"October Lights and Fields, Pt. 1" by Lost Trail // How an Absence Creates a Presence (Available Now via Carpi Records)
It’s funny how a piece of music can conjure an image in your head. Perhaps, it’s just recalling a memory that’s vague enough to not quite register as your own. Ambient music works this way for me. Correction: great ambient music works this way. There’s certainly a difference. “October Lights and Fields, Pt. 1” by North Carolina’s Lost Trail is exactly that kind of music. Upon first listen, my mind immediately shifted to thoughts of deep, red canyons unfurled out toward the horizon - beneath the darkest blue sky that i have ever seen. It reminded me of a time in my life when everything was chaos, and in an attempt to get my head right, I found myself parked at an overlook in Utah - lost, unable to drive another mile. I must have sat there for five hours, just staring as the sky turned darker shades of blue and the dull, rhythmic hum of the nearby highway provided a sort-of natural score to my mind’s anxieties. Eventually, the natural elements washed those anxieties away and put me in a place of calm, that allowed me to finish that trip. Hearing the lonely drone of “October Lights and Fields” brings back that mesmerizing calm. The warped opening sample spinning away as the crackling ambient loop takes over, feeding your brain with a hypnotic beauty that can only hold for so long before it too drifts away, washed out by a static world of noise.
"Blood Moon" by Raum // Event of Your Leaving (Out 11.15.13 via Glass, House)
Raum is a collaboration between Liz Harris (Grouper) and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Being a fan of Harris’s work as Grouper is not necessary to enjoy the sounds of Raum, yet they feel linked and comparable. The biggest shift is that whereas the sound of Grouper tens to lean toward the ethereal and otherworldly, Raum experiments more with flat out noise and reverb. As the atmosphere is flooded with oceans of reverb, peaks and valleys of cinematic synths begin to show through - pushing the drone into some lovely hidden spaces that open up into haunting soundscapes that exist just beyond the noise. One could certainly classify this as challenging and that may be, but throughout it’s six minute runtime, it’s never unnecessary. It feels alive and vibrant, if even a little sinister.
"Found" by SPC ECO // Sirens and Satellites (Out Now via Bandcamp)
SPC ECO continues to be as prolific as ever, releasing another full length to Bandcamp after releasing two full lengths, an EP, a remix album, and string of singles in just a little over a year. Luckily, the plethora of releases hasn’t dulled the band’s ability to churn out gorgeous spaced out shoegaze and hazy, ethereal dream pop sounds. “Found” is the closer from the band’s latest full length, "Sirens and Satellites", which just dropped this week. The track is a shadowy lullaby that uses an airy, minimalist piano line to perfectly compliment Rose Berlin's haunting, ethereal vocals. The end result sounds like some stunning collaboration between early Sigur Ros and Julianna Barwick. Highest possible recommendation.
"Fractalfingers" by Savage Sister // Savage Sister (Out Now via Bandcamp)
Savage Sister is a Chicago based dream pop/drone/shoegaze project that is mostly the work of one man, Michael Tenzer. The band’s self titled debut LP recently dropped, revealing a collection of ethereal electro-tinged shoegaze tracks that call to mind the fantastic work of Liz Harris's Grouper, as well as Jessica Bailiff's shimmering ambient/shoegaze compositions. What makes Tenzer's work really stand out is the light touch of textures that permeates the album. Vocals are used as instruments and delicate waves of synths glide in and out of tracks offering more texture than you're usually gifted on ethereal drone releases. The otherworldly beauty of a track like “Fractalfingers” is derived mostly from the layered soundscapes that melt together to create sweeping waves of airy ambiance. If you listen closely, you can hear a pop melody here and there, but instead of carrying the song, they just play their part in creating an exciting and dreamy wave of beautiful noise. Highly recommended.
"Barren (Hounds)" by Camp Counselors // Huntress (Available Now via Bandcamp)
Kyle J. Reigle, the artist behind one of last year’s most underrated (and downright stunning) albums ("The Wilderness" by Cemeteries) is back with a new project to soundtrack your crisp summer nights. Using the moniker, Camp Counselors, Reigle has set aside the autumnal dream pop of Cemeteries, and slid comfortably into a starker, minimalist ambient sound that feels alive and despite an occasional sinister pulse, carries a genuinely inviting, yet mysterious, sound. Sure, the inspiration may come from the often creepy tones of lost horror scores, but the melodic song structures can’t help but draw you in to the wonderful sound that feels like a winter thaw breaking into spring. Then again, if the seasonal connection is not your thing, the album is brimming with gorgeously eerie soundscapes that border on the ethereal and would make any late night summer walk under the stars feel a little foreboding. “Barren (Hounds)” is a perfect representation of the excellence that awaits inside the hallways and corridors of “Huntress”. An ethereal hum wraps a dreamy synth line as distant vocals lead toward a stop/start electro beat that pushes toward a haunting shift in the latter part of the song as ghostly synth sighs carry you out. It’s another incredible, beautifully atmospheric work from an artist with a excellent grasp of mood and melody. You can grab the album now at Bandcamp for a Name-Your-Price fee. Be sure to support talent like Reigle when and where you can, so that we can hear more from the young musician in the months and years to come. Highest recommendation.
