There’s a variety of reactions to ambient music. A genre that values waltzing around in a beautifully detailed but static–and of course, meterless–place, sometimes listening to an album can take its inhabitants on a emotional journey and other times the effect is more singular as if the listener has been staring at the same painting for an hour. Crafting an especially textured landscape, Tim Hecker’s Konoyo feels like a group of lines coalescing to a center that doesn’t exist. The bowels of Hecker’s deep, electronically crafted bass sounds swirl against dancing, high strings from the work of Japan’s Konoyo ensemble, all seemingly swept up into the fog of Hecker’s higher frequency electronic sounds. The work is breathtaking and emotionally charged in it’s melodic choices, perhaps not making its fans into different people, but validating the ebb and flow of their introspection.
Now, of course this album has a more nuanced roadmap than say “The Disintegration Loops.” The communication between Hecker and the rest of the ensemble is quite varied despite also achieving a somewhat singular emotive collage throughout. We hear swells of Hecker’s bass sound accompanied by gestures from the instrumentalists at the very beginning and the two simultaneously increase and decrease their intensity throughout This Life, making for a natural, breathing effect. The two musical forces are not joined at the hip for the whole album of course, there’s places where Hecker is alone, supplying a heave of electronic lights, and elsewhere the ensemble is left to its own devices. Inflected with drums, the group can supply plenty of noise to stand on their own and particularly towards the tail end of In Mother Earth Phase, it’s as if the group is creating the sound of the beginning of the work acoustically.
As we continue to move into a new era in Hecker–one in which the synth mastermind scavenges the diverse world of instrumental world music to find new sounds to synthesize in his vision–we see how willing the composer is to adapt without losing his voice. Konoyo is a new color for the musician to explore but even as his imprint shifts in and out of focus, the album maintains all of the qualities that make his work so capturing and forward thinking.
If 2016 saw Marissa Nadler flesh out her tunes—perhaps more than she ever has—with the lush arrangements of “Strangers,” 2018 is purely a glance at that which makes the songwriter so special. Sticking mostly to muted guitar, string, and vocal arrangements, “For My Crimes” features Nadler’s haunting vocal paintings bathed in her signature dark production atmosphere with tiny sonic details giving the work a glistening aura.
The songs are mostly addressed to the past—memories, former friends or partners, and the objects that come with are all at play. On the title track, Nadler hopes that her faults won’t define her image in the memories of others and elsewhere she admits to herself the extent to which a former relationship resulted in her own pain. Standout track “I Can’t Listen to Gene Clark Without You Anymore” features Sharon Van Etten’s similarly smokey drawl and a specific type of sadness that us music folk feel around artists that remind us of past relationships.
If you’re not on the Nadler bandwagon already, now’s as good a time as any. Although some may mention that she’s not breaking down and re-creating her aesthetic in a super substantial way, the sonic environment she’s spent years crafting remains singularly timeless—sure to capture for years to come.
Producer provides a range of looser minimal techno atmosphere and fleshed out song forms.
Underground rap vets bring magnetic chemistry to rich and vivid production world.
Sarah Davachi-Gave in Rest
Prolific as hell Montreal musician continues to evolve her ambient sound world with another chilling release.
(out next week but very much on my radar)
A glance at Hanna Benn’s resume wouldn’t necessarily lead one in any specific direction in terms of genre or sound–she’s touched upon in basically everything this side of 1900 including Alice Coltrane, Gospel, and a five hour immersive opera experience (no, not Einstein on the Beach). Somehow, however, all these experiences seem to come into play on the densely packed Unfasten EP.
The work holds somewhat of an enveloping, ambient connotation, yet rhythm is very much part of the equation–most obviously on Divide: Sing Persist which features layers of hand-percussion, but even the more meditative moments find a sense of propulsion with flourishing vocal cornucopias.
Although the influences are steeped in a bit of an academic connotation, her soundcloud hashtag of #classicalcrossover certainly holds truth. The rhythmic drive doesn’t test the patience too ferociously and the electronic music nods also help satisfy the more college radio-oriented ear drums. The end of the EP truly epitomizes this wide reaching array of appeal as light and airy strings complement a kelly lee owens style bass line, with Benn’s smoldering voice piercing the middle ground.
