Posts Tagged ‘ambient’

John Jeffrey

Given that Jeffrey went into these sessions with an idea of progression and improvisation — reaching for the antitheses of composition and structure, the four languid landscapes that inhabit Passage are remarkably fully formed. That’s not to say that the boundaries aren’t permeable. Within the bounds of these hypnotic pieces time and space seem to slip away, but the colors they create in the mind hold fast for each cut. The record is in line with the ambient crawl of the cosmic country class of 2020, and as such this album will sit nicely on the shelf alongside North Americans, Barry Walker Jr. and SUSS. Like those, Jeffrey plays with the drones inherent in the pedal steel and lets them seep into a world of haze that’s formed from synth, laconic guitar strums and the distant shuffle of drums.

Unlike the others, he’s not beholden to the construct, letting the album slide from drones into occasional rhythmic territory. What becomes interesting is how he shifts from the mind-drift sprawl of cosmic impulses into a waking dream that pulses along on an unseen thread. The pedal steel still shimmers underneath the motorik patter but now it squiggles in iridescent turquoise — a comfort from the past like the steady blink of an unset VCR clock seen through collapsing lids. He slides from the pulse of dream state into the meditation of lone contemplation seamlessly. The pieces are definite, but the entry points are infinite.

Make no mistake the word lone is a bit key here. This is not an album for an audience of multitudes. It’s a headphone album that dips into altered states. The album seems to start at dusk when the hues are steeped in amber sinking into a radiant black. No part of this album truly sees the day, again something that sets this apart from the ambient standouts of the year. The others are squinted through a hazed sun, but here we’re left to wander parking lots at dusk, a dirt road just outside of town, the edge of the driveway where the houselights don’t quite reach. There’s a weightlessness in Jeffrey’s record, whether it was purposeful or divined through those sessions by osmosis. By the time the last track cracks dawn might be near, but the morning light doesn’t quite seep into the the structure of the album. Its a wonderfully cool void to slip into for a while and each time through the path seems different than the last.




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L.A. Lungs

Breaking away from their work with Debacle Records, West Coast duo/couple L.A. Lungs release an ominous air into the new batch of Eiderdown releases. The pair’s work is methodical and measured — their sounds blend into the background like a good score. Said score seems to either soundtrack a quiet breakdown or the dark voyeurism into one’s own soul. On Magishishan! the hiss becomes a character unto itself, watching the watcher in the band’s narrative. The band remains masterful in their use of slow, menacing bass, letting the anxiety build under nail bitten keys that squirm and shift slowly on their heels. The album’s certainly not ambient for the relaxed soul, though thankfully its not synth for horror fans and Netflix cue builders either.

Their synth strain is something else. It’s anguished, on edge, and still somehow detached as well. There’s a feeling that terrible things might happen, and soon, but the feeling remains of watching from ten feet above even if you’re at the center of the maelstrom. Now this all sets the album up to be uncomfortable, which in a very real way it is, but its also able to burrow under the skin and find a home next to your own insecurities like an auditory lichen. As the record crests into the midsection, it feels like some sort of solace may be at hand, but as they creep towards a close the walls become tight and the air acrid. There’s no escaping “The Distant Light.” The final chapter feels like a gorgeous comedown. It couldn’t be called peace after what’s ensued on the rest of the album, but its a mixed feeling of relief and trepidation that lets a cold wind blow across the final moments.



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Andrew Tuttle

Sorely missing from the pages of RSTB has been any mention of Andrew Tuttle. That’s on me. Several albums deep at this point, he’s racked up stage time with Ryley Walker, Steve Gunn, Matmos, Julia Holter, and Daniel Bachman. His latest for Room 40 is a pastoral source of rejuvenation in parched times. Centering around his banjo and guitar work, the record enters a lot of the same eddies as Nathan Salsburg, a fellow picker who’s music tends not to overwhelm with flash, but who instead builds a world out of gently burbling patience and calm. Make no mistake, both have skill to spare, but knowing that there’s more to gain in shading and shifting tones is a particularly lovely persuasion within the world of fingerpicked guitar. Tuttle lets notes hang in the air and dissipate. Banjos waver on the winds, reverberated guitar soaks into the skin and underneath he sketches field recordings with a fine brush.

