You need only look out of the window to see that dark days for cocooning are coming. The birds are singing with pre-summer candour, the greenery of the trees covers your view of the horizon, and the sun -proud Phoebus- beats down with fury, so much so that it’s already time to sleep bare-ass naked, walk around the house in your underwear, and shower more than once a day so that you don’t stink like a horse. Home will soon stop being that protective shell and become an unbearable oven, a forge of Hephaestus whose power can only be challenged by the magic word: air-conditioning. The cold, which is the temperature of civilization, should become our artificial ally, beginning now for those of us who have the misfortune to live in cities where summer arrives at the end of May and doesn’t leave until October, and people spend those months strolling down the street as if they were coming back from the beach, and showing their feet and underarms. So then, air-conditioning on high, or a silent fan beside you, with your blinds down, and for moments of relaxation, reading, or work (some of us are still working here), some albums that sound like a giant bubble of isolation. That’s what we need this month.
The Black Dog: “Thee Lounge EP” (Soma)
As far as sound goes, “Music For Real Airports” is not at all a revolutionary album: we can find the same thing, ambient + found sounds, on old Scanner records, circa 1995. But the description that The Black Dog makes of the airport as a disturbing setting has its appeal: if Brian Eno composed music to calm the hours spent waiting in a hall, then The Black Dog begins from the same idea –the airport is stressful, and eminently uncomfortable– and they dress it up in an acoustic-automatic sound design that highlights the suspense and nervousness, and accentuates the moments of anxiety. They gave you “Thee Lounge Ep” if you bought the CD of Dust Science in the shops. It’s now out of circulation, but is easy to find online, and you must listen to it to complete the experience of “Music For Real Airports”, since “BCN 4” and “Leeds & Bradford” perfectly define the trio’s message: alternating pleasurable textures with other, poisoned ones, they manage to effectively transpose the experience of waiting rooms, that false sensation of calm, and that certainty that you are trapped in a golden cage.
Oneohtrix Point Never: “Returnal” (Mego) + “Young Beidnahga” (Ruralfaune) Mark McGuire: “Tidings / Amethyst waves” (Weird Forest)
Only a year ago, Oneohtrix Point Never was just one musician among many who composed synthetic ambient miniatures that bordered on the gliding music of the 70s and who survived by putting out limited editions on CD-R or cassette tape. One of those CD-R’s, “Young Beindnahga”, limited in its day to 90 copies, has been released again to sell out a second time, and it is, curiously, his harshest material. Today, Daniel Lopatin is the man of the day, at least in the space occupied by “experimental” music: his involuntarily against-the-flow discourse—defender of the CD format, far-removed from fashionable genres (although he himself is fashionable), the first of an unstoppable wave of people synthesising “new new age”, as is Mark McGuire, the leader of Emeralds, who is taking advantage of the favourable winds to republish the cassette “Tidings / Amethyst Waves” on vinyl, one of their most Manuel Göttsching moments. The strange affinity in his sound, which is both pop and pastoral ambient, is just one the reasons OPN is now often mentioned as someone important. “Returnal” will only increase this: it is an important variation in his sound with respect to what was included in “Rifts” (No Fun, 2009), less elaborate –with fewer arpeggios, fewer repetitive cycles– and at the same time, less lo-fi, redefined by the use of noise textures among dreamy ambient massages. It might seem like a calm record, but its great value lies in the enervating moments that it slips in without warning.
