October is, famously, the spookiest time of year. Fittingly, many of the best ambient records released this month mirror the month’s chilly, esoteric energy. From BCMC’s brooding jams to Voice Actor’s disembodied poetry, some of October’s most memorable records could score horror movies.
Goodbye, Hotel Arkada
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A collaborator with alternative icons like Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile, Mary Lattimore has always toed the line between experimentalist and avant-pop favorite. Over the course of the last decade, the Los Angeles-by-way-of-Philadelphia harpist has steadily honed a heavenly, naturalistic sound. Her new album for Ghostly, Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, offers a snapshot of her formula at its most accessible. Across six tracks, gorgeous glissandos and swelling vocals conjure an earthy, bohemian atmosphere. The album is aided by guest features from members of The Cure and Slowdive, whose contributions help cement Goodbye, Hotel Arkada as Lattimore’s most high-profile outing to date. Named for a historic Croatian hotel and inspired by a shared feeling of human loss, Goodbye, Hotel Arkada draws on the senses of melancholy and communion that underline day-to-day life.
Nairobi-born, Berlin-based sound artist Joseph Kamaru (aka KMRU) has a knack for creating inky ambient worlds. His new album, Dissolution Grip, is the first for his new label, OFNOT. It came to life as a byproduct of his studies at Germany’s UDK institute, as he pondered how a deep library of global field recordings could complement an interest in synthesis. Across three lengthy compositions, Kamaru warps found-sound samples into melodic waveforms, creating jagged but lush pad sounds. It’s easy to sense how technical his process is, but—in the scope of a catalog that often leans hard into academic intentionality—Dissolution Grip is ultimately one of Kamaru’s most spirited efforts to date.
Voice Actor’s new record for Stroom, Fake Sleep, opens with two unsettling voices riffing on the words, “happiness has brought you to life.” That contrast between hope and disquiet is a handy summary for the uncanniness that underlines this mysterious European project. Voice Actor emerged a few years back, teasing music in the form of brief Soundcloud uploads and off-putting emails. They fully materialized last year with Sent From My Telephone, a three-and-a-half hour, 109-track collection of creepy short-form sketches. It quickly cemented Voice Actor’s place in streaming algorithms alongside the likes of NINA, mark william lewis, and Joanne Robertson. But where those musicians tend to put a stylish spin on alt-rock, Voice Actor’s music is more vaporous and aloof. Fake Sleep pairs three new Voice Actor tracks with 13 previously-released ones. While it has been revealed that Voice Actor is helmed by Levi Lanser and NTS host Noa Kurzweil—along with a host of collaborators—Voice Actor’s first serious full-length plays like what might happen if someone asked Chat GPT to emulate Laurel Halo’s dreariest work.
J and the woolen stars
Compact Disc (CD)
“Twee ambient” is not a genre I encounter often. But on J and the woolen stars’s new record for Daisart, Personal Problems, the understated band makes me think there should be more of it. The Melbourne group is fronted by Justin Cantrell, who is backed by Emilie Frankel, Rosy Angela Murphy, and Nico Callaghan. Across six tracks, blunt vocals hover over whimsical piano and string playing. The whole thing is tender, tear-jerking, and a little eerie. Listening to the record, I can’t help but think of the haunting innocence that makes the 2009 animated horror film Coraline so beautifully unnerving.
CV & JAB
On last year’s Out there in the middle of nowhere, Crete-based musician John Also Bennett painted a vast, microtonal landscape that evoked Alejandro Jodorowsky’s feverish visions of the acid West. Less than a year later, Bennett has returned with a collaboration with kranky veteran Christina Vantzou. Operating under the understated moniker CV & JAB, the third album from the duo is largely centered on plaintive piano, bass flute, and field recordings. Klima came to life as the pair wrote music to perform at a Portuguese UNESCO world heritage site. Two years later, they laid those sketches to tape. The ten pieces are outwardly soil-y and peaceful, but underlined by inescapable melancholy.
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Jason Calhoun’s new release for Dear Life Records—small circle—calls to mind a broken radio. It’s centered on serrated white noise that seems to battle with lush pads, conjuring a twisted, smoggy haze. Samples writhe in the background, calling to mind the dark ambient of Fennesz and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. The music here stands in contrast to Calhoun’s past work, which has typically been gentle and New Age-y. Small circle bleeds into one disorienting movement, which seems to linger in an uneasy universe removed from space and time.
