Andrea Taeggi: Mama Matrix Most Mysterious (LP, Type, September 2015)

This is pretty splendid. It’s made entirely with vintage modular synths, but it’s no retro noodling: this, to my mind, is proper techno. Minimal, sure, but the complex polyrhythms and the little blippy melodies are really compelling. It’s kind of like Ricardo Villalobos by way of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Most importantly, though, Taeggi’s timing is perfect, it’s one of those records which is full of those really satisfying moments where just the right thing happens at just the right instant. (Oh, and the title is a quote from Finnegans Wake, so one bonus point for that.) This is a record which I keep coming back to and which I love a little more every time.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Mike Shiflet & High Aura’d: Awake (LP, Type, February 2015)

This is an improvised collaboration involving, seemingly, two guys, two guitars, and an awful lot of amps and effects and pedals to distort and loop and generally diffuse into a blissed-out haze. This is dense stuff, it kind of washes over you until your attention is caught by some flash of colour several layers deep in the mix. The clouds part briefly for the penultimate track, Covered Bridge, which evokes a suitably sundrenched Southern U.S. feeling, lazily picked half-melodic noodlings complete with birdsong and cicadas, and which is rather delicate and lovely. It’s also a nice palate-cleanser before the final satisfy slice of fuzz. The whole thing is wonderfully unhurried and very gently uplifting.

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

Deaf Center: Owl Splinters (CD, Type, February 2011)

Apologies for the modern-classical family tree stuff, but: Take the spiky cello of Erik Skodvin (aka Svarte Greiner), the delicate piano of Otto Totland (aka half of Nest), add some lo-fi drones, what sound like vocal choruses, and general production cleverness with assistance from Nils Frahm, and you get… something rather great. This album evokes a range of emotions, from the tender and the contemplative to the urgent and the sinister, and each is compellingly realized. Rarely an easy listen, but this is compelling, powerful stuff.

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

Sanso-Xtro: Sentimentalist (CD, Type, May 2005)

Melissa Agate’s debut was something pretty special. She combines unconventionally played strings with unknown plucked instruments (the internet suggests the kalimba, which is a Kenyan so-called thumb piano) and various chimes and bells — and, y’know, whatever other instruments she could find, along with occasional breathlike wordless vocals. The results are delicate and beautiful.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call is Electronic, which seems a bit wrong, though it does kind of defy categorization.

Jóhann Jóhannson: And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees (CD, Type, April 2010)

Jóhannson is an Icelandic composer, probably best known for the concept piece IBM 1401: A User’s Manual. This (splendidly titled) album is big, swooshing, string-drenched, and shamelessly dramatic. There are moments which remind me of Philip Glass, others which remind me of György Ligeti. He has a great knack for structure, bringing back themes from earlier in the piece with great emotional effect. I can see a case for saying the record lacks subtlety, but I love it. A poignantly beautiful masterpiece.

I bought this from Juno. They call it leftfield, whatever that means. I’m pretty sure that Boomkat would call it the Home Listening / Modern Classical thing.

Rameses III: I Could Not Love You More (CD, Type, September 2009)

Awww, my headphones are hugging me.

The basis here are long, droning string-like sounds, which pulse at something like the rate of a fast but not frantic heartbeat, and modulate over a much longer period whilst still being recognizably rhythmic. Around that we get touches of lap steel (which can’t help reminding me of the KLF’s Chill Out), very gently jangling guitars, a melodic bass hum, and occasional wildlife sounds. It’s all very ambient, yes, but it never struggles to keep my interest. It has a serene quality to it — it feels a bit like the closing bars of a great romantic symphony, where all the frantic energy has been spent and the dissonant elements have resolved into an uplifting, euphoric transcendence… only there was no symphony, and the closing bars have somehow been stretched out to almost an hour without for a moment losing the warmth of their embrace.

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

Richard Skelton: Landings (CD, Type, January 2010)

An exciting collection of 12 works for strings. There is a great ragged, wild feeling to this record, along with an intense sense of location — many tracks were apparently recorded in ruined farmhouses and the like, and this really comes through. The pace is always measured, but there is a great variety in technique, with the bowing effects ranging from smooth droning to a rough squeal. Little bits of tune repeat, with subtle mutations twisting through them. There is a fuzziness, and sometimes an echoing, but I suspect that these are products of the recording environment rather than studio cleverness. All in all, a fascinating and deeply enjoyable album.

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

Yellow Swans: Going Places (CD, Type, February 2010)

Noise goes pop! Yellow Swans are Pete Swanson on electronics, tapes, and vocals, and someone called GMS on guitar, tapes, and electronics. They have given us 44 minutes of buzzing, clicking, and squawling. It’s a huge monster of a record. But it’s not in the least bit difficult: there are tunes, and what’s more there are lots of very gentle harmonies. I can’t help getting drawn into this a bit more on each listen, and it’s a very rewarding experience.

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

Goldmund: The Malady Of Excellence (CD, Type, July 2008)

In which Keith Kenniff plays some pretty tunes on the piano, and charms this listener’s socks off.

Nobody could accuse this of being over-complicated. Goldmund is a solo piano project, and the tunes are quite simple and played without a great deal of flourish. At a casual listen, they could be mistaken for grade 3 piano exam assignments. In fact, I think there is a little more to the harmonies and rhythms than it first seems. But what really makes this record is the, er, recording. The piano seems to have been miked up very closely, so you can hear not just the notes but also the thud of the hammer hittings the strings, and the scrape of the fingers hitting the strings. It has a powerfully intimate effect. I really feel like I’m sitting next to, or possibly inside or underneath, the instrument. It’s not going to trouble the reputation of Sviatoslav Richter, but it’s very lovely.

I bought this from Boomkat. They describe it as Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.