"In Search of the Miraculous" by Mark McGuire // Along the Way (2013 via Inpartment Inc.)
Mark McGuire is an artist that always seems to pop up with something new just when I’ve stopped obsessing over his previous release. His work with Emeralds is amazing work, but his solo work is the stuff that keeps me coming back. Which is probably good, because he’s no longer a member of Emeralds. At any rate, McGuire’s brand of ethereal ambient/drone has developed into something extraordinary these past few years, and this new track, “In Search of the Miraculous” from the forthcoming album, "Along the Way", is itself, “miraculous”. The track is a shimmering, widescreen slice of psych pop layered with otherwordly vocals and guitars that shift and warp, flowing together in a way that feels like fantasy, but it’s real and you can hit “repeat” as much as you like. It’s really wonderful stuff. Highest recommendation for fans of Emeralds, Motion Sickness of Time Travel, and Skyramps.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - We Drift Like Worried Fire
from 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
"We Drift Like Worried Fire" by Godspeed You! Black Emperor // 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend (2012)
I found Godspeed You! Black Emperor at a turning point in my life. I was newly independent, had a burgeoning interest in the vast world outside of my little home, and was in the midst of a music revolution in my own mind - shifting from brit pop and indie rock to more experimental sounds. Everyone goes through a similar stage, I’m sure - mine happened to occur in the late 90’s/early 00’s. When “Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada” was released, I found myself at Flat, Black, and Circular in East Lansing, Michigan. It was just in and one of the guys working there (John - I wonder if he’s still there), who had been facilitating my expanse into new territories of sound, was listening to “Moya” from that record. The last half of that record left my jaw on the floor. I don’t thing that I had ever really heard something so massive and progressive, and challenging and beautiful as that particular orchestration. I bought it and found myself soon living in the sounds of GY!BE, who along with Sigur Ros soon became my go to bands for seeking further inspiration (be it political, musical, or referential). Two bands from different parts of the world, with different designs on music, but essentially the same effect on my brain - an atomic bomb of interest in everything that they were. I followed links and influences and off shoots and as Sigur Ros became more popular throughout the 00’s (and spawned many imitators), GY!BE drifted away (spawning even more imitators). Occasionally popping up in other bands and experiments. I kept waiting and hoping for something that would take me back to that feeling when I first heard “Moya”, but it never came (sure there were pieces of tracks on “Lift Yr Skinny Fists” that came close but never that introduction). Then, two weeks ago, they announced a new album and I eagerly sought it out, expecting another massively complex orchestration, peppered with drones and explosive power. I got those things. I also found myself stunned, and wrapped up in the awe of one particular track, “We Drift Like Worried Fire”, which started to feel like the way I did all those years ago. The strange thing being that you can’t have a second first impression, so I was not shocked by the band’s power. I was freshly invigorated by it all, one more time. No longer did I find myself leaning to the bands side projects, or the bands that were inspired by their sound, I was back listening to Godspeed do the thing that they are so brilliant at - challenge and push and inspire while leaving you in awe of the power of music - triumphant, sorrowful, and ominous simultaneously.
"It’s All Come Undone" by Tropic of Cancer // Permissions of Love (2012)
Sometimes it’s not a particular melody or harmony that grabs your attention, it’s just a singular vibe. Tropic of Cancer have regularly grabbed my attention with their releases by providing that, a vibe or an atmosphere. The band regularly produce dark and haunting compositions that are equal parts beautiful and menacing and tend to exist somewhere between post punk, goth pop, and drone. “It’s All Come Undone” is a ghostly, hypnotic beauty from the “Permissions of Love” EP, which is now available for stream and purchase at Bandcamp. Highly recommended. It’s easy to get lost in these sounds.
This collaboration of Tiny Vipers and Liz Harris's Grouper project is, at once, exactly what you’d expect from these two masters of ambient minimalism, and oddly, something very different. While it maintains the same sort of slowcore ambiance of some of the material produced by both artists on their own, here there is more of a welcoming nature that blends into a widescreen atmospheric vibe, bordering on dream pop more than drone. It’s a gorgeous record for late night listening and it’s lead off track “Fell Sound” is one of my highlights of the year so far. It’s six and a half minutes of minimalist beauty that you can easily get lost in. Absolutely recommended for fans of Grouper, Julianna Barwick, or Stars of the Lid.
"Ceremony" by Shanz // Originally by Joy Division//New Order
The lovely, talented, and always interesting Shanz has been posting covers and originals on her Soundcloud page for a while now (you may remember her cover of MGMT’s “Kids” that I posted a while back) and somehow I managed to miss this gem. Here she’s got an excellent noise-pop/bedroom pop take on the Joy Division/ New Order classic, “Ceremony”. Really great stuff.
A kind of stripped bare spoken word elegy backed by a distorted and warped somber drone. It’s strange, because in the opening seconds of hearing it, I was sure I would hit “stop” in no time, but I was soon wrapped up and caught in what was being said and how it was being said. It’s not the kind of music you hear every day, but maybe you should.