Giulio Aldinucci: Borders and Ruins (LP, Karl Records, September 2018)

This is a rather awesome and intense bit of ambient. Each track sounds like it has been spun out of a single moment of classical music: stretched, looped, processed, snap, crackled, and popped. The source material includes sacred-sounding choral music, avant-garde-sounding strings, organs. It’s powerful stuff, with a real glacial heft, but at its core there’s a big, soft, warm, lovely hug.

I bought this from the label’s Bandcamp page.

Sarah Davachi: Gave In Rest (LP, Ba Da Bing!, September 2018)

It has to be said, Davachi isn’t going out of her way to make this accessible. The opening track, Auster, consists of eight chords, each sustained for over a minute, played I assume on some kind of analogue synth, with the natural fluctuations of the means of production providing the only variation (well, it’s possible that by about no. 6 there’s some other instrument creeping in part way through, but if so it’s very subtle). If you’re not put off by that stark intro (and I’ll admit that I nearly was — well, by that and by a memory that I didn’t seem to quite get her last record, All My Circles Run, either) then you’re in for a real treat. The rest of the album is comparatively melodic, albeit at a deeply sedate pace. When side one finishes with an elongated and processed sung note, the whole thing seems to make some kind of sense. Davachi combines analogue synthesis, traditional instruments (everything from organs to piano to strings to recorder), and (word-free) voice in a way that sounds completely natural, blended by a process involving tape delays and choral effects and so on. (The violinist is Jessica Moss: probably best known for her work in Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, she also released Pools Of Moss last year, which was at least half brilliant.) Inspired by spending time in churches and thinking about spiritual music, the result is haunting, evocative, meditative, transportive, and beautiful. Oh, and the closing track, Waking, reminds me of Eduard Artemyev’s soundtracks for Andrei Tarkovsky, especially the reworking of Bach for Solaris, which only makes me love it all more.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

Tim Hecker: Konoyo (2xLP, Kranky, September 2018)

I have a bad habit of using Tim Hecker comparisons in this blog as kind of a lazy shorthand for a really full kind of ambient drone, the sound that fills the spectrum, fills the sound-stage, and fills every last cubic millimetre of your brain cavity with a giant pulsating fuzz monster. This is largely based on a phenomenal 2010 live show and on 2011’s brilliant Ravedeath, 1972. And it’s kind of embarrassingly out of date: with its moments of sparseness and its recognizable instruments 2013’s Virgins was quite different, and 2016’s Love Streams even more so. (I’m not sure whether it’s because that gig had made such an impression on me that I couldn’t get my head around the change of direction, or what, but I didn’t rate either of those two albums enough to actually buy them.)

Well, maybe this is the record to change all that for me. It has intense wall-of-sound bits, but also plenty of stripped-back bits, actual quiet bits. The ‘recognizable instruments’ element here consists of the Japanese courtly form Gagaku, played by the members of Tokyo Gakuso on hichiriki, shō, ryūteki, and uchimono (percussion), plus Kara-Lis Coverdale on keys and Mariel Roberts on cello. But you still shouldn’t come here looking for a rollicking good melody: the key elements here are the texture and the dynamics. And while, okay, I obviously don’t adore this like I adore Ravedeath, it is a very pleasurable chunk of noise, especially the serene 15-minute closer Across To Anoyo. And you know what? Despite the more restrained and collaborative approach, this sounds not really Western or Eastern but very very recognizably Tim Hecker.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

Aphex Twin: Collapse EP (12″, Warp, September 2018)

First impressions can be deceiving. Having been underwhelmed Aphex’s two releases in 2015 and, I’ll admit, having largely forgotten about the 2016 one, I was prepared to be hurt again with this. And the first two minutes of the lead track, T69 Collapse, seemed to confirm my fears: it’s kind of a skittering drill’n’bass number with a bit of an acid bassline and it’s nice enough but it’s all a bit polite in this day and age (this sound is, by my estimate, about 23 years old now). Then  suddenly it all, well, collapses, into a much more intense pummelling of drums and wailing of synths. The final third reverts to the more polite mode, but suddenly there’s more going on and everything is far more interesting. And the next four tracks are also varied and complex and really pretty good. 1st 44 has some nice sparse moments with almost a dancehall sound, complete with distorted toasting. MT1 t29r9 has some of the most dancy moments, but also some of the floatiest. abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909] has sounds that reach back into the early-90s ambient techno days, complete with sci-fi-ish vocal samples, although some of the beats are more breaksy. And pthex is a good example of Analord-era woozy breakbeat acid. On the whole… sure, he’s not breaking much new ground here, but this has to be his strongest release since 2014’s Syro, and a nice reminder of why we love the great man despite all our scepticism.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Automatisme: Transit (LP, Constellation, August 2018)

This one from William Jourdaine is super hard to categorize. According to the blurb, ‘the sonic material is all sourced from the field, with recordings captured in the forests and caves of rural Quebec, along with ex-urban “non-places”, and various waiting rooms’. This seems to have gone through a whole load of modular synth gear and been ‘rendered through generative and probability-based digital patches’. The result is has an analogue-sounding warmth and a digital-sounding glitchiness. It burbles and stutters along at a nice tempo, though I’d characterize it more as a pulse than a beat. Jourdaine manipulates his material with great skill: there’s always something new happening, new sounds and textures either evolving slowly or bursting into the mix abruptly, but there isn’t a jarring moment on the record. Keeping things this interesting with a palette while making every new element sound so natural and right is a rare talent. This is one that demands repeated careful listenings — and rewards them richly.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Basic Channel / Dub Techno, Electronic.

