Q1 2020 – Let the music play

You’d think I’d be hammering out the blogs given all the time I/we have on our hands these days. It’s a product of these times that I find myself tired a lot despite not travelling anywhere. I’ve always been a home lover but adjusting to it 24 hours a day has been more challenging that I imagined. Still, I’m into the groove now and am happy to start sharing some gorgeous albums from early in 2020.

It’s taken until the last month to get back immersed back into the ambient world. The first quarter of 2020 has seen many excellent releases to soothe the soul. In no particular order:

Jonas MunkMinimum Resistance

MotionfieldAlways There

Mercury KXFlow (Compilation)

The Daydream Club – Piano Project // Duets

Slow Dancing Society & ZakeMirrored

Federico Mosconi – Il Tempo Della Nostra Estate

Black TaffyOpal Wand

MogwaiZeroZeroZero OST

GhostpoetI Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep

Jonas Munk is responsible for so much of the music I love as he records as Manual and Billow Observatory. If you are a fan of either monikers, then you know what you are getting with this release. To me, it is simple, this is an album so distant and so beautiful, it’s mesmerising. There is certainly nothing hurried about Minimum Resistance.

Almost without fail I’ve played this daily during the lockdown. If, like me, you’ve struggled to settle during these times, this is an album to sit back and disappear into. I love it when I find an album that combines total ambience and euphoria. Highly recommended.

Motionfield’s Always There has a curiously frenetic (it’s all relative) start with ‘Always There Part 1’. The remaining 10 ‘parts’ wash by in a haze.

Mercury KX released the compilation album ‘FLOW’celebrating the label’s third anniversary. There are new tracks by my favourites such as Federico Albanese of The Blue Hour fame. The main sell however, is Nils Frahms’ reworking of Ólafur Arnalds’ For Now I Am Winter. It’s wonderful, as is much of the rest of Flow.

The Daydream Club – Piano Project // Duets is pretty much as the titled suggests.  ‘Plinky plonk’ as my wife once described it. Piano Project // Duets is the sixth album release by The Daydream Club and it is a decade since their debut album Overgrown. It’s duets by pianists. It works.

The Slow Dancing Society (& Zake) release Mirrored showcases both ambient techno (there’s a pulse somewhere in the distance) initially, then slowly drifting off into drones for the remainder of the album. Like Jonas Munk, an album to disappear into and relax the mind and body.

Federico Mosconi is a new name to me. I took a punt as his name appeared in my Spotify ‘Release Radar’. Really glad I did as it is gorgeous. Waves of ambience. Can’t get enough of Il Tempo Della Nostra Estate.

Black Taffy (Donovan Jones) released Opal Wand just last week. He was once a member of post-rock band This Will Destroy You explaining how I first came across his work. This album is more electronic than the others in this list and presents a blend of melody and darkness.

Mogwai are my favourite band, hands down. I’ve grown older as they have, and they always deliver an album that speaks to me at the right time in my life. Their soundtracks have been immense: Zidane, Les Revenants and the epic Atomic, clearly show that. ZeroZeroZero is another expansive soundtrack. Due to these times, it has only been released digitally to date. Can’t wait for the vinyl.

Lastly, the big surprise for me was Ghostpoet. I’d ignorantly dismissed Ghostpoet as I assumed it wasn’t for my ageing bones. I was wrong. I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is a very musical album, clever lyrics and enough repetition to stick in the mind; ‘Selfie away, make sure you use all the filters’. My daily walk has been soundtrack by this album a lot. The biggest musical surprise for me this year.

So, it’s not been the best start to the year but, as always, the music lives on.

Best of 2019

It’s late November and apart from next weeks (Nov 29th) release of Pop Ambient 2020 there’s nothing likely to scare my annual album list. I spent a ridiculous amount of time listening to old 80s records this year. Despite that, many gems were still found in 2019.

 

#10
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Their one millionth studio album. No sign of a dip in standard.  Everything about the album is quality even down to the vinyl release – slate vinyl, shiney inner and plastic outer sleeves. It’s proper rock ‘n’ roll, with the BJM languid twist. I’m slowly working my way through purchasing the back catalogue. I fear I may never get there.

 

#9
Edwin CollinsBadbea
We saw Edwin this year playing in Dundee. Despite everything that’s happened to him he still writes great tunes and has an unmistakable voice. The tunes on Badbea stack up very well when played next to the classic Orange Juice tracks live. It’s a blessing he is still making music. It would’ve been my Scottish Album of the Year, but that’s just me. The train from Glasgow to London is still running.

