I don’t know why I’ve taken such a sour turn on new guitar-based releases this year; maybe it’s because so much of the shit I’m seeing pushed everywhere is incredibly derivative and unnecessary, maybe it’s because I’m not looking in the right places or that 2017’s glut of greatness spoiled me for 2018. Or maybe it’s because I’m old. Regardless of the answer, I’ve spent a lot of time this year either clicking around to check out a lot of ambient (using the term as a general umbrella) material that’s being released by a growing number of eccentric labels or digging into the boxes of CDs I have crammed in various storage spaces in my apartment, much to the obvious joy of my partner.
My last self-indulgent excursion into this field was centered on dungeon synth but as I am a man of many hats I figured I’d diversify this list to include some more spacey or tripped-out pieces. Also I don’t wear hats, my head is too big and I look fucking ridiculous. So now that we’ve established that I’m a liar here’s some things to check out if you’re so inclined.
- Sombrous: Transcending The Umbra (Forever Plagued Records)
Forever Plagued Records is mostly known for releasing underground black metal, so when they released this record by Sombrous it came as a bit of a surprise. Really bleak and mind-expanding space ambient that, unlike a lot of work under that sort of tag, really gives the listener the aural experience of the vast loneliness of space. As far as I know this project only did the one full-length in 2004 but I suppose it’s better to just release one perfect recording rather than years of mediocrity.
- Afsprengi Satans: Djöful Ieg (Mystikaos)
A lot of ambient artists make an attempt to be unsettling or frightening with their work and it comes off as some shit you’d play at Halloween to scare trick or treaters or somehow manages to be derivative of 1980s electronic pioneers, only somehow more focused on a child fucking aesthetic than said founders. When you manage to find something that’s actually captured a dark and unsettling aura without some kind of genre marker cliché to fuck it all up then you’re onto something special. Afsprengi Satans is one of those special finds where the soundscapes are hellish but also genuine and interesting. Just layer upon layer of terrifying sounds that make me appreciate never having heard it when I had a drug problem because I probably would have tried to kill myself again.
- Laurie Spiegel: The Expanding Universe
Initially I started looking into space ambient a year or so ago when I had something resembling free time to work on things in my life I’d been putting off. I wanted something I could put on to keep my mind stimulated without having to really follow anything, which sounds fucking stupid now that I’ve verbalized it. Anyway, I was also nostalgic, for some reason, for the sort of music they would play in planetariums in the 1980s when I was a wee lad, so I started digging in and listened to hours of electronic music from the ’70s and ’80s trying to find something to scratch that particular itch. I came across the music of Laurie Spiegel through this and, unlike pretty much everything else I found, her work actually made more than just a passing impression on me. Without sacrificing my word count I can only recommend that you read up on her and the experiments in sound she did over her career. It’s all interesting and worth a few minutes of your time.
- Dead Times/Winter Line (AumWar Recordings)
Both of these projects include Steven Vallot, a previous collaborating partner of mine as well as The Body (Dead Times also included Lee Buford for a time), and both are worth your attention if you’re interested in incredibly bleak and somewhat challenging listening. Dead Times did a cassette and a split LP that aren’t too difficult to find and are both possibly some of the most negative listening experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. Winter Lines is on the less noisy side of things but still a pretty fucking unhappy experience. Vallot has spent years honing his craft and, unlike a majority of “noise artists” or whatever you want to classify it as, he’s always involved in something interesting and worth paying attention to.
- Tripwire: Intellavoid (Fluttering Dragaon Records)
As established in previous pieces I’ve done for this site I’m a big fan of the work of Fredrik Soderlund (Octinomos, Parnassus, etc.) so I was glad to be able to put his work into another piece. Tripwire was a brief excursion he took into electronic music in the late ’90s, mostly a more relaxing sonic experience than any of his other projects. I don’t know what the fuck kids would call it now (chillwave? retro? whatever) but it’s pretty apparent that he was listening to a lot of house and triphop stuff at the time, and while it sounds somewhat dated now, it’s still a record that I put on when I need to let go of reality for a bit.
- Morihaus: The Empty Marches (Hollow Myths)
I couldn’t do a list of ambient music without including at least one dungeon synth project and, of course, Hollow Myths once again delivers a project that stands out from the ever-crowded Casio meets Lord of the Rings landscape that dungeon synth is becoming. Morihaus manages to sound both like you’re under the ruins of a castle and on the surface of the moon. Another great addition to what has become my favorite label for this type of music.
I’m sure I’ll eventually come around to new metal and punk records from this year and I’m holding a lot of hope for the Outer Heaven full-length coming later in the year on Relapse but for right now I’m content with digging around in dark places outside of the realm of what we normally look into.