Rafael Anton Irisarri: Solastalgia (LP, Room 40, June 2019)

It came as a surprise to me when I realized I actually only own two records by Rafael Anton Irisarri. It Falls Apart, the 2010 release from The Sight Below, was a pretty cracking record, and it caught me at a formative moment in my listening journey, and I guess he’s felt like a part of my musical makeup because of that. But the only one of his solo releases I have is 2016’s A Fragile Geography. Quite remiss of me.

Anyway, here we are again, and it’s another cracker. This is more of his big swooshy fuzzy ambient. There are bits that remind me of classic Fennesz, bits that hark back to the shoegazier sound of The Sight Below, and some little touches like a echoey distant clattering and the gentle plinking at the start of Kiss All The Pretty Skies Goodbye which I can’t place but which I find strangely bewitching. And Irisarri is an absolute master of this stuff — check out album closer Black Pitch and the way the soaring melody’s pitch wobbles just fractionally like a record that’s been warped in the heat: it’s subtly done and somehow only emphasizes the track’s epic intensity — and who cares about cataloguing influences when it sounds so damned good?

(Strange thing: The digital streaming version of this album appears to have the six tracks individually, and then a single 38-minute track called Solastalgia (Suite One) which contains the same music all over again, including the track breaks and everything. Not sure why.)

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

M Geddes Gengras: Light Pipe (CD, Room 40, October 2018)

The older I get, the less tolerant of excess I find myself. Which means that if you’re going to release a record that’s nearly two and a half hours long, you’d better have a good reason for it. Simply having a lot of stuff to get out isn’t enough; you need to be doing something that is only possible over this kind of length.

Luckily, that’s exactly what this wonderful work of melodic ambient does. There are swooshy strings, there’s fuzzy guitar, there’s occasional new-agey chimy things and the like. In passages, it meanders; in passages, it rumbles; in passages, it soars; in passages, it sighs. Take Water Study, for example, which starts with a kind of reverb-heavy anthem which reaches almost ecstatic heights (and which reminds me pleasantly of Fennesz’s Bécs)… and then it fades away to something much more contemplative, and we’re left with memories echoing around like a song in a magical cave. Each of the CDs here is one continuous piece (the first is described as pieces for live performance, indoors, and the second, outdoors — I confess that I can’t spot the difference). And, through some mysterious process, the power and the mood and the sheer loveliness build and build over the duration, and I end up not wanting it to stop. A rare case of more is more, perhaps, and a bloody brilliant record as well.

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

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.

Rafael Anton Irisarri: A Fragile Geography (LP, Room 40, January 2016)

This is just top notch melodic classical drone ambient. Irisarri has been at this for a while (I’m quite fond of It Falls Apart, his 2010 album as The Sight Below) and he just seems to keep getting better. There’s that gently pulsing humming noise, the drawn-out strings layered subtly over the top, just the right amount of melody, just the right amount of processing. My favourite track here is Empire Systems, which sounds like… well, if you took the moment near the start of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity, where the chant-like synth noise has emerged out of the fuzz and you’re just waiting for the Morse code to come in (stay with me here) and you got Tim Hecker to do an 8-minute cover of just that moment… it might sound something like this. Which is, obviously, brilliant.

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