 

#8
Sigur Ros presents Liminal Sleep
2.5 hours long, a more bitseize version of the Max Richter concept album Sleep. I love it when Jonsi gets all ambient on us. Works a treat as it has soundtracked my sleep many a time during 2019.

 

#7
Slow MeadowHappy Occident
I fell behind with album releases and listened a lot of ambient albums in a short space of time to catch-up. Many fell by the wayside, but Slow Meadows album shone through. I’m still playing it now and it currently soundtracks those sunrises whilst travelling to work. It’s short but perfectly formed.

 

#6
Cigarettes After SexCry
Pretty much the same as their debut album. That’s totally alright by me. A band that suits the darker nights. Somber, soporific and uplifting at the same time. Love them, love Cry.

 

#5
A Winged Victory for the SullenThe Undivided Five
Four years I’d been waiting on this. The proper studio follow up to the immense Atomos. Nothing wrong with Iris, but it was a film score. Whilst The Undivided Five doesn’t tell a story like it’s predecessor, it is packed with lush orchestration throughout. Accompanied by a ‘making of’ documentary, it showed the level of detail these two incredible artists go to when creating an album.

 

#4
Sebastian PlanoVerve
This made the start of the year interesting. An album with a story, (see full review Sebastian Plano – Verve) it is a surprise it was ever made. It’s lush atmospheric piano stuff and includes Purples, my favourite tune of 2019.

 

#3
Colm Mac Con IomaireThe River Holds Its Breath
Suggested you me by a friend at work (cheers TT). Fiddles abound, it’s instrumental and very Celtic. I found myself listening to more traditional music in the second half of the year, with Rura also being discovered. It still makes me smile whenever I hear it even though I know every twist and turn of the album. It hasn’t been released on vinyl sadly, but we live in hope.

 

#2
Thom YorkeAnima
I grew to love this over a period of time. The short movie supporting the album on Netflix helped me understand the album better. It’s electronic, downbeat and glitchy. The vinyl packaging is gorgeous, with hand drawn images on both the cardboard inner sleeves. The vinyl also includes an extra track – Ladies & Gentleman, Thank You For Coming – a borderline euro screamer. See full review Thom Yorke – Anima

 

#1
Violeta Vicci Autovia
Classical violinist (viola, electronics etc.) meets production legend Youth and an absolutely gorgeous, ambient album is born. I was blown away from first listen and I’ve grown to love it more as the months have passed. Even if you’re not an ambient lover, this is still worth a listen. Released in August, this was the first in a line of wonderful album releases, some of those mentioned above. However, Autovia remains the best. Nice white vinyl to boot.

Jaykits Vol. 14

The annual Jaykits mix. It’s been a good year.

1.     ‘Tuning Out’ – Halftribe

2.     ‘Capsules of Energy’ – Max Wurden

3.     ‘You’ve Arrived’ – Cocoon

4.     ‘The Assassination’ – Martin Phipps

5.     ‘Purples’ – Sebastian Plano

6.     ‘Eventually’ – Helios

7.     ‘Her Angled Beauty’ – Levi Patel

8.     ‘Severance’ – Ian Hawgood

9.     ‘String Quartet No. 2’ – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

10.   ‘Fevrier’ – Tiny Leaves

11.   ‘Moving On’ – Laurent Eyquem

12.   ‘Dawn Chorus’ – Thom Yorke

13.   ‘Explosions in Slow Motion’ – BvDub

14.   ‘Our Reflection’ – Max Richter

15.   ‘Rudderless’ – Chris Weeks

Klaus Schulze – Timewind

A friend of mine does a lot of work restoring old houses. He often clears them of stuff that’s been left behind. Sometimes there’s some vinyl left over. If it is not claimed, he gets lucky. One of the albums he got, he passed onto me. That album is Klaus Schulze Timewind. My word, it’s good.

70s ambient is a rare beast for me these days, but is never forgotten. Tangerine Dream and even some Yes/Rick Wakeman still get a play now and again. The genre is another much maligned time in music. It doesn’t help when the aforementioned Rick Wakeman talks of sending out for a curry during Side 3 of Tales For Topographic Oceans when he played it live. In fact, Tales For Topographic Oceans was one of my favourite albums from that time. I can now add Timewind to the favourite list.

