Cloudsound - Static Sense & Wonder Stasis (пANOEON, 2016)
Cloudsound returns with another album full of resplendent drone, a perfectly titled longplayer of songs that contain so much musicality, stirring melodies and exploration of space beneath its placid, tranquil surface. I've been mulling over the phrase "Wonder Stasis" since I've heard this record and while being the title of the album's 28 minute closer, I think the phrase here reveals a lot of what draws me to this record and ambient, drone-based music in general. While it is easy to point out the utilitarian effects of ambient music - it's calming effects, it's ability to imbue other activities with purpose and meaning - so much of the calming equilibrium belies how much music is happening at any given moment. Cloudsound's tracks are filled with long, eliding drones that unspool like tape held out of a car window, but between those massive tonal shifts are even smaller births and deaths of pulling, effulgent tones, small guitar runs, surging walls of softened distortion, feather-light arpeggios and porous walls of sound to float and be held in, rather than bashing our fists against. Out on cassette from the lovely пANOEON label out of Yaroslavl, Russia.
Panoptique Electrical - Disappearing Music for a Face (Sound in Silence, 2016)
For someone who came of age in the era of CD-R labels it is really lovely to see labels continuing to put out compelling releases with aesthetically interesting packaging on CD. Some of my favorite releases this year came from Polar Seas Recordings, Eilean Records and now Sound in Silence - an Athens, Greece Based label. Disappearing Music for a Face comes on the heels of Jason Sweeney's highly regarded collaboration with Richard Adams of Hood and The Declining Winter (a hugely influential artist for me) and highlights the Adelaide, Australia musician's ability to compose spacious and airy electro-acoustic compositions with a variety of collaborators. Centered around hypnotic acoustic piano lines, Sweeney and collaborators wrap these compositions with swelling drone, low-end rumbling, upper-register tonal fluctuations and, on the case of "A Forest Forlorn" and "Near Life" slow BPM electronic percussion that serve to accentuate the linear movement of the album. By building off of a firm foundation of Sweeney's piano compositions each accruement is able to find ample space in the high-ceiling cathedral of the album. Highly recommended.
Oxherding - The Past is Gone and The Future is Not Yet Here (Self-Released, 2016)
"Damn. I love everything about this tape" were my initial thoughts when I received this in the mail before even putting it in the deck. The J-Card spanning shot of the sky, the clear cassette with beautiful black overlaid print, the little card dedicating the cassette to "everyone fighting against injustice and hatred in my broken hometown of St. Louis, Missouri". It is heartbreaking and ambitious. The idea of wordless music as protest music. White helmet, war-time medic. Classic style drone in the vein of Stars of the Lid assembling and massaging massive walls of drone underneath open-skied production that allow each assemblage to sound out apart and together in unison with the overall barge of the composition cutting a slow clip through some placid, high-cliffed channel. It is a gracious sort of gift. Creating these healing passages and dedicating them to your city that have recently erupted in flames. A balm to soothe the aching psyches of your peers and fellow citizens trying to process so much ugliness and bravery of the human condition.
Tristan Welch - Washington D.C. (Self-Released, 2016)
A laudable 16 minute debut by Fairfax, VA drone artist Tristan Welch. Drones in the key of "D" and "C" that are both palpable and weightless. The kind of ambient tape you can put on and blissfully forget you are listening to while wondering why your day-to-day seems somehow imbued with some golden light of meaning. Deeper listens reveal a layering of lapped notes within the same key, an excercise in kinetic meditation. Individual notes puncturing the ether and then collapsing back onto itself. Spooling and unspooling like the chain on an anchor reacting to the tides.
Endurance - City of Signals (Illuminated Paths, 2016)
"There have been people without cities. But what about cities without people?" - Saul Bellow
City of Signals serves as a soundtrack to short story of an abandoned city where the only remnants of human beings are the machines programmed to run without the aid of humans. Traffic signals direct empty streets. Automated trains glide without passengers. Computers still regulate themselves. The tape by Canada-via-Japan musician Joshua Stefane captures the emptiness and pathos that come with imagining a city without people in it. In it he captures the repeating, programmed pulse emitting sounds of digital code controlling mechanical objects while putting those sounds to the services of musical movements that tend to trigger emotions of sadness and wistfulness without being too sentimental. Light arpeggiated synth lines and long pulls of resonant drone intermingle with natural field recordings. Evidence that nature will eventually assume its rightful place. Trees growing in empty hotel lobbies. Vines choking rail systems and growing through broken windows. Conceptually and musically, it is hard not to imagine this being one of the best ambient releases of the year.