narrative to it, and an emotional sweep. Bridget’s Theme‘s gorgeous, blissful drones ebb and flow as gentle static crackles at the side almost like its coating the track in fog. Standout track The Passage of Time is short but deeply evocative; it begins slowly, the strings are stretched and the notes held, accompanied only by a glockenspiel. But then the track opens up, the violin suddenly feels frenzied, as forlorn piano is played with aching precision. American Woman OST is a deeply satisfying return for one of ambient’s true stars.
RAFEAL ANTON IRISARRI – SOLASTAGIA
Solastagia, released by Room40 Records, is the new album from Rafael Anton Irisarri, and the title means “the feeling of distress associated with environmental change close to home.“ The album inevitably feels haunted and scarred, as Irisarri uses icy, almost arctic sounding drone to represent environmental catastrophe. Opener Decay Waves is intimidating; its complex array of drones feels frightening, each one enveloping the other – it is the sound of collapse, with the ethereal vocals in the deep background acting as a lament. Coastal Trapped Disturbance is propelled by a savage synths, its vibrating howls sounding like an alarm, a warning of catastrophe. Chrysalism is muted compared to much of the album, its drone less brutal and its distortion less intense, but all the more despondent for it. Instead of the agonized scream of warning that fill Solastagia, this feels like a depressed resignation at our fate. Solastagia is an austere but vitally important record which shows how ambient music can be just as politicised as any genre.
STEVE HADFIELD – TEMPORARY LAPSE EP
Temporary Lapse is the latest release from Steve Hadfield, co-founder of the Disintegration State label. An interesting EP, opening track Unwitting Accomplice is very much at the IDM end of ambient, a simple drum machine driving the song forward while colourful, bubbling synths dance across. Don’t Look Back evolves wonderfully, starting with simple drums and glocks before steadily opening up to incorporate complex, sci-fi synths. It never feels overdone, though; it is a great, streamlined dance track. Temporary Release is a compelling EP, and while my ambient proclivities are towards the neo-classical end, Hadfield reminds us there is much to be mined from all parts of the spectrum.
There we are then, the end of another column and another month. Join me in a few weeks where I will survey the best records released in July.