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As a founding member of Cave and Bitchin Bajas, Cooper Crain has spent his career pioneering an eclectic strain of tie-dyed experimental music. On his new EP for Drag City, Foreign Smokes, he teams up with fellow Chicago musician Bill Mackay. Under the moniker BCMC, the duo run raga, blues, and space rock through an airy filter. These four sprawling tracks present a cosmic, overcast spin on the pearly tropes of Midwest ambient. It captures the energy of a meandering crime story, or the introversion of a buzzed midnight meditation session.
Kiril Vasin (aka Hoavi) has a knack for smudging techno and ambient music. My favorite side of the Russian producer’s sound is the one explored on 2021’s stellar Invariant, where bleary jungle grooves wandered in and out of a digital mist. Phases—his new record for Gost Zvuk—puts a grainy spin on the rhythmic side of his formula. The album is built on industrial tones, which sometimes take the form of house grooves. The whole thing is at once harsh and unassuming. Falling somewhere in between the work of AL-90 and Vladislav Delay, Phases is bleak and captivating.
Constellation Tatsu releases come in threes. The vibe-y California label’s latest batch of records includes titles from Monokle; Yi Onodera and Takashi Kokubo; and Brendon Moeller. My personal favorite is the latter, which pulls from dub techno, downtempo, and spacey lounge. Across six tracks, echoing synths and white noise create endless, wooly worlds. On the tracks “Exodus,” “Accident,” and “Through,” drum machines linger far in the background. But for the most part, the record is weightless and floaty, like it’s being wafted in on a steamy breeze. If one is looking for music that scratches the same itch as the stellar Purelink tracks included in my last column, I suggest pressing play on Pathways.
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There are a few labels whose ambient releases are a shoe-in for this column; Hausu Mountain is one of them. Hot on the heels of a stimulating IDM record from Florida artist Euglossine, the Chicago oddballs have issued the Mukqs album Stonewasher. The new record from HausMo co-founder Maxwell Allen traverses jittery valleys and feisty peaks. His records have historically been conceptual, and the improvised performances here drew inspiration from glitch. The album’s delicate moments call to mind Koreless, while the more driving ones are reminiscent of Blanck Mass. However, even at its most aggressive, Stonewasher is pretty and otherworldly—centered on vocal chops pulled from YouTube, and synths that only occasionally disintegrate into total chaos. It arrives in tandem with a comparably noisy album from fellow HausMo head Doug Kaplan (aka MrDougDoug), which lands at the more abrasive end of the imprint’s spectrum.
Hot Plate Only
Honestly Same is something of a Chicago supergroup. Made up of Lia Kohl, Sam Scranton, Mabel Kwan, Zach Moore, and Zachary Good, the band craft playful, restless soundscapes. The act’s second album for Moon Glyph, Hot Plate Only, merges pastel electronics and jazzy acoustic playing. Across nine tracks, instruments as chipper as recorders, clarinets, and accordions weave in and out of convivial analog patterns. While busy and dense, the record ultimately allows room for each player to shine. Landing somewhere in between Pharoah Sanders’s freewheeling spiritualism and Kate NV’s block-y avant-pop, Hot Plate Only is another solid entry from some of the most groundbreaking players in the Midwest underground.
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Adeline Hotel is a project fronted by guitarist Dan Knishkowy. The New York City musician helps run the label Ruination Record Co., and his solo music is in line with the imprint’s catalog—both linger at the intersection of left-field instrumental music and American folk. Knishkowy’s new record, Hot Fruit, leans into his improvisational side. It’s built on rambling, organic tones, which call to mind Jim O’Rourke records like Bad Timing and Insignificance. The whole thing is melancholic and brainy, featuring playing from Brooklyn peers including Office Culture frontman Winston Cook-Wilson, harpist Rebecca El-Saleh (aka Kitba), and Scree guitarist Ryan El-Solh. Here, Adeline Hotel’s output feels floral and jazzy, like it was designed for glum strolls on gorgeous evenings.