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FEBRUARY of ambi2ent (REC me)

Hi I am reviving this series for this year having pulled a dry January on it, and it alone. Happy February.
1Brian Eno
Ambient 1: Music For Airports


The GOAL of this monthly rec-trawl last year was exploration, and ngl it paid off pretty handsomely for the most part: ambient, glitch, grind and techno in particular are all much more significant to me than they were just over a year ago, and I was glad to get more acquainted

The GOAL of this series this year is deeper familiarisation with genres I know I like and want to explore, uh, deeper. I expect to judge your recs with maybe more insight than I might have last time around, but I'm also probably more excited to hear them -- no pissing around here, give me the goods from the genres that matter!

We're starting with AMBIENT because I haven't been listening to enough of it lately and (mostly) l o v e d the impact last year's ambient list had on my general listening habits. Rec away please -- ideally nothing outrageously long, and if you want some preferences, consider that:

・Ambient dub/dub techno yes please (but not too much because this gets rotation anyway lol)
・New Age yes please, but it had better not be plain - tread carefully around neoclassical or chamber stuff especially
・Glitch yes please, anything that plays ambience against noise yes cool
・Have only scratched the surface pace ambient and Berlin school stuff, more is welcome
・Tribal ambient is lukewarm territory so far - change my mind
・Anything Grouper-adjacent uh lol you'd better be feeling brave
・~~dork~~ Dark Ambient uhh if you really have to??
2William Basinski
Melancholia


Feb 2nd
Mort. rec
2003

Well, I definitely got more out of this than the Disintegration Loops - solid sombre minimal piano work all over this. Found it a bit diffuse at points and not quite as engaging as the favs I'd immediately associate with it (Music for Nine Postcards, or the relevant songs on async), but I'll be saving II, III, IX and XIV for the relevant playlists. Is ambient allowed highlight albums?

3.5
3Steve Roach
Tomorrow


Feb 3rd
TIM rec
2020

Synth god Steve Roach is the real deal, huh? Really glad I'd heard Empetus before this, as that album's emphasis on prog electronic and somewhat exhibitionist synth architecture gave me a good foundation for the style here (compared to the more wholesale atmospheric approach on Structures...) - there's something virtuosic about both records, and both sound so damn mind that it's a marvel they were made 34 years apart. I prefer this to Empetus though - it toes the line between ambient and dazzling much better (Empetus asked too much of my attention span to hit the same niche of hybrid potential for active/passive listening).

First two pieces in particular are seamlessly realised, so that's 40 mins on lock hooray hooray. Not as sold on "HeartBreath"'s 20-min lacuna, but it picks up in the last pieces. I feel the 80-minute runtime might have felt immaterial in another timeline, but it's just a tad unwieldy as is (not a huge point against it, as I wasn't silly enough jam this in a time-pressured environment). Otherwise, great record - absolutely timeless style
3.8
4Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
Limpid as the Solitudes


Feb 4th
Boney rec
2018

Won't lie, this did little for me. The atmosphere is (skillfully!) constructed to convey all manner of Real Suspense In An Almost Nightmarishly Diffuse Imagined Space, which in this case I found neither as soothing as the pace and palette otherwise suggested, nor as satisfying or intriguing to get lost in as the mood seemed to elicit. Is paced at a rate that should at least tease a passive listening headspace, but is hyperfocused in its combination of tones in a way that demands an awkwardly active headspace at almost all times (other than "Indefatigable Purple", which is uncomplicatedly aesthetic in its balance of sound sources and prettee melodees). Like the territory "All Night I Carpenter" ends up in too. The birdsong field recordings are nice, but too low in the mix on "Her Eyelids Say". Thinking of appeal (not so much composition or method!), this gets filed somewhere not far from SOTL in the archive for people who consider whatever the sensation of clammy feet a desirable symptom rather than an unwanted cause of Living in the Moment, and like their ambient to remind them of their kettles boiling in slow motion

3.3
5Coil
Musick To Play In The Dark 2


Feb 5th
Ars rec
2000

While I'm not convinced any song here is as outstanding as "Red Queen", I think on average I prefer this to Musick To Play In The Dark 1? Hard to say since they're cut from the same cloth (this one maybe a pinch darker), but the early combo of "Tiny Golden Books" and "Ether" is excellent and had me convinced this would be a clear preference. "Paranoid Inlay" oversteps the mark and shatters my suspension of disbelief (Bloody British bulldozers / These vegetables are suicidal / It seems concussion suits you -- ffs), but I still got a lot out of the rest. Not a sound that demands heavy rotation, but I'm very glad to have both albums in reserve for when the moment is right.