Caterina Barbieri: Born Again In The Voltage (LP, Important Records, September 2018)

Barbieri’s Patterns Of Consciousness was a thing of great wonder and one of my records of 2017. This record was recorded before that, in 2014–15, but released after — I’m not sure whether this was planned, or whether this one only saw the light of day owing to the success of her debut. No matter: it stands by itself. There are four long pieces for Buchla 200, voice, and cello (Antonello Manzo wielding the bow), and showing a range of styles. How To Decode An Illusion is a slow, pulsing number, dominated by the modular synth, contrasting clean-sounding waves with occasional siren-like blurps and organic howls before being lifted by a flurry of bleeps. Rendering Intuitions is fairly straightforward cello/drone territory. Human Developers is mostly a buzzing synth drone. Things take a turn for the allegro non troppo on the much more upbeat We Access Only A Fraction, a trippingly melodic bit of Buchla-work plus chanting. And while it is not quite as accomplished as Patterns Of Consciousness, and it doesn’t hang together so well as an album, it is a highly enjoyable listen.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Norman Westberg: After Vacation (LP, Room 40, July 2018)

Ahhhhh! Swans-chappy Norman Westberg has been playing with his guitars and his effects pedals and has come up with a lovely sort of ambient drone thing which immediately sweeps you away in a sort of floaty haze. Little plucked melodies drift in and out of the gentle waves of texture. It reminds me a little bit of Mike Shiflet and High Aura’d’s Awake, although it’s a little less dense (by this analogy, the closing title track here, which introduces the most straightforward, open, acoustic sound of the record, would correspond to that album’s Covered Bridge, which I described as the clouds parting briefly). These are the kinds of record that create an oasis of peace in our busy lives, and I say yay for that. An understated gem.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.

CV & JAB: Zin Taylor — Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface (LP, Shelter Press, February 2018)

When I discover a record I really like by an artist with a few releases under their belt, it’s tempting to go back and binge on their back-catalogue. I normally try to resist, having found that it mostly leads to disappointment, and often dilution of the pleasure of the music that kicked the whole thing off. So, despite having loved Christina Vantzou’s No. 4 recently, I resisted the urge to go back and hoover up Nos. 1 through 3.

But I did check out this recent live performance by Vantzou and John Also Bennett (who also played on No. 4) and, you know what, it’s really good, too. It’s a very different record. No. 4 had an impressive list of collaborators and instruments. This is just the two of them with synths, ‘virtual instruments’ (CV), more synths, flute, and piano (JAB). No. 4 has a rich, layered strangeness. This has a sparse, abstract strangeness. It was performed in a gallery, as a response to works by Zin Taylor, or perhaps we’re meant to say as a reconceptualization of those works, or something like that… anyway, it does seem to fit the abstract simplicity of the drawings, and comes with a nice 1.8m-long leporello which you can, I don’t know, look at while you listen to the music, I guess. The music itself is proceeds at a stately pace, and it’s more about the textures and the shapes than about the melodies, but it’s full of lovely little surprises — I love the sound of lapping water which appears somewhere near the end, for example — and it’s thoroughly immersive. In places, it reminds me of another recent live duet, Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Glass — or, reaching further back, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and Ariel Kalma’s We Know Each Other Somehow. It’s one of those records that I love a little bit more each time I listen to it, and lingers in my memory for a good while afterwards, and those are very good things.

I bought this from the label’s bandcamp page.

Abul Mogard: Above All Dreams (2LP, Ecstatic, June 2018)

The buzz started with the 2016 retrospective album simply called Works. Abul Mogard had worked for decades in a steel plant in Serbia, and it was only when he retired that he bought a bunch of electronics, got tinkering, and started making music — trying to recreate the sounds of the factory, which he missed. Or so the story goes, anyway. I’ve read scurrilous rumours that some or all of this is fiction and a cunning marketing ploy. Well, it’s a nice story, so there.

More importantly, what do we think of the music? Well, I have to admit, I never really understood the fuss about Works. Perhaps that was the cynic in me. But this, his solo follow-up, I really like. It was (the sleeve tells us) “composed by Abul Mogard between 2015 and 2018 using modular synthesiser, Farsifa organ, effects, and computer”. This is the kind of big, all-encompassing ambient that fills your head and then swallows you up. It bears comparison to the best of Tim Hecker, or perhaps Stephan Mathieu. If I may be excused a spot of a pseuds’ corner indulgence, it seems to hover on the boundary between motion and stillness, which is a kind of magical effect.

I was feeling kinda stressed out when I first listened to this, and by the end I had a feeling of profound calm. Yay!

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal. I don’t find it that dark, but YMMV.

Head Technician: Profane Architecture (LP, Ecstatic, April 2018)

I never quite got into Martin Jenkins’ work as Pye Corner Audio: it’s retro seemed heavy-handed and lacking in substance. But this, his second LP as Head Technician, I like. It’s basically dark acid techno, and so, yeah, it’s still pretty retro… but it’s big and chunky and bouncy and fluid and those basically it’s really good retro dark acid techno, and I’ll take that. It has the reassuringly solid, structural feel of proper old Roland kit, and some nice sinuous work on the faders. Mostly clocking in at around 120 BPM (and occasionally dipping down to a stately 100) it’s hardly going to tear the dancefloor a new one, but then we’re all too old for that, right? My album highlight is Decay Blossoms, which has a thick, squelchy texture that almost puts me in mind of Plastikman. Oh, and it’s themed around brutalist architecture and the track names are all to do with concrete (First Pour, Béton Brut, Formwork, and so on), so bonus points for that.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.