A quick browse through the Bandcamp ambient tag will reveal any number of ambient works from composers unified in their artistry through atmosphere, but with wildly differing approaches to how they achieve their goals. From the intimate and warm to the unsettling and tense, ambient is a diverse and endlessly thought-provoking genre. Every month, Ari Delaney will walk through the best recent releases you can find right here on Bandcamp.
In this edition, we’re highlighting albums released from March 15 through April 15, including the standalone debut from an acclaimed video game composer, and the ideal road trip music for an imaginary countryside.
Where good pacing is a key component to the success of many albums, a constantly-unfolding and rigid structure isn’t always the desired effect in a genre so closely tied to experimentation. But there are times in which pacing does work in an experimental project’s favor, as Australian artist Other Joe proves on his new project Alien Haze. The record touches on a variety of moods across its runtime, boasting cuts that balance unadulterated minimalism with an incredibly polished and evocative feeling. A personal favorite is “Common Starling,” the noisiest track on the record by far; the thick bass line, scattered drums, and washed-out vocal come together for an unexpected, but welcome, moment. While some might argue that tracks like “Common Starling” or “Just About” might be jarring breaks from the album’s otherwise relaxed mood, their inclusion results in Alien Haze feeling lighthearted and personal (the skit at the end of “Talking About Art” made me laugh on my first listen). It’s conceptual, it’s emotional, it’s inventive, it’s engaging. It’s one of my favorite albums so far this year.
The Silence That Follows
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The Silence That Follows caught my eye a few weeks ago, on one of my usual scrolls through the ambient tag. From my first listen, it quickly rose to become one of my favorite releases of the month, excelling especially in the clarity of its higher frequencies. A large portion of the album is constructed around a continual interplay between guitar loops and synthesized pads, but Stereocilia isn’t afraid to journey outside of this formula; the interesting drum patterns in “Syzygy” before the introduction of the distorted guitar is a unique moment of reflection before the utter power of the track is revealed. Towards the end of the album come less abrasive tracks, including the epic “Celestial Light,” which takes up half of the album’s runtime. This is a walk through a variety of electronic timbres, and the guitar which dominates the latter half is probably my favorite element on the entire album.
Compact Disc (CD)
A concept piece following a journey across an unspecified country, French composer Hyperspace Jelly’s Digital Travelogue is a work composed around a vintage synthesizer, the Yamaha DX7. From this premise alone, one would be forgiven in thinking Digital Travelogue might not contain much diversity in its tone, but incredible versatility is wrought from the DX7, from the bright plucked arpeggios of the title track to the warmer, more noticeably analog-sounding chords of “Cave Dive.” Late artist Hiroshi Yoshimura is cited as a major influence on the record, which is often apparent—Hyperspace’s fusion of field recordings to add depth to the retro-inspired synth work results in cuts like “City Nights,” which would easily feel at home on an album like Yoshimura’s Green.
Inspired by the passing of Meitei’s grandmother, a woman he considered to have a true understanding of traditional Japanese aesthetics, Komachi is certainly a tranquil experience. Its unique, bubbly sound design is developed well enough to become instantly familiar to new listeners. Komachi flits between both the organic and unnatural, perhaps reflective of the gap Meitei wishes to bridge between his grandmother’s traditional aesthetics and his contemporary approach. This is seen most clearly in the transition between “Chouchin,” a composition centered around slight chord stabs with glittery overtones, and “Maboroshi,” a track which combines tuned vocal samples with various clicks and interesting resonant synth sounds.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
A fascinating and meditative record, Agora pairs the usual minimalist compositions of drone with a unique auditory palette. Fennesz often uses lo-fi textures here, likely a result of the stripped-back bedroom gear utilized in the making of the album. Though the tracks often remain consistent through sustained pad synths, background sound effects and lead layers add tremendous depth to the project. Fennesz’s bio describes himself as “anything but sterile,” an assessment I agree with. Although the main leads often remain consistent throughout the tracks, the sound is alive. With its synthesized elements constantly changing, Agora’s often crunchy and high-pitched mix works in its favor of creating an album strangely reminiscent of the unpredictability of, for instance, a tornado. The last track is the record’s high point. Opening with a subdued distorted guitar strum layered with lush pads, “We Trigger the Sun” builds to a euphoric climax, a frenzy of analog bass notes, metallic lead overtones, muffled percussive hits, and bursts of synth chords.
Into a Bright Land
The fourth album from American musician Micah Frank, Into a Bright Land, is an exploration into California’s natural landscape. Opener “Pictures From Iceland” is a seven-minute drone track; it sets the tone for the album, a rich mix filled with scattered synth overtones. As the album progresses, though, many elements appear that make evident Frank’s willingness to push his sound into unexpected places. For me, that makes Into a Bright Land all the more profound an experience. Whether it’s the sudden harmonies and beautifully crisp distortion in “Papery Deathfuls” or the manufactured strings and sudden swerve into creepy atmosphere in “A Cracked Horizon,” Frank’s unconventional creative decisions only impact the listen positively. Across the album, synth pads, prolonged and reverberant, feel almost independent from the artist’s control—much like the wild places Frank hopes to capture.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Her performance with legendary composer Hans Zimmer at The Game Awards in December seemed to be the pinnacle of a year of triumph for Celeste composer Lena Raine. As we previously covered, however, last year was a turbulent time. Oneknowing, born from those experiences, is intimate and hauntingly beautiful. It’s distinctive for its fusion of sounds both real and artificial, bound together by both electric piano and Raine’s own vocals, altered with Vocaloid to mimic the sound of a younger self. The first act of the album was composed as a way to relax in times of stress. It concludes with “Breath,” before moving on to more active work—for instance, the beautifully dissonant leads on “Momodani” or the hurried percussive elements on “Insomnia.”
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The sixth outing from Norwegian duo Deaf Center consists mainly of piano and subdued synth work, continuing in the vein of their 2014 album Recount: an interplay between chilled and passionate piano performances and fainter synth undertones. Here, though, the emotions the pair seem to be tackling are dark and bitter—achieved through an abundance of tense chords and subtle lo-fi effects corrupting the pure, bright sounds of the album’s distinctive piano. Introductory track “A Scent” is a wholly strong start, if not entirely representative of the rest of the album’s primary focus on piano. More highlights can be found in the unsettling and lonely “Undone,” or the ultimate track “Yet to Come”’s off-kilter mood. The rhythmic clicking in the background of “Entity Voice” shows the effort the pair put into even barely audible frequencies, a testament to their craftsmanship. It’s an enjoyable collection of tracks, a collection that resonated with me quite strongly.