3.7
6Nate Scheible
Fairfax


Feb 6th
Dad rec
2022

SO MANY THOUGHTS on this wonderful record, so many that I'm going to try and rev in the next few days

4.0 minimum though
7Khotin
New Tab


Feb 7th
hyp rec
2017

I enjoyed this, but found a little too discontinuous to sit as well as I'd have liked. I've written elsewhere on how much time I have for song-length ambient, but this album alternates between liminal blissouts ("Wheeler Road" yes!), restless whirrings ("Health Pack", "Dotty") and chillout beats ("Fever Loop" hmm yes) in a way that doesn't do any individual suit any particular favours for me. Decent record, but not one I felt immersed in.

3.4
8Tetsu Inoue
Ambiant Otaku


Feb 8th
Ryus rec
1994

I fell asleep halfway through the title-track on this three times out of my first four listens, which, all things considered, I think translates into a considerable badge of approval (and if not, then at least efficacy). Really lovely record, gauzy and blissed out but packs a certain mystique where it matters ("Low of Vibration" and the t/t) especially. Gave the final two tracks some standalone attention to balance things, and while this is a tiny bit more empty and vast than my usual go-tos, it's still a seamlessly well-realised record from start to finish nice nice one day I will become spacious enough to love it

3.9
9Nmesh and t e l e p a t h ????????
ロストエデンへのパス


Feb 9th
z00sh rec
2015

My attitude to vaporwave is pretty ambivalent at the best of times - I can never make up my mind whether it's more a deal of innovative pastiche and ear-catching textures, or vapid orientalist guff for the terminally online. False dichotomy? Yabet! Nmesh's half of this collab is largely excellent - found a lot to hold onto in his exoticised nostalgia pieces, the development of individual tracks clicked for me and the half-album as a whole was very easy to drift away to, though it still felt remarkably assertive in both composition and production. KEEP (though it did lose focus towards the end)! Telepath, on the other hand, is a reasonably hard pass - his ideas almost all felt overplayed and vacuous for me, didn't have half the depth of atmosphere I tend to cling on from melodic ambient that sparse and expansive, just struck me as a bunch of synthetic mush that I'll be avoiding in future

Overall 3.5
10The Fun Years
Baby, It's Cold Inside


Feb 10th
cylinder rec
2008

Clicked with this one immediately and was more than happy to throw it on again three times in a row - gauzy guitar drones done exactly right, love the development across the whole piece (sinister/doomy final sequence threw me at first but is sitting a lot better now), love the things it reminds me of (chill parts of Flood, Pospulenn), particularly love that gorgeous opener, will be keeping this in my arsenal for some time to come and likely re-recing it. Excellent album.

4.0
11Gidge
LNLNN


Feb 11th
Dewi rec
2017

Gidge are quite special to me -- "Norrland" (and a handful of other Autumn Bells tracks) was a major gateway into electronic for me back when my familiarity was limited to a handful of BoC/Aphex/Vsnares/Ulver releases, and I have an intimate association with "Seems To Be Getting Closer" from their latest albums and the nightmare experience I had surviving Japanese hospitalisation (see here: https://www.sputnikmusic.com/blog/2021/12/12/digbox-8-_well-in-the-ward/)

Listening to this (which is well overdue!!), I'm reminded of all the distinctions of their swing-time approach to house rhythm and gorgeous, enigmatic vocal stylings, but it doesn't exactly raise the roof. Runtime is quite short and most tracks feel a little conservative in their scope - I enjoyed all of it, the last two in particular, but I don't think I'll return to it as fervently as the Gidge already in my wheelhouse. That vocal at the tailend of "Hope" may make me reconsider, but-