Rene Hell: “Porcelain Opera” + “Rogue Camera” (Type) Arc: “Church” (DIN)
Since we like triumvirates –in this sense we are a little like noteworthy Romans– someone will be sure to bet on Rene Hell as the third name to take into account in the (still under construction) elite of the new synth scene which. According to the artist, the scene is leaning towards new age (Emeralds or Dolphins Into The Future, for example) and towards industrial sounds. Leading in the latter area would be Hell (real name: Jeff Witscher), another hyperactive underground talent who has been putting out cassettes indiscriminately for labels like Agents Of Chaos, Ekhein or Night People without ever surpassing twenty minutes recorded on each tape, extracting from his synthesisers a type of ambiguous sound that opts for hypnotic, almost meditative development, but also at times intoxicating them with dissonances, playing with the volume, wave oscillations towards the low end of the spectrum, and a palette of textures fitting for electro-acoustic music. As you can gather from “Porcelain Opera” –if you get the vinyl edition it comes with a CD of strange material, “Rogue Camera”, which makes it a highly disturbing double record. Rene Hell has been listening to early Tangerine Dream, of “Zeit” and “Phaedra”, as well as to the Coil of sword and witchcraft. Something that doesn’t happen with Arc, now that we mention it: the live recording of “Church” –the title already indicates that it was inside of a basilica, in Philadelphia, specifically– is only heir to the epic Tangerine Dream, as directed by Christopher Franke using a sequencer. Compare this with the German group’s “Encore” (1977), and play at finding seven differences between the two pieces.
Celer: “Dwell In Possibility” (Blackest Rainbow) Rameses III: “For José María” (Under The Spire)
Danielle Marie Baquet died on July 8, 2009 - her heart stopped while she was sleeping. She had a congenital illness that, unless there was a miracle, irremediably doomed her to live a short life, which she dedicated to music, travel, and spreading love. Celer was the project that she shared with William Thomas Long, her husband. Since July of 2009, then, Celer is no longer with us, and Long will not make music again with that name, but a lot of work was finished before Danielle’s life came to an end, and that music will keep flowing until it runs out and her legacy is completed. Celer consolidated herself as one of the most interesting, as well as irregular, ambient projects of her generation. Her textures were a continual debate between light (love, good, happiness) and sorrow, a sorrow that didn’t make sense seeing the couple so in love—even her publicity photos showed them kissing—until Danielle’s death explained it all in the end. “Dwell in Possibility” is closer to that dissonant, uncomfortable, sombre part of Celer’s sound in two long pieces –eighteen minutes on each side of the record– that leave you in a dark mood. On the other hand, “For José María”, another record containing an air of death, doesn’t leave that ominous feeling, just one of farewell. Rameses III, the Type label’s in-house kraut improvisation trio, knew José María Bellido, the Spanish pianist and athlete who died of complications from diabetes, and the 17 minutes of this EP, in which his daughter Cristina recites some verses in beautiful Catalan, are a serene requiem that affects one deeply, if only for the simplicity and transparency of the spoken word.
Toshimaru Nakamura: “Egrets” (Samadhisound) Jan Bang: “…And Poppies From Kandahar" (Samadhisound)
Suddenly, the Samadhisound label has reactivated itself with three simultaneous albums. One, by Akira Rabelais, deserves more extended commentary–coming soon in the review section– but we can’t leave now without praising the other two records here. The limelight that shines on the record company run by David Sylvian is sweet and grants it honour of taking over from classic labels like EG Recordings, which was already building bridges in the 70s between ambient, chamber music, ethnic exploration, and adult music. The Norwegian Jan Bang, for example, moves in familiar areas at this crossroads: a craftsman of the sampler, he decorates his ambiental canvases –close to those of his fellow countryman Biosphere– with jazz chords, echoes of the desert, and other third-world souvenirs (mainly from the Middle East) -look out for Jon Hassell’s collaboration on the trumpet in “Exile From Paradise”- that surround a thick, solemn silence. “Egrets”, for its part, surrounds the silence of micro-tonalities and random notes, in a glitch + improvisation exercise somewhere between early Oval and the deceased Derek Bailey.
Peter Broderick: “Three Film Score Intakes” (Schedios Records) Loscil: “Versions Ep” (Loscil)
“Versions Ep” includes three pieces, and in them the sound flows like a stream, just as we expect of Scott Morgan: that light, levitating music that sublimates the art of ambient as music made for waking up first thing in the morning or at the end of an evening to let yourself be overtaken by a peaceful sleep. And although these three pieces leave that residue of peace, they aren’t even among Loscil’s best—that is how high the Canadian has set his own measuring stick. There are new versions of old songs, like “Emma”, and not-so-old songs, like “Estuarine” and “The Making of Grief Point (Instrumental)” –put out on “First Narrows” (2004) and “Endless Falls” (2010), respectively. Loscil plays the synthesisers, the marimbas, and the guitar notes that last longer in the unconscious than they do in time. And there are also three pieces in “Three Film Score Intakes”, another volume in the timid, serene work of Peter Broderick for film and the performing arts, in which we find the three key elements of his music: the piano, the violin, and the sound of the street, held together by a thread so fine that it could break. It is also a minor work, keeping in mind that neither Broderick nor Loscil ever have real highs and lows.
