BEST AMBIENT The Best Ambient Music on Bandcamp, November 2023 By Ted Davis · November 27, 2023

The last column of the year is upon us, and it lands at the dawn of a barren, cold season. The majority of the records in this roundup reflect the quiet, melancholy energy of early winter: Adela Mede and Martyna Basta each find ways to twist European folk into eerie new forms; M. Geddes Gengras presents a collection of intricate modular dirges; and Other Joe creates debuts on a cool new label with a spookily childlike album. There are many treasures here to explore, so press play and dive in.

Adela Mede
Ne Lépj a Virágra

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Vinyl LP

Adela Mede puts an arty spin on Central European traditions. The Slovak-Hungarian artist’s debut, Szabadság, was frigid and mossy—the perfect soundtrack for a stroll down some overcast shoreline. Mede’s latest album, Ne Lépj a Virágra, arrives as a split between Bratislavan powerhouses Warm Winters LTD. and Mappa Editions. It continues her streak of using crinkly textures, deep drones, and manipulated vocal arrangements to create a plaintive, naturalistic atmosphere. Aided by guest appearances from Jakub Smiček, Marta Canderle, Wojciech Rusin, and Martyna Basta (see below), Ne Lépj a Virágra is grippingly spooky and severe.

Martyna Basta
Diaries Beneath Fragile Glass

Martyna Basta has a knack for vocal-driven music that plays as if emerged from a rocky corner of the underworld. Her new EP for Stroom, Diaries Between Fragile Glass, came to life as the Polish composer was staying alone on the coast of Finland. The four tracks birthed from that period are pensive, yet beautiful. They call to mind the interplay between the harshness and serenity of nature. At some points, Basta pulls from traditional European folk; at others, her work here recalls How To Dress Well’s stark 2010 debut, Love Remains. If Basta’s April record, Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering, played like it arrived in a flash of lightning, Diaries Beneath Fragile Glass feels more like it bubbles up from a downy forest floor.

Maria BC
Spike Field

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Like a younger Grouper, Maria BC finds ways to blur the lines between singer-songwriter and ambient musician. The Bay Area-based artist showcased a mastery of overcast folk on their 2022 debut Hyaline, which pulled from themes of haunting, grief, and memory. Their new record for Sacred Bones, Spike Field, explores more challenging, baroque arrangements. This time around, BC finds solace in acceptance of the past. At once lush and murky, their inventive vocal melodies rest atop detuned baby piano motifs and resonant acoustic guitar riffs. While the record occasionally works electronic flourishes into the fold, BC’s roots as a classically trained vocalist loom large over Spike Field. The end result is simultaneously bleak and beautiful, familiar and otherworldly.

Niecy Blues
Exit Simulation

Charleston, South Carolina
✓ following
Charleston, South Carolina
✓ following
Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

Since 2018, Niecy Blues has found ways to merge R&B musicianship and airy experimentation. The South Carolina singer’s new album, Exit Simulation is her debut for kranky; the storied Midwestern label offers a strong home for her eclectic sound. Across 13 tracks, Blues’s dense vocals levitate in a smoky haze. Over aloof organic instrumentation, she ponders themes of suppression, spiritualism, and unease. Complemented by playing and production from Mary Lattimore, Khari Lucas, and ambient don Brian Foote, Blues’s work on Exit Simulation pairs vulnerability and ingenuity.

Lee Gamble

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Since the early 2010s, Lee Gamble has explored a range of oblique, club-adjacent sounds. The UK producer and DJ’s typical formula is centered on tendrils of synthesis that seem to unspool the instant they hit your headphones. On his new record for Hyperdub, Models, Gamble works with a digitized choir so goofy, one might be inclined to feel a bit sorry for its non-human members. The melodies are inspired by earworm moments in the pop music Gamble loves; he uses voices drawn from A.I. and other forms of robotics to pay homage to mainstream influences like Lil Uzi Vert. The end result hovers in an otherworldly mist, landing somewhere between beauty, dystopia, and highbrow humor.

Forest Swords

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2 x Vinyl LP, Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette

Like Andy Stott and Actress, Matthew Barnes (aka Forest Swords) has a knack for dark, undulating soundscapes that play as if they were birthed in a stone dungeon. Bolted is Barnes’s first new album in five years, and arrives via electronic powerhouse Ninja Tune. Here, Barnes is pulling from techniques he utilizes in his day job as a sound designer. The record came to life in a Liverpool warehouse, and the impact of that environment seems to have rubbed off on these tracks, which are frigid and bleak. While toe-tapping rhythms are few and far between, there’s still a deep urgency to these clattering, choppily-sampled compositions that make them well suited for spells of screen-fried, late-night mania. Bolted is austere, chic, and transportive—quintessential UK ambient.