3.5
12Nicolas Jaar
Nymphs


Feb 12th
dedex rec
2018

Backed and forthed quite a bit on this - on the one hand, it's very easily the best thing I've heard from Jaar (whose production is always technically impeccable, if a bit frictionless for my liking, but melodies and vox often a little wet flannel) and the combo of No One Is Looking At U/Swim is probably my favourite standalone takeaway from any rec here so far. Great melodic developments and pristine beatwork on both, firmly bookmarked. On the other hand, that combo is an emphatic highlight and I don't much care for the bookends (esp the vox on the closer) - gone over this several times now, and the opening run feels too diffuse for this to pull together as the thoroughly great record I thought it might be

Also would not consider this an ambient record at all really lol, however pedantic you are about what microhouse counts as, this thing is far too kinetic; very active, engaging developments at any given point of most tracks

Overall 4.0
13William Basinski
Lamentations


Feb 13th
insomniac rec
2020

Cavernous, morose pieces perfectly crafted for feelings of profound grief and/or your next long journey in D&D - decently made, but a little austere and stuffy for my tastes. Vocal on "O, My Daughter, O, My Sorrow" steals the show here, album as a whole doesn't overstay its welcome by much either.

3.4
14KETEV
Traces of Weakness


Feb 14th
Sniff rec
2016

This was a TERRIBLE background listen on first ~inspection, but then I clocked that it's essentially twinkly Pan Sonic worship with a second half emphasis on techno and it suddenly opened up. Love how the endurance test of those droning first minutes gradually thaws out to a gorgeous glitch piece, and how the second track follows through in this style. "Linger"'s anxious techno marathon took me a while to warm up to but was worth the wait, and then the closer does good work of congealing all that edgy tension, crackling glitch and spooky celesta(?) into one well-earned victory lap. Overall this demands a much more active listen than the sum of its parts would suggest, but it packs quite a bold range of ideas across its four tracks and flexes a deceptive amount of aesthetic flair beneath its granular exterior. Grower + v much doubt I'd have extracted anything at all from this if I'd heard it more than 12-14 months back, so kudos for keeping your toes on my pulse, you sly bastard. Might bump. 3.9
15Natural Snow Buildings
Laurie Bird


Feb 15th
Havey rec
2008

First track on this is looooovely, amazing how patiently it evolves - not one second of those 46 mins feels is wasted. Will be coming back to this, one of the better examples I've heard of these guys' infamous daze fuel. Enjoyed Cockmotherfighting and (to a lesser extent) Orisha's Laments, but both felt rather tacked on - don't think this comes together as an album, but it's still remarkably effective at showcasing all the band's indulgences and excesses in a disarmingly succinct fashion - 71 mins total feels kind.

3.7
16Michael Stearns
Planetary Unfolding


Feb 16th
hesp rec
1981

If there's one record on this list that would a) confirm every stereotype a bAcKg~RoUnD muZaK truthin' shitbrain had about ambient, but simultaneously b) likely reframe each and every one of these in a positive light, I think this would have to be the one? Glassy, expansive and unobtrusive the whole way though, but awww there's so much going on melodically if you pay it even the slightest attention. Definitely warmed up to the layerings and understated developments here across repeat listens. The analogue synthwork is ultimately the biggest draw, but unlike ye Steve Roaches and Vangelises, it's very rarely pushed in your face. Some digging required, but well worth it!

3.9
17Black Swan (USA-NY)
The Quiet Divide


Feb 17th
Hawks rec
2011

First spin of this kinda tanked (unsurprising given that I don't really care for this kind of gaseous dark ambient in any guise, especially with the quotient of SOTL-esque maudlin overtones this packs), but am glad I gave it extra time because those murky, murky currents took on a little more form across repeat spins - development of this thing is remarkably smooth, and it helps that it doesn't overstay its welcome. Not something I'll likely return to, but solid for what it is

3.4
18Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement
Killer Whale Atmospheres


Feb 18th
Sharenge rec
2023

Enjoyed the one album I've heard from this project, but thought this one was pretty thin on its feet. Neither matches the threat and majesty of its theme nor packs enough atmosphere to coast on vibes. Second track does great work opening up an engrossing pocket of liminal dubspace and clinging to it for 10 minutes -- could take or leave the rest.

