andrew kruse-ross | spin sessions | march 2019
As ambient music continues to evolve, it becomes more problematic to fit the genre into a preformed box. Regardless, Brian Eno's description of the genre as music “designed to induce calm and space to think" remains remarkably accurate.
After some years of listening to ambient music, I've learned to see popular music — even that which I still enjoy — differently. Where so much popular music requires that you come along for the ride and provides the listener with distraction, ambient music is happy to sit beside you and let you live your life, deepening it and offering focus, clarity or reflection in the process.
So, whether you're looking to unwind after a long day, deepen your yoga routine or simply want to add a soundtrack to the falling snow or setting sun, there's likely room in your record crate for a few ambient recordings. Without further ado, here are three recent ambient recordings to lose (or find) yourself in.
Once in a while a record enters your life at just the right moment. When life offers the illusion of taking more than it is giving, one either gives up or presses on. For those that press on there's “Adrift." The liner notes say the album “touchingly discusses the feelings of uncertainty and optimistic doubt that come with maturation and onset adulthood." True to this statement, “Adrift" captures a mood of uncertainty that never becomes too dark and instead swells with optimism and resolve. And much like Picasso's early works show us the man indeed grasped his craft long before unveiling the cartoonish figures of his later period, so too does Farrugia's piano work express his control of composition on songs like “Roots" and “Inertia." In no way a young work, melodic piano parts and the occasional percussive beat make “Adrift" a brilliant introduction into the genre. The album, which also features the work of Farrugia's brother, to whom the album is dedicated, features an exemplary cover supplied by photographer Alexander Kopatz of go70north.com.
William Basinski + Lawrence English
Selva Oscura (2018)
Without melody, percussion or discernable rhythm, “Selva Oscura" represents what one might be inclined to say is a truer expression of ambient music. A collaboration between two of the genre's mainstays, it lacks the handlebars of Farrugia's “Adrift," but if you're new to the genre, don't let that slow you from picking this one up. Where Farrugia's work sets the mood of oneself moving through the world, “Selva Oscura" does the opposite, and we're set upon some axis as the ever-evolving soundscape of this two-track album unfolds around us. It's as though the dark forest of Dante's “Inferno," for which this album is titled, moves as it always has, unaware or unmoved by the listener's role as spectator. Comforting yet mysterious and decidedly deceptive, “Selva Oscura" is a record that deserves repeated listens as new elements reveal themselves upon every listen.
Means of Knowing (2018)
I've yet to be disappointed by anything this Philadelphia trio lays down and their latest, “Means of Knowing," is no exception. Quality ambient albums often play out like a soundtrack, if not to our own lives, then to some as yet unseen film. “Means of Knowing" does this with warmly ethereal swells, swirling chords drenched with echoing reverb and faintly distant piano passages. Much like the works of Roberto Bolaño, whose stories so often swirl upon the periphery of some secret knowledge that will never be revealed to us, so too do the tracks of “Means of Knowing" swirl around some yet unrealized action. Comprised of relatively young musicians, Hotel Neon is proof positive that the genre's future is in good hands.
Honorable Mentions: Person by Jogging House, massif by ann annie, Stratus by SVLBRD, The final curtain by Mathias Grassow.
“Adrift," “Selva Oscura" and “The Means of Knowing" are available on vinyl, CD and as a digital download via the Archives, William Basinski and Hotel Neon bandcamp.com pages respectively.
Honorable Mentions are available either as a digital download and/or CD via bandcamp.com.