Benn’s done it all and the Unfasten EP is a testament to her ability to step into a new lane, with a new timeline and audience while also carrying those experiences with her. Most importantly, it feels effortless–a rare talent, not to be understated.
Adding to a long, eclectic discography, Phantom Brickworks sees the English electronic musician’s acoustic side ruminating in ambient space. Although Bibio describes the work as a collection of improvisations, there’s an effortless flow between the tracks, particularly in the first six, where he alternates between hollow, somber energy and more uplifting piano flourishes, culminating in the stunning moment of clarity in “Phantom Brickworks III” where loud pillars of piano descend in shimmering glory. Perhaps this could be seen as a return to his pastoral explorations, but these productions are more muted and meditative with an amplified sense of vulnerability — a hauntingly beautiful collection.
On the apply titled “New Energy,” esteemed prince of subdued UK dance Four Tet finds inspiration in his older material and later explorations. The singles operate as such with pulsing, driving grooves and complementary melodies, yet the album blooms in a gradual manner, making the moments where the planets align truly pop. It’s an album for fans true and casual, sure to suit the boiler room stage with a bit more dance-able material.
After an intro, “Two Thousand Seventeen” is the slow burn highlight of the work. With the pillow of soupy base lines and the sparks of high vocals crafting the atmosphere, Tet’s huge bastion of a centerpiece looms. Despite priding himself on his minimalist recording process, Tet manages to find a great deal of different textures throughout the album. Here, the big melodic force evokes strings with its plucked timbres and oddly paced loops.
Foreboding melody marks the next string of tracks as melodies allude to oncoming action, before “Lush” and “Scientists” give it to you. Light on its feet, “Lush” remains sensible, but it’s biting speed reaches for the rafters as a mixed bag of gentle melodies combine for a heavenly atmosphere. “Scientists” is Four Tet’s songwriting at its finest. The pillars of bass line bounce over the acoustic sounding high-hat. Gradually more drums enter, before the track implodes with smoldering vocal combinations and a rogue trumpet solo.
“You Are Loved” is life affirming with its humanist, simmering synths, before “SW9 9SL” delivers the summary track. With the mean straightforward beat setting in right away, this track doesn’t mess around. Even the head room isn’t too lofty, focusing all energy on the rhythmic energy. Momentum seems to completely shift around the midpoint as Tet builds a “bass drop” type of effect out in open space. Melodies wander without a true rhythmic foundation, growing and boiling to a climax that immediately cuts back to the distilled groove that opened, except this time it’s adopted one of the signature warmly emotional bass melodies beneath it. The overall spirit of the work is funneled into this track as the tried and true dance spills into ambience, then brings something back for the fans.
“Daughter” is another standout with a gorgeous combination of bright vocal loops and more warm synths, before “Planet” brings it home with a pummeling victory lap. Perhaps some would classify the work as Four Tet doing Four Tet, however, his career path is evident in the music. Even on tracks that burn with dance energy he seems to find a bit of “Morning/Evening’s” ambient meditation to underpin his ideas. It’s a front to back experience that also features some of the guy’s best songwriting. There’s not many on his level right now.
Kelly Lee Owens-Kelly Lee Owens
“taps into ambient and drone traditions while also delivering a constant stream of danceable bass lines and bouncy synth arpeggiations.”
“Lorde took a while to come back, but the last four years have been all growth and her empire is just beginning.”
“SZA pinpoints relatability while avoiding tired cliché”
“a great deal of variety in the project and the logical march from light to mean makes it digestible and addicting”
Vince Staples-Big Fish Theory
“Staples maintains his usual drawl speech and coy attitude as huge, biting electronic-influenced beats explode beneath him and hooks talk up his come up, moving from little pond problems to ‘countin’ up hundreds by the thousands.'”
“‘Grafts’ is one of her more condensed projects and although works like “A-480” and “Aftertouches” certainly offer blissful sublimity from beginning to end, “Grafts” is certainly her most no-moment-wasted work to date.”