3.0
19Ray Lynch
Deep Breakfast


Feb 19th
Asleep rec
1984

From my experience with New Age, the axis of tackiness mystique is maybe the single most important variable and one of the easiest things to form a swift judgement over. It's by no means a reliable correlate to overall quality, which is fortunate because this album, with its plinky synthwork, homely motifs and half-epic nods at neoclassical grandeur, sits slap bang in the middle like an exhausted vagrant squatting on an MNORPG pasture (I was determined to ignore the title "Celestial Soda Pop" at first, but it actually proves a convenient digest of the level of sublime atmosphere in kitsch trappings on offer here). I can't decide whether the borderline jaunty motifs and insistent arpeggiations on these tracks are overall more charming or fatuous, but there's enough warmth in these pieces to tide things over either way. Very easy record to relax to even if I couldn't fully lose myself in it.

3.5
20Alio Die
Deconsecrated and Pure


Feb 20th
mystagogus rec / porc curation
2012

Been obsessed with this lately, probably given it the most plays per track of any rec so far -- LOVE the sheer level of doomy mystique it channels, feels like New Age for a 14th century Papist cult and is irresistibly gorgeous in spite of/precisely because of this? The cyclical flow of each track (remarkable amount of ebb and flow for a out-and-proud drone record) really anchors the devotional overtones -- there's a steady fixation in the way this thing endlessly builds and unravels itself, and it makes for an amazingly cleansing listen as such. Could see this having a lot of crossover appeal on Sput -- the purity and rich tones of those melancholy reed motifs and the pace at which they churn over themselves should have plenty to offer anyone who (q rightly) simps for Bell Witch or Esoteric -- to which end, "mournful enough to rival your favourite doom act, but with enough inner to reupholster your nearest cathedral" just about cuts it. Will be diving further into this project and possibly bumping this soon. 4.2
21Good Night and Good Morning
Narrowing Type


Feb 21st
Icebloom rec
2012

So this is a comforting blend of all the comforting post rock/slowcore things that still function if you slow them down and fuzz them up enough that they can be called ambient? I feel it! I felt it? This blissed me out big time on first (somewhat unfocused) listen, but has been diminishing returns since - Median tracks and the closer are my highlights I think, but this is very palatable, a little corny softboi vibing at points but murky enough that I can still disappear into it if needed, and makes me think Hammock fans would probably enjoy this in a way that somehow doesn't piss me off given how annoying Hammock fandom is? Nice!

3.6
22 Kelela
Aquaphoria


Feb 22nd
izakaya rec
2019

Alright thoughts: I hate everything about the top rym review for this with a passion!

"the soothing sounds of takashi kokubo and biosphere flow through the mix like currents, and kelela's voice does much the same. one could argue it acts as its own synth"

...and most of the second one too. More thoughts:

First track is obviously an ambient classic, and while pasting a largely truncated version of it at the start feels like a cheap move and an uncharacteristically segmented touch for a mix that, in what I've gathered is Kelela's classic style, flows so smoothly that almost all its points of distinction disappear under the surface, is maybe *not* something I love, I do still love the track so there. Fuck that was one sentence.

