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

Thom Yorke – Anima

Album of the year alert!

I can’t stop playing this album. ANIMA, Thom Yorke’s third solo album is his most melodic and emotive work to date. Although the style hasn’t changed much since The Eraser or Tomorrows Modern Boxes, there is a rhythm that is present here which is more evident than his other 2 releases. Whilst the first 2 solo releases were also electronic and rhythmic in nature, they were not driven by it. Anima can move you physically as well as emotionally.

The album release was accompanied by a short film released on Netflix. The film shows Thom Yorke and the others dancing rhythmically in what appears to be some dystopian future, all set against 3 of the tracks on Anima. The film shows Yorke trying to escape from his grim existence, running uphill where others appear to accept their fate. Not being able to walk through turnstiles when others pass through with no problems. Losing that bag, the important bag, what’s with the bag? Watching the film helps Anima make more sense. It is beautifully choreographed with the actors (who are dancers) moving in a jerky manner along to the rhythm of the music. That’s my take on it anyway, it’s probably actually totally different.

The album is filled with glitches, baselines, dark lyrics and gorgeous swells. That influence of Flying Lotus is also very evident. It is not particularly aimed at the dance floor (however, much of Anima would work in clubs) but it is clearly electronic music. The beauty of the swells makes even the gloomiest of lyrics sound, perhaps, cheerful, but definitely poignant. Thom Yorke‘s vocal style also adding melancholy to the mix.

From the intro to Traffic with its’ breakbeats and its’ bass line, it is clear that Anima is a little bit different to what’s gone before in Thom Yorke‘s extensive back catalogue. The break towards the end of the track is big but rather than wind up and kick-in as expected, it leads into Last I Heard. From a gentle start, much is layered on, but ultimately, this tune spend its duration in the break. This ends up being one of the more ambient pieces. Twist, initially, changes all that. This is a tune of 2 halves, as midway through strings and piano take over. Layered vocals are used to great effect. It all comes to a crescendo where album highlight, Dawn Chorus, starts up. When this plays in the film, he is with his female partner (I believe his partner in real life). Standing side by side, one rolling over the other, growing ever closer. It’s a simple, beautiful bit of music. ‘If you could do it all again…’

I Am a Very Rude Person, is the weakest track on the album, but it is useful as seems to divide Anima in 2. It feels almost RnB. Not a poor track by any means but just not as strong. The glitch of Not the News is the most club friendly moment on Anima. It peaks 4 times before one of the swells appears and washes over the other layers. It’s gorgeous.

‘I thought we had a deal’, is repeated throughout The Axe. The guitar melody over a jungle rhythm = works well. On the final 2 tracks Impossible Nots and Runwayaway, the listener is reminded that Thom Yorke is in Radiohead. It’s still structured by breakbeats and basslines, but feels more like modern day Radiohead. ‘This is when you know, who your real friend are‘ is repeated over a bassline throughout Runwayaway and then it’s done. Abruptly finishing. Totally sublime.

 

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.

Pop Ambient 2019

It’s the end of the year and decent music releases have tailed off. The Christmas albums flood the retailers. Buble and Slade are everywhere. One thing I can always rely on is the November release of KompaktsPop Ambient series. The 2019 edition is textbook. Another compilation of such a high standard, a standard that has been the trademark of the Pop Ambient series over the 18 years it has been in existence.

I read some pre-release marketing that describes this instalment as a departure for the series. A ‘change of pace’, more experimental/avant-garde. To me it’s not. It feels the same as, at least, the last 4 releases, certainly to my untrained ear. I’m very happy about that as I love the Pop Ambient series and its subtly evolving ways. If you’re not familiar with the brand, focus on the Ambient part of the series name. Many of the genres big guns have been part of Wolfgang Voigt‘s Pop Ambient over the years. Some are present on this release, eg. Leandro Fresco to pick out just one.

This years collection has a very strong beginning. From the sprawling Alles Wird Gut opening by stalwart Thore Pfeiffer through the filmscore-esque strings of Coupler‘s A Plain Of Reeds to my personal highlight, the heavily filtered angsty vocals of The Uncertainty Principle by Black Frame, it is clear that this is another special release from Kompakt. Kenneth James Gibson delivers another swirling drone adding tension as the track develops. Morgen Wurde provides Schien Immer, a track that could accompany any space programme, it’s big and it’s beautiful. The album then enters a particularly dark phase. A sweep that includes Gregor Schwellenbach, Last Train To Brooklyn and Max Wurden. It’s easy to get lost in this section. It provides a certain structure to the mix (it’s about this point I realise it’s mixed rather than merely sequenced). Special mention to Last Train To Brooklyn as its twinkling and reverb lift the middle section gloom (slightly). Thomas Fehlmann delivers a fairly structured piece. A soporific rhythm leads into a trademark Leandro Fresco ambient wash (I’m writing this whilst watching the most amazing sunrise-perfect). Yui Onodera provides Cromo 3. Strings at their best. Only 3 minutes long but an attention grabber. Aden by Triola is the weakest piece on the album. It is better suited to a Cafe Del Mar album rather than Pop Ambient. To close, Max Wurden gets a second outing with the wonderful Core, a glorious ending.

All hail Pop Ambient, 18 years old and still as good as ever.