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29 Speedway is a New York City-based label and event series. Run by Stasia de Tilly (aka Kowloon Baby) and Ben Shirken—whose recent record as Ex Wiish is a 2023 standout—the multifaceted project highlights trendy, forward-thinking sounds. The second solo release on 29 Speedway’s label arrives via Tokyo-based artist Yolabmi. While their past work has largely been pleasant and serene, the music here is noisy and challenging. Percussive sequences are warped into cyclones of bloopy noise; synths jitter, like a train about to lurch off the rails; unplaceable textures crunch like a thousand sheets of paper being shredded in unison. The whole thing is brash, yet gauzy—like Vladislav Delay remixing Pub.

Patrick Shiroishi
i was too young to hear silence

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Book/Magazine

Despite being one of the most prolific recording artists active in the experimental scene, Patrick Shiroishi has spent this year laying fairly low. After a near-constant stream of music in 2022, the Los Angeles saxophonist spent recent months focused on touring with The Armed. Shiroishi has returned as a solo artist with the album i was too young to hear silence, which arrives via American Dreams Records. The LP lands in a gray area between the placid and abrasive sides of Shiroishi’s work. Recorded using just a saxophone, glockenspiel, two microphones, and a field recorder, the music came to life hurriedly, with Shiroishi improvising in an Orange County parking lot in the dead of night. The notes Shiroishi plays are sparse, yet the ones heard feel moody and agitated. An intentional exploration of negative space, i was too young to hear silence offers an intriguing snapshot of a newfound rockstar pushing the boundaries of his left-field roots.

other joe
a cat can look at a king

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Fans of the sphere of artists that has formed around 3XL and Motion Ward likely already know of Ian Kim Judd. The cheeky New York City DJ hosts the excellent NTS show Fifth World, which has become an indispensable platform for emerging ethereal music. If this column ever developed a radio counterpart, I’d want it to sound a lot like Fifth World’s programming. Judd has now launched the label ost, which has been christened with a release from other joe. On a cat can look at a king, the Australian artist conjures a glittery, innocent realm. These six tracks bleed into a cohesive golden drone, which evokes constellations twinkling atop of a patch of navy sky. Aided by guest features from Purelink/the woolen stars collaborator J, a cat can look at a king arrives in tandem with merch printed at the headquarters of trendy streetwear brand Boot Boyz Biz.

In Parallel

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Vinyl LP

Salamanda have found a way to gracefully smudge psychedelic experimentation and club rhythms. The convivial Seoul project emerged in 2019, with a bubbly instrumental formula that would have fit nicely on a label like Moon Glyph. But on subsequent releases, the duo has honed a singular strain of shimmering, broken beat downtempo. Salamanda’s new record, In Parallel, arrives via K-LONE and Facta’s label Wisdom Teeth—a fixture of the London dance scene. Against all odds, this whimsical, shifty music sits nicely within the context of the imprint’s propulsive catalog. Across 10 tracks, cute, glitchy vocals rest atop bouncy pads and mallet-like leads. The whole thing lands in an intriguing gray area between Yaeji and Terry Riley.

Various Artists
Synthetic Bird Music

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Mappa Editions crushed it this year. Thanks to releases from artists including Rob Winstone, Lucie Vítková, and Forces, the Slovakian label has been responsible for platforming some of the best dark ambient I’ve encountered in recent months. The imprint’s latest endeavor veers into more playful terrain. A compilation in support of the research and conservation organization SOS/BirdLife Slovakia, Synthetic Bird Music is made up of songs that draw inspiration from various noises produced by avian creatures. Across 32 tracks, avant-garde heavy hitters like Vic Bang, JAB, and Dialect display fluttery sides of their sounds. But the record features contributions from more low-key Eastern European artists, too, making it a solid jumping-off point for anyone looking to explore a sphere that often gets unjustly overlooked by American press. Pondering mankind’s harsh impact on nature, Synthetic Bird Music is a poignant, yet lively collection of cuts that lead one on a journey from sunrise into the dead of night.

M. Geddes Gengras
dual optics

M. Geddes Gengras is a master of synthesized psychedelia. The prolific modular artist came up in the Los Angeles underground in the ‘00s, collaborating with projects like Robedoor and Sun Araw. In recent years, he’s worked out of Hudson, New York. The impact of the East Coast beams bright on his new album, dual optics, which captures the crunchy eerieness of the woods in late autumn. While it certainly feels suited for its November release date, the record actually came to life slowly over the course of 2023. It finds Gengras working out of his home studio, employing a small ocean’s worth of coveted electronic gizmos. Dual optics cultivates an intoxicating aural realm that burbles and quivers with bohemian cool.

Omni Gardens
Golden Pear

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette

Steve Rosborough is an indispensable player in the psychedelic ambient scene. The Portland, Oregon artist has amassed a trove of colorful aural oddities on his label Moon Glyph. The music Rosborough crafts under the moniker Omni Gardens mirrors the sun-drenched, skunky energy of his imprint. The project’s new record, Golden Pear, is easygoing and verdant. On songs with titles like “Sunday Robe,” “Plant Shop,” and “Wild Marionberries,” fluttering effects and bright beams of melody are New Age-y, yet earnest. It’s not often that I break out the overwrought Mort Garson comparison. But here, Rossborough’s Moog-y mallets and twinkly leads call to mind the resplendent modular bleeps on Mother Earth’s Plantasia.

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