The Susumu Yokota pick also feels like an ambient 101 pander (though perhaps a nicher pick from that album? maybe?), but Kelela's vocals are here to tide away misgivings about song choices and elevate this thing above a collection of increasingly unassuming pieces that flow together with about as much friction and flavour as literal water? Credit where it's due, the flow is so seamless it makes fucking Autechre sound organic and Oneohtrix Pt Never sound charismatic, which ig is an inherent must-respect. Jaco Pistorius solo is the most ambitious and ig innovative inclusion, and the way the folds it into the album makes for a surprise highlight. "FR3SH" was the other point where my ears pricked up, but otherwise this plays out as one wilfully diffuse flex of how unobtrusively Kelela can render her silky-smooth vocals over however many eye-catching names that are rendered mysteriously interchangeable in practice. Might have topped Raven for stylish non-entity factor? Cannot rate this anything other than a 3.0
23Sleep Research Facility
Deep Frieze


Feb 23rd
Ava rec
2007

Right, my first spin of this INCREDIBLY SPARSE FIELD RECORDING DRONE ARCTIC WHITEOUT package was mucho underwhelming, which I'm going to chalk up to having had the volume far too low. Subsequent visits have been much more rewarding, but I still don't think I have a good grasp on what makes this so effective? Though skewed more towards the bleak than the comforting, it's v much an effortless blissout and the soundscapes suggest such an intimidating(?)ly vast locale that I guess it's a little satisfying that it's appeal is still a little elusive. Good album.

3.9
24Approaching Mountains
Ley


Feb 24th
purp rec
2023

"why did they put the sigur ros voice in the tim hecker elevator muzak"

This was pleasant and fuzzy and insistently consonant and a bit hackneyed in a wide variety of ways that I can't be fucked to list (dynamic CLIMAXES to give those wavy tones SHAPE, ultraresonant piano, "is that birdsong", overly generous ratio of minor thirds, STATIC a song entitled "De Facto Drone", which is something I should have gotten over by now but absolutely haven't lol fuck that shit). I generally dig ambient records that focus on short individual pieces, but these felt too flaccid for their bitesize dimensions to be striking. Inoffensive/indistinct album though.

3.0
25Hiroki Komazawa
Feliz


Feb 25th
someone rec
1992

I wish I had more to say about this ponderous New Age reverie other than that it bored me and its baroque trappings are less than my cup of tea, but here we are

3.0
26Blithe Field
Face Always Towards the Sun


Feb 26th
Gmemberkills rec
2016

First spin on this was frustrating - high tracks-per-minute ratio is welcome in ambient, but many of these ideas felt disjointed and piecemeal to me, however gorgeous many of the tones are. Glad to say that further inspection won me over! The record's opening run in particular flows wonderfully, and I feel its grating moments of disjuncture, usually unwelcome glitch/percussion pieces are confined to individual tracks (backend of "Morgan" is a prime offender, though I dig the opening minute a lot).

Past that, what a great zany smush!! Love the aesthetic consistency (except when it's inconsistent) mixed with discontinuity of ideas, and was surprised to see the 2016 release date - the bulk of this feels very much in the wheelhouse of the ambient glitch + folktronica that were coming out of Europe and Iceland 10-15 years earlier, but as this is a pocket of influence I have a lot of time and affection for, it's a welcome revival

3.8
27aedact
Nez


Feb 27th
Jalapeno rec
2024

is this the good glitch or the dead glitch ummm brb

maybe it's neither, but it does feel airless and I don't much care for the atmosphere or song progressions (which *are* significant if you're playing glitch too sterile to coast off vibes, thank u). hmm

3.0
28Hiroshi Yoshimura
Green


Feb 28th
1987
sona rec

Hmmm, feeling firmly whelmed by this and perhaps expected more? The two other Hiroshi Yoshimura albs I've heard are both exceptional within two different niches (minimal New Age piano + kankyō ongaku respectively), whereas this is a pleasant but unremarkable take on exactly the kind of distantly exotic yet immediately plain Japanese New Age I feel I've heard more than enough of already? Definitely wouldn't have been able to guess the artist if you played it to me blind. I find these kinds of circuitous mallet tones perfect pleasant but struggle to get swept up in them - think Beverly Glenn-Copeland had maybe the most engaging run of songs I've heard in this vein? Tepid vibes, mellow end to a mellow month ig! Hooray!

3.4
29Dream Dolphin
Gaia: Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works (1996​-​2023)


And on the leap day (+March 1st), I CAUGHT UP!

Thank ye all for a great month of ambient! Load of lovely new finds here, and a remarkable consistent quality standard!
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