Cut through with an outdoor ambiance, and a communal backporch air, the record is incredibly unfussed at first blush. The stitches on the songs are barely visible, owing much to Tuttle’s ability to make his compositions feel like they might have been improvisations, but there’s more of a unified thread here than he first lets on. Tuttle plays like a quilter, weaving picture patterns that come into focus the further one backs away from the record. There’s a natural awe to the album, that’s expressed between the patient notes that Andrew and his collaborators concoct. Those collaborators play no small part in shaping Alexandra as well. The indelible color of Chuck Johnson’s pedal steel has been a part of many great 2020 LPs and he lends it to a couple of tracks here, as well as acting as producer for the record. Tony Dupe (Saddleback), Sarah Spencer (Blank Realm), Gwenifer Raymond (Tompkins Square), Joel Saunders (Spirit Bunny) and Joe Saxby (These Guy) also find their way into the ranks, fleshing out the tessellated universe that Tuttle constructs across these nine songs. 2020 has become a year for exploring quietude in deeper dimensions, and to that end, Alexandra is a welcome portal to a stiller set of sounds.




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Luke Schneider

This week’s been on a mercurial kick and I say why bump the tiller now. This record from Luke Schneider reinvents the Pedal Steel as force for ambient float and it’s an absolutely stunning take on the instrument. While the steel has long been the secret weapon among the cosmic country fare cropping up here, and even found its way into the minimal stretch of the Ezra Feinberg release from yesterday, Schneider elevates the form. He gives the instrument its due as a focal point while all but rendering the sounds unrecognizable as they’re refracted through the psychedelic and new age prisms at either end of his spectrum. Solo pedal steel can often be showy, and can flirt with melancholia and comedy, but Scheider pushes the past aside.

While the instrument has a grace and some might say its the heavy heart that adds a mournful edge to country, its also a virtuoso’s tool. Luke’s had a history of unconventional use, but a breakthrough into sobriety and a steady diet of ambient in the headphones lead to an unconventional, yet stunning record that’s more indebted to Laraaji than Herb Remington. There’s a fragile ebullience to Schneider’s work and he’s made a record that’s as complex in temperament as it is stark in aproach. The sounds here resonate with the humors of the soul, stirring euphoria in the same way his instrument typically divines sorrow. Peace and calm radiate from Luke’s compositions as if the balance of the universe rested on his slide.

When he’s not crafting crystalline tones, Schneider has been a constant in alt-country circles playing with Natural Child and Black Lips before a change in life direction and higher profile stints backing Margo Price, Orville Peck and William Tyler. He continues to work as one of country’s leading sidemen — never the most technical player, but a unique force that allows him to continually put his stamp on his recordings. Here he proves that he’s more than a key element in an ensemble and that pedal steel can float as far as the synths into the edge of the cosmos. This one’s a 2020 essential.




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Ezra Feinberg

I’ve shared a bit of this new LP from Ezra Feinberg, but the album’s really not something that can be parsed out into bits and pieces. Feinberg made his mark in the sorely undersung band Citay, fusing guitar flash and virtoistic playing with a sun-baked good nature that was way ahead of the Cosmic Americana curve that’s reared its head the last few years. He’s since taken to more Kosmiche waters, with a stunning LP in 2018, Pentimento and others, which he’s ably expanded upon with the rippling Recumbent Speech. Now navigating territory smoothed by Terry Riley and canonized by the German synth set — think Harmonia, Cluster, or Rother’s solo works – the new territory suits him. Naturally there’s the stamp of Eno as well, but with Tim Green, Chuck Johnson, Robbie Lee, and Jonas Reinhardt in tow, Feinberg is building soundworlds of his own that recall the light spirit of Citay, but embrace the new age with wide-open eyes.

While the mood is serene, Feinberg has plenty of rhythm at play on the album. As with his previous outings his string work often creates a loping underbelly to tracks, but he’s meshing the repeated phrases with the soft skitter of drums that range from whispered shapes of a pulse to prog and jazz touches that feel at home with their ‘70s precursors. Most welcome here is the pedal steel of Johnson, who uses it to shade in the songs with a darkness that cools off the abundant ease of the album. Feinberg’s compositions use their players as subtle, yet essential layers. Even the vocals of Mandy Green and April Haley are woven between the cataclysmic crumble of “Ovation,” one of the album’s true highlights. With his previous outing, Feinberg set the stage for this new chapter in his output, but with Recumbent Speech he’s crafted a cosmic high water mark that should be touchstone for anyone looking to elevate minimal records for years to come.




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Tengger – “Eurasia”

While pan-Asian duo Tengger often lounge in the tranquil waters of ambient float, content to soundtrack the mists that encircle lost peaks along the road to Nirvana, “Eurasia” slots the band into a slightly more propulsive mold. The track is the midpoint of their upcoming album Nomad and its as much a turning point as any. The track reasserts an aptitude for blending atmospheres with beats that push ever forward with an insistence that’s never needling. However, their pull is felt. The band envisions the track as the pace of the Nomad mentioned in the title — a measured gate that gives into the unseen forces around him. To, “accept and flow with life, wherever we are,” the band puts forth as a mindset. With the DNA of Neu and Klaus Schulze in their veins, the band push the motorik impulses into a new generation, eschewing the modern tendency to mash these influences into a fine paste. They embrace the dichotomy of ambience and propulsion with a clear vision that ripples nicely in all directions off of “Eurasia.” The album is out June 12th on Beyond Beyond is Beyond.



