Tag Archives: Electronic

A Massive Survey of Contemporary Ambient Music

Ambient

Nicole Ginelli

Ambient music has been on its second (or third?) rise for a little while now, but at present it’s rivaling the wave of the mid ‘90s, when it soundtracked millions of ravers’ comedowns and backroom conversations.

Brian Eno, founding father of the genre, has just released his first ambient album in an age—the literally never-ending (if you play it in its app form) Reflection. On The Orb’s C.O.W. (Chill Out World) from 2016, they return to pure ambience (plus, they’re hosting a huge celebration of ambient music in London this April). Scene-defining London DJ Mixmaster Morris has just made his first album as The Irresistible Force in two decades, set for release later this year.

But it’s not just that the old greats are back at work. Threads in new music that were formerly hugely disparate—elements of post-rock, noise, dubstep, neo-classical, gallery installation music, documentary field recordings, even grime—are increasingly finding themselves woven back together into endlessly spaced-out tapestries. From the misty minimalist compositions of Bing & Ruth, to the grime-inspired sci-fi cityscapes of Yamaneko, some of the most exciting music being made right now exists free from traditional rhythm or structure—and plenty of the most cutting-edge DJs are bringing these together into sets that are completely cut free from the dancefloor. Here, we present just a small overview of the oceans of ambient sound to be found on Bandcamp right now.

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SXSWatch: Noga Erez’s Fitful Dance-Pop Carries Potent Messages

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Noga Erez, SXSW 2017. All photos by Daniel Cavazos.

Noga Erez is happy to hear folks compare her fidgety pop songs to M.I.A. and FKA twigs—who wouldn’t be, right?—but the singer/producer’s personal hero is PJ Harvey.

“The way she inspires me is beyond sound and music,” Erez says from her Tel Aviv home. “I wish I could be as authentic and brave as her. The artistic path she’s gone through is one of the most interesting I’ve ever witnessed.”

Erez is especially drawn to the way Harvey speaks her mind on rightfully-acclaimed records like 2011’s Let England Shake LP. Angry and accessible, soft and sharp, it’s a protest record that doesn’t spell everything out.

The first few singles from Erez’s upcoming Off the Radar album (due out June 2nd through City Slang) take a similar approach. With its pitch-bent vocals, pressure-cooked beats, and lumbering bass lines—all sounds that are more often found at dance clubs than political rallies—”Dance While You Shoot” tackles an elusive government that thrives on “manipulative media, ignorance, and bureaucracy.”

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Album of the Day: Blanck Mass, “World Eater”

Benjamin John Power never intended his third record as Blanck Mass to be political. During its creation, he cut himself off from the news and from external distractions, in order to focus solely on writing recording. And yet the resulting album, World Eater, is a furious, snarling beast, a record that scans as an explicit reaction to recent political developments. And while Power has always had a knack for visceral, explosive music—either with Blanck Mass, or as one half of Fuck Buttons— World Eater’s tracks are longer, more brooding and far more menacing than anything that’s come before.

The frenzied, violent electronics of “Rhesus Negative,” which features a hard techno beat and mangled vocaloid effects, is countered by the comparative quietness of “Silent Treatment.” But even that song is shot through with shadow: taking its name from a form of manipulative punishment, there are clear hints of anger boiling just below its surface, threatening to erupt at any moment.

Powers’ voice is one of the record’s crucial components. Though sometimes manipulated until they’re unrecognizable, they give the record emotional weight, providing the audience with a human element at the center of the chaos. Other times, it’s layered, for an effect that’s sometimes warm and communal and other times sharp and violent.

“Hive Mind,” which closes the album, is perhaps the clearest example of the latter. Powers’ lead vocal is slow and mournful, and is eventually drowned out by a crowd of yelling voices. It’s a combination open to a variety of interpretations: Powers’ lone voice could represent the isolation that comes when a nation seems to push in a direction you don’t agree with. Or, the group vocals could represent protest—determined fights to fix a broken system. It’s an ambiguous conclusion to be sure, but a fitting end to a record that rewards and punishes in equal measure.

Robert Whitfield

The Mall, Nostalgia, and the Loss of Innocence: An Interview With 猫 シ Corp.

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Despite its often serene facade, vaporwave can contain dark themes. For 猫 シ Corp.—a Dutch native who reveals his first name as Jornt—the genre’s greatest exponent of mallsoft, the loss of innocence is key. Speaking with him about one of his more recent albums—the retro-futuristic eccojams of Class of ’84, he cryptically tells us it provides “an image of a (past) world that we love to escape to because our old world died in 2001.”

This mention of 2001 is a very specific reference to make regarding an album that, in evoking everything from Saved by the Bell to the Breakfast Club, couldn’t seem more divorced from world history post-1993. However, it becomes much clearer when we consider another recent album—NEWS AT 11—and realize  that his records share in the same intriguing worldview, one which partly involves blocking out the troubling turn world history took after a certain catastrophic event.  As hinted at by the album’s release on September 11, 2016, this event was the 9/11 terrorist attack, which the producer confirms “was indeed the subtle, but yet very obvious, theme of the album.” He explains, “When the Twin Towers were hit on that day in September the old world died. It’s like the whole planet suddenly opened up and changed, [and] not for the better. Gone were the peaceful days.” However, as irretrievably lost as these days are for 猫 シ Corp., NEWS AT 11 and its samples of daytime TV finds him trying to reclaim them. Revealing that he took many of the snippets of morning news programs from YouTube, he says, “If you listen closely you hear the samples being cut off right before they announce the dreadful event. Like it never happened. Yet it did, but your mind cuts away right before the memory.”

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The Sound of Folk, Experimental Electronics, and Avant-Garde Music in Ireland

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Roslyn Steer. Photo by Mary Kelleher.

“There was a club night called Lazybird active in Dublin in the ’00s,” recalls Paul Condon, founder of the Fort Evil Fruit label. “This was the first time I recall having a sense of a consolidated underground scene here. They put on the likes of Christina Carter, Flaherty / Corsano, Circle, and Josephine Foster alongside local bands. After being turfed out of the venue—a narrow, windowless upstairs room in a city centre pub—they struggled to keep it going elsewhere, and it fizzled out. But it had an enduring impact in that it represented a sense of possibility and sparked off a lot of connections.”

There’s more than a few comparisons to be made between a contemporary underground in Ireland and the US-based movement dubbed by writer David Keenan back in 2003 as “New Weird America.” While both the Irish and U.S. scenes have roots in 1960s music, they also refuse to sit comfortably within the auspices of “folk.” The American groups Charalambides or MV & EE dealt in acoustic guitars and sprawling verses, but they also relied on heavy doses of dissonance and improvisation, filling out their sprawling discographies with psychedelic sidelong experiments. Similar rumblings have been taking place in Ireland.

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