It is a little surprising, given the niche nature of this album, that it was a successful album for Schulze. He won an award for this, that meant it was stocked across many places of education in France. This, no doubt, contributed significantly to the units shifted. Although, i’m no expert on classical music, there are apparent references to Wagner. As was the fashion at that time, there are only 2 tracks: Bayreuth Return and Wahnfried 1883, each clocking in around the 30 minute mark.

What does it sounds like? Tangerine Dream isn’t a bad place to start. However, it is definitely more progressive and less monotonous. I am also a massive Nils Frahm fan. His tune Says reminds me of Timewind (i’d heard Says first so maybe it’s the other way around). Using only keyboards, synths and delays, the 2 pieces drift in and out of your consciousness without wavering from their core purpose. There aren’t drones in the modern sense, but the tracks are structured with that type of minor key backdrop. However, both are much lighter and very easy to listen to. The highlight is Bayreuth Return. I love the way it moves in an out, subtly shifting and changing but always maintaining the listeners interest.

2 things of note to finish:

It was reissued a while back with extra tracks. Live versions of Bayreuth Return and another track, Windy Times. Worth seeking out.

I read somewhere each track was recorded in a single take, Kudos.

I’m off to power my way through his extensive back catalogue.

Halftribe – Backwater Revisited

I can always rely on Ryan Bisset (aka Halftribe) to deliver an album that totally speaks to me. Also, a label (Dronarivm) that includes Brock Van Wey (bvdub), is likely to present a joy. Backwater Revisited is definitely that. Most of this summer Halftribe (along with WarmthWildlife) have soundtracked my sleep over the summer.

Backwater Revisited, the 4th album by Halftribe, unsurprisingly comprises instrumental landscapes underpinned by lightweight drones. It follows hot the heels of 2018 For the summer, or forever, which was one of the musical highlights of 2018. It’s fair to say a Halftribe release is much looked forward to at Jaykits HQ.

Backwater Revisited kicks off with Tuning Out, which immediately evoked memories of my teenage (late teenage) years and particularly a Creation label act called Sheer. A simple pulse, a repetitive growl, a piano layer and distant vocals create a dark but enticing opening. What follows, over the course of the remaining 12 tracks, is pure beauty. Drones, stretched whispering vocals, keys and softly plucked, heavily filtered guitars predominate as is perfectly evident on More than Autumn.

The entire album never feels hurried. There is always this feeling of space and, despite the relatively repetitive nature of some of the tracks, it never feels overly long. The track lengths are kept to a minimum, only breaking through the 6 minute barrier when the album goes Off Kilter. Curiously, this track really reminds me of I’m not in Love by 10CC. You can make your own mind upon about that. Ideosyncrasy, changes the key but not the mood. It is darker but still maintains the feel overall. I could wax lyrical about the remainder of the tracks on Backwater Revisited but they are primarily variations on a theme. This is no bad thing at all, as for soundtracking sleep there are no surprises. After all, even Dark Side of the Moon has Money to shake the listener from their stupor. Interestingly, the least effective album track is the title track. There is little to lift the drone that forms the basis of this piece. A special mention should go to the fluttering keys of Kaja and the majestic closer Linear with the sound of the dawn chorus.

This will no doubt feature in many end of year lists. It’s already in mine.

The Wonder Years 1995-97 Epic House

In a break from norm, I’ve been replaying my old house music mixes on my work commutes….

‘Epic House’, is the ‘self-indulgent’, ‘overblown’ genre that had the dance music press up in arms back in the mid 90s. It is true, that this genre was the dance music equivalent of prog-rock. Long winding intros, a smattering of beats then breaking down into an apparent infinite time. I can remember looking around dance floors during a synth break, laying eyes on a sea of faces wondering if the sound system had packed in, or was it the faintest hum of a rumbling baseline or drumroll (remember them?) that would sometime, very much later work, its way into earshot. These tunes often didn’t breakdown once, but multiple times. Purveyors of long tunes Blue Amazon, created a suite of epics such as ‘No Other Love’ & ‘And Then The Rain Falls’ which almost spent as much time in the breakdown as they did in its 4/4 state.  Mixing became a little lazy, as DJs started putting intros and outros together, meaning less thought went into the mix, but also yet more time was spent in the breakdown. More vacant stares.