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Channelers

It’s probably a bit obvious to state that cruising through the junkship, scroll-addled future of 2019 comes with a few stressors. Its hard to block out the noise and settle, even when ladled full-stop into the arms of nature it’s hard to let the brainwaves cool and enjoy the sounds and soft green light. The latest release from Channelers, aka Sean Conrad, takes a gentle swipe at easing that tension, or at least placing the listener in a sealed containment unit of perpetual bliss. Conrad lifts the burble of streams, the chirp of birds, the calm, yet vibrant rhythms of nature for his own use and drops them into his own imagined landscapes of synth float and dulcimer yawn. It’s not new territory to create utopian space via the musical landscape, but Conrad is deftly weaving his field recordings with just the right amount of meditative melt.

The Depth of Rest plays on the listener’s core of calmness, evoking what Conrad claims is a form of magical realism – virtual reality splayed on the backs of the eyelids and reaching into the upper echelons of the human condition. The record isn’t wallpaper or noise cancellation, it’s a full reset of the psyche. Between the imagined woodland respites and streamside oases listeners begin to feel the weight lift off of their minds and the everyday grip of sociopolitical body horror release for as long as they exist inside Channelers’ realm. It always ends, as I suppose it must, but while the red light of playback glows, its nice to be alone in this cocoon of calm.




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SUSS

There’s a sense of cosmic wonder built into the sinews of Suss’ latest LP, High Line. The veteran NYC band blends a mix of ambient textures with a high plains country crawl that slices Bruce Langhorne with Barn Owl for a trip down an otherworldly rabbit hole. The album has a hermetic magic to it, lonesome, melancholy, but all consuming and engrossing in a way that seems to transcend more than just just feelings. Like a great work in sound design, Suss’ album seems to be narrating a journey, a wander through mystic corridors that’s beyond this plane. The songs ache with the hollowed marrow of driftwood — a life leeched by the sea and left to burn up in the sun – yet the discarded pieces of pulp have tales to tell, a world left behind in their sunbleached bends. High Line is an album marked by erosion and exfoliation, something that seeks to sink deeper into the strata beyond the dip of the horizon.

The band slinks from mirage to mirage, never explaining but always beckoning with a silent wave of the hand for the listener to follow deeper. It’s as if some truth might be uncovered over the next ridge, but there’s always a next ridge. Somehow when the glare recoils we’re left only with ourselves alone in a parking lot wondering if it was all shimmer and shine, or if those epiphanies were tangible and touchable. It doesn’t matter in the end. We’re changed and the sun sets a few degrees to the North from here on out. New maps are forged while the rest of the world sleeps. The album is the band at their peak, feeling out the lay lines of a new and dire era. For those who can see the cartography, this one’s gonna be a stunner. The rest will just hear the wind rustling and wander lost.




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ARP – “Voices”

Following on the success of his 2018 album ZEBRA ARP’s Alexis Georgopoulos put together a live ensemble to play Mexican Summer’s 10th Anniversary. The live setup netted a great response and Alexis and the band wound up in the studio working out an album with a five-person ensemble combing through material from the previous album and exploring new avenues in atmospherics and dub. The first track from the new Ensemble LP finds ARP diving through the kind of haunted ambiance that drew Georgopoulos to the sparse, yet affecting works of Finis Africae. It’s a slinking, saturated track, slicked with moss and seeping through the rocks. The new LP is out November 15th. It’s a new side to the ARP story and sounding pretty good at that.



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Fabulous Diamonds – G.B.H.

This is not a band I’d expected to return to the fore. It’s been seven years since Melbourne duo Fabulous Diamonds issued their sorely overlooked Commercial Music. They’re still crawling through the murk, turning creeping menace into dub-flecked ambient anthems. “G.B.H” is lost in a miasma of haze, pulling bits of twisted John Carpenter synth through a fog of fear and doubt and dread. The band has always threaded the outskirts of pop, finding doors in that no one thought to explore. This album sees the band jump to A L T E R, who are quickly making an imprint picking up all manner of experimental impulses at home and abroad. The band’s last was actually the subject of Ripley Johnson’s Hidden Gems, feel free to check that here. The new LP arrives September 20th.



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