Mount Kimbie: “Crooks & Lovers” (Hotflush) Eleven Tigers: “Clouds Are Mountains” (Soul Motive)
A first approach to Mount Kimbie’s LP only a month after it officially went on sale: forget dubstep, the London duo has finally chosen the path of the hammock, which was where the two preceding maxis pointed, although always with the reasonable doubt about whether they would make a last-minute change of course. But no: except maybe “Field”, where the bass snakes around too much and the piece moves nervously, the bulk of “Crooks & Lovers” is more horizontal than a great prairie. That is to say that if there were three main ingredients in the Mount Kimbie formula– Burial-style dubstep, Nathan Fake post-rock, and a ton of ambiental layers– the mix is still there, and in almost the same proportions; the change is in how the laidback nature of the productions imposes itself on a danceable, or even passionate, inclinations. It’s not even James Blake-style emo dubstep: it’s adorable ambient with pinches of breakbeats that invite you to listen to it with your back against the trunk of a tree, looking at a river, with a blade of wheat between your teeth. While we’re at it, let’s not forget “Clouds Are Mountains”, another promising debut, this one from the Lithuanian Eleven Tigers, who fills his dubstep with helium and three-dimensional breaks and raises your pulse, without ever losing the majestic quality of the canvas of textures. It’s sort of Martyn, in that sense.
Talvihorros: “Music In Four Movements” (Hibernate) M. Ostermeier: “Lakefront” (Hibernate)
As is habitual in ambient underground, Talvihorros has been putting out tapes – “Let Us Be Thankful We Have Commerce” (2010)– and CD-R’s, scorning mp3 as the sole system for transmitting music, clinging to the physical format, even if it’s only for the enjoyment of twenty people. But he also put out an album on the defunct Scottish Benbecula label –which you will remember for names like Ochre and Christ, and some of the best pastoral post-Boards Of Canada IDM – and this is something that adds to his prestige. Behind Talvihorros is Ben Chatwin, a young man who is tempted by the phantasmagoric, bewitched side of ambient: he isn’t trying to sound dark, but rather mysterious, as if suggesting that within his pieces, which are long and don’t let the light in, something magical is happening that is only for daring ears. He deserves to be added to “favourites”. Hibernate doesn’t miss: the label’s 11th release, by M. Ostermeier also fits in at this intersection between ambient with digital crackling, ethereal post-rock and the tremulous notes of impressionistic classical music. Competition for 12k?
Olan Mill: “Pine” (Serein) Richard A. Ingram: “Consolamentum” (White Box)
Neoclassic clichés: the title is in Latin, and the cover is black, like a photocopy of the misty landscape. You know as soon as you see it that “Consolamentum” won’t disappoint you, although later when you hear it, it doesn’t sound exactly like you imagined it, there aren’t as many tremulous chords and there are more layers of volatile synthesisers with pinches of glitch. And what the hell: with a title like that, what less can you expect than choruses, giant Requiem choruses that thunder as if it were the end of time? But in any case, the new work by Richard A. Ingram on White Box, with the dark undercurrent of his proposal, is valuable enough to add him to the list of new composers to keep an eye on, the same way that we took note of Jasper TX in his day and have never regretted it. And for “Pine” from Olan Mill –the duo of Alex Smalley and Svitlana Samoylenko– we have only praise: it is ambient that dissolves when it comes into contact with the air and light, practically transparent, weightless and without thickness, like a speck of dust floating in an immense space, for length of ten compositions, without a concession to the melody, to a rhythmic beat, or to a harmonic detour— it’s intravenous weightlessness, which is very Budd, very Eno, very Zimmer. The new Celer?