It may sound as if I’m a critic of the genre, on the contrary. For me this was a happy time in dance music, excluding the early renaissance parties at the Que Club and Bakers, this was probably my happiest. I still smile thinking of Sasha’s 12 Nights Of Summer in Leeds and the set Sasha & Digweed played at the Phoenix Festival in 1997. Whilst my friends were out watching David Bowie, I consumed the full 5.5 hours of that event, curiously finished with the Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’. The Renaissance stately home bash at Allerton Hall was another ‘epic’ evening. Nigel Dawson et al. playing beautiful sweeping house only to be interrupted by Paul Oakenfold peddling the same stuff he’s still playing today (he is as I’ve listened to his Live at Stonehenge Mix). Finally, BT produced the monumental ‘Ima’ which included, for me, one of the greatest records ever made – ‘Divinity’. If ever there was a journey in a record, that was it. Ima also included ‘Loving You More’ (Sasha played 2 mixes of this, at over 20 mins, regularly during 1995). Good times!

I fully understand the rose tinted spectacle angle on this but what can you do? The mix I put together all those years ago, still put a smile on my face when I heard it the other week. Here it is. I hope you like.

Cocoon – You’ve Arrived

It’s been a good musical start to 2019: Umber and Billow Observatory were particularly strong releases, as was the immense Verve by Sebastian Plano. However, it was CocoonYou’ve Arrived that peaked my attention initially. What a rich and varied tapestry that it weaves. Taking in, ambient, modern classical, and even a bit of dub techno.

Cocoon, the solo project of Clair Obscur kingpin Christophe Demarthe, is his fourth album on Optical Sound. There is a pulse that underpins this album. Sometimes it veers off into beautiful ambience, other times something altogether more industrial. However, it all works, and all seems to fit together.

Bader is a slightly misleading opening. It promises something completely different than what follows. The album changes style into keys led piece, helpfully title Piano. The initially childlike/later industrial Romantic Distorsion with filtered vocals, first introduces the pulse. A Cure is a banger, pitched that up and it could be played on the more discerning dance floors. On Cab, all the influences come to bear, the childlike nature, the ambience and the pulse. Cindy & Bahn shows the dark and light in equal measures. Instant Valhalla is ambient techno, where echos and reverb predominate. Voyage, sits somewhere bang in the middle of a horror or Sci-Fi movie. Peace 3Mn reminds me a lot of the sound Sasha used on the original Northern Exposure back in the mid 90s. See, I told you it’s all different.

The title track You’ve Arrived is a dark epic. A sedentary pulse provides a structure to the synth. A slow march to the album finale Maos. which is another industrial banger. The album actually closes with Vinyl, which is roughly 3 seconds of static when a needle hits a record.

On the whole, this is not my usual bag but the variety of styles has enough to satisfy a wide variety of musical pallets. Highly recommended.

Sebastian Plano – Verve

Sebastian Plano is an Argentinian composer and musician. In recent years, he teamed up with Ben Lukas Boysen to create, the epic Everything; a 4hr Playstation game soundtrack which was my album of the year in 2017. The release of Verve has not been a straightforward story. 5 years or so ago, his computer and a couple of hard drives, were stolen from his car. Content lost included his latest EP, but also the album that could’ve/would’ve been Verve. Therefore, the painstaking process of attempting to recreate (from memory) the ‘lost’ album began. This was clearly a thankless task and nigh on impossible to do. However, to his credit, what emerged was Verve, if possible an improvement on the lost album?

From the brooding opening of Abeyance, it is soon after that the keys are introduced which is the mainstay and focus of Sebastian Planos’ work. Every piece sounds familiar, an extension of the previous one. The first true standout moment is the title track Verve which again, sounds familiar if you love this genre. My personal highlight is Purples. This is a beautiful swirling piece. I’m watching the sunrise over the hills as Purples is playing. Looking to the left, the pink glow on the snow covered hills, how poetic. Purples can provide a soundtrack to both the start or the end of the day in equal measures. To this point, it is the best tune I’ve heard in 2019. One Step Slower is another that catches the attention. This builds and builds delivering an epic finale. I’d read someone describe Verve a ‘plinky plonk’ music. I guess it is, but considering how many standout tunes there are, this is really good plinky plonk. Exta introduces the strings. A further level of depth to this album. Extrema continues where the previous track left off, more strings, more keys. Volant, almost feels like a lullaby, but a dark one if such a thing exists. The album is closed by the 7 minute Chiaroscuro. Another that builds, eventually fading out, bringing the album to a close, perfectly.

