Here we are then, the best releases the genre of ambient had to offer for the month of July.
Album of the Month: AVA – Waves
Waves is the debut release by classically trained musicians and composers Anna Phoebe & Aisling Brouwer, released under the name AVA. The album is wonderfully formed and stunningly confident, filled with a vast array of beautiful melodies and sweeping romance. Written as a response to a politically chaotic world, the duo are British citizens cut adrift in the EU, and the album works as a wonderful escape to the endless depression-inducing headlines; you step outside the live-update scrolling and get lost it its enchanting rhythms.
The album opens on Waves, its plaintive piano floating alongside a cinematic, intensely emotional violin played with fierce passion. In Motion is centred around violins and cellos, each individual line traceable and melding together to create a wonderfully emotive soundscape. The central melody contains a feeling of pure catharsis as it’s played with graceful precision. Voyager has nice, hypnotic drums as a complex array of strings arise and dissolve, the track not sitting still for a second, constantly propelled by scintillating performance and melody. Waves is a very romantic record, the compositions created by Phobe and Brouwer instilling a sense of dreamy tenderness in the listener. But the record is not without tension, and the political undertones forever lurk in the background, much like it does for all of us. This is most notable on Into the Deep, the record at its most foreboding – the strings feel more dissonant, with the central violin coated in anxious suspense.
The album finishes on Underwater, an elegiac track formed from a mournful piano and beautiful but ultimately anguished string line. Both Phoebe and Brouwer have released much great music in their own right, but with AVA they seem to have found the unknowable spark which emerged when two collaborators just click. Waves is a fanatically played and strikingly composed record, both an intriguing response to political malfunction and an absorbing escape from it.
Other Good Stuff
A Cerulean State – Story of Winter
Story of Winter is the latest release from Stockholm based composer Alexander Skoog, and the record is a dreamily lush slice of modern composition. The album is short, just over thirty minutes, but has a nice variety of sounds and tones. It’s also a piano-centric record, with What Dreams We Share being a fine example of Skoog’s knack for a simple yet beautiful melody, the piano line wonderfully complimented by glocks and a soft, wispy drone. Pulled Towards is intensely melancholic; the piano at the track’s centre is elegant but languid as violins start deep in the background, growing louder and more visceral before collapsing and leaving us with the gentle twinkle of a glockenspiel. From the Mouth of the Abyss is perhaps the record at its most intense, a caustic drone simmering beneath a brutal violin before the track morphs to a gorgeous but complex multi-string finish.
Warmth – Wildlife
Warmth returns with his latest record Wildlife, released on the ever-brilliant Archives Records.A shorter and more streamlined record than last year’s outstanding Parallel, Wildlife is nonetheless an intoxicating listen. Like previous Warmth releases, Wildlife is a masterclass in evocative soundscapes and idea-driven ambience. An ecologically themed record, there’s a sense of the rich fulfilment that comes from interacting with nature, but also the desperation at its ongoing collapse. Dawning is a glorious fusion of field-recording, glistening drone and leisurely guitar, and it’s a lovely example of precision-made tranquillity. The Woods is more cerebral; a complex array of oscillating drones merge and dissolve over the course of six minutes before finishing with a glacial synth which overrides everything else. Its perfect intricacy is five minutes of classic ambience – the drone is soft, and the notes spread outwards endlessly. Another impressive record by an ambient composer steadily climbing to the top of the canon.
Silent Vigils – Lost Rites
Lost Rites is the second album released by ambient composers James Murray & Stijn Hüwels, released under the name Silent Vigils. This is an intriguing, dense but often elegantly engaging record.Opener Stolen Fire begins with reverb-drenched bells and is formed of crackling static and blissful drones that increase in intensity over ten minutes like an oncoming before collapsing into silence. Lost Rites is dazzling, a layered beauty that combines an anxious drone with lilting ambience, which is then fused with twinkling mellotron and the rattle of brushed percussion. It feels both reassuring and otherworldly, and that is perhaps what’s so striking about Murray and Hüwels’ collaboration, the way they make complex sounds seem uncluttered.
Spring Quintet – Raven, Raven, Raven
Spring Quintet is a project by pianist Stefan Christoff and producer Matteo Uggeri, and their latest release is Raven, Raven, Raven. The record is based around a live performance of Christoff and various other musicians, with the resulting recording given to Uggeri, who was tasked with turning that raw material into a record. The album is an interesting mix of layered, woozy drones and live neo-classical instrumentation. Part 2 begins with an off-kilter piano, and it feels free-form as it jumps from note to note, complemented by intense, gravely strings. Part 5 is formed around a lovely, icy drone that weaves itself around the track with the subtle flick of a tabla on the side, and it offers a nice indication of the variety songs on the record. Raven, Raven, Raven is an album which shifts from complex modern composition to blissful ambience.
Join me next month as I go through the best albums released in August.