I love this album. The tunes feel simple but you know they’re not. It’s almost a mathematical equation for me: Keys + Strings = Joy. Verve is an early contender for album of 2019.

Helios – Veriditas

I was getting a little concerned. Each of the last 4 years have produced an album that I’ve been obsessed with, played almost daily, often daily. Mogwai, AWVFTS, Max Richter, and last year Ben Lukas Boysen and Sebastian Plano with Everything. August was nearly over and there had been albums i’d liked, liked a lot, but no de facto album.

August 31st saw the release of Veriditas by Keith Keniff, aka Helios. The aforementioned albums, from the last 4 years, all tell a story. They either soundtrack a movie, a sleep pattern, a game or are just sequenced to perfection as with ‘Atomos’. Veriditas, in my mind, isn’t a story, with no narrative as such, but is a wonderful collection of highly emotive music, delivered in a variety of styles. Incidentally, it has been a great year for Keith Kenniff as he was also responsible for Occasus via his Goldmund project. However, that is for another day.

From first listen it was clear Veriditas was special. From the opening tones of Seeming the listener is wrapped in a warm blanket of ambience. By track 4, the amazing Eventually, the listener is immersed in sheer beauty. In fact, tracks 3 (Dreams) and 4 alone make this album worth owning. Eventually evokes time gone by and then the horns emerge towards the middle of the piece and take it in a different direction completely to a swirling synth of an ending. Dreams produces tears and smiles in equal measure. The power of beautifully considered keys.

It is difficult to speak in detail about specific tracks on Veriditas as I am way too ignorant on the tools used to do them justice. What can be said is there is a beauty I haven’t heard on many albums this year. Even the darkness of North Wind isn’t overly oppressive. The guitar work on Upward Beside the Gate accompanied by a haunting backdrop displays another side of ambience, showing a master at work. Silverlight, is warm with the main section drifting in an out. Additional layers keeping the listener in the moment. This is music for sleep however, i’ve often found myself engaging with the music at night rather than drifting along with it.

Veriditas is music for night time made at night. Take a bow Keith Kenniff, thanks for making 2018 all the better.

Listen on Spotify:

Kathryn Joseph – Perth Theatre, 17/09/18

I went to the gig having listened toFrom When I Wake the Want Is a handful of times but not knowing Kathryn Joseph the performer particularly well. I’ve loved getting to know the album and the chance to hear it performed in its entirety, in my hometown was a must.

If you never heard Kathryn Joseph she has a very distinctive vocal. Slight vocal tremors are present and my wife reckons her sound sits somewhere between Kate Bush and Bjork, which seems pretty accurate. There is a child like quality to her voice which is very endearing as well as very effective, especially live.

The sound of wind (?) plays as the audience fills up and settles, eventually forming the intro to album opener ‘IIII’. Kathryn walks on stage, doesn’t look at the audience, sits down at her piano stool, adjusts her amazingly theatrical dress, whispers just about audibly, From when I wake…..’ and begins. Initially facing away from the audience, she is reflected in the mirrors that surround her carefully considered and highly effective stage setup. When the title track begins she turns to perform directly towards the audience. Her face partially illuminated, it is one of the many memorable moments created during this performance.

What follows is as near a perfect replication of the album as possible. Musically and vocally perfectly aligned. There are a couple of moments where the sound of wind (or some other background sound) returns to form a bridge between tracks, the album is 45 mins long but the performance was 1hr after all. During one bridge Kathryn gets up, takes a couple of sips of wine whilst facing away from the audience, puts the glass back in its holder, sits down and continues her spellbinding piano and vocal work. During the second bridge she turns some of the mirrors round so they now produce light rather than reflections. It’s all very theatrical, but adds to the spectacle. Again, she has a couple of sips of wine, sits down and continues.

The hour absolutely breezes by and before you know it, Kathryn is smiling and mouthing a ‘thank you’ to her now standing and applauding audience before she swiftly disappears off stage. A wonderfully confident performance of one of my favourite albums of 2018. My personal highlight was ‘Weight’, ‘The weight we were, the weight we are, all of my heart broken, black and blood lines…‘ This runs into the emotional closer, ‘^^’, which continues to play in my head on the journey home.

Thanks to Kathryn and Horsecross for bringing that performance to Perth. The other #mondaynightthing sessions have got a lot to live up to.