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.

Jaykits Vol. 13

The 13th annual Jaykits mix. Some old, some new, always ambient. I hope you enjoy.

Intro: Summer Sunrise Field Recording

1.    ‘At Last (Becalming the Storm)’ – DJ Healer

2.    ‘Reflector’ – Warmth

3.    ‘Embarking Shadows’ – Ian Hawgood & Giulio Aldinucci

4.    ‘Radiant’ – Halftribe

5.    ‘Gone’ – DJ Healer

6.    ‘Long May It Sustain’ – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

7.    ‘Embrace’ – Stray Theories

8.    ‘A Season In Waters’ – From the Mouth of the Sun

9.    ‘Ég heyrði allt án þess að hlusta (A Winged Victory For The Sullen Rework)’ – Johann Johannson

10.  ‘I Knew It Then and I Know It Now’ – Tone Color

11.  ‘As You Know’ – Goldmund

12.  ‘We Were There’ – Federico Albanese

13.  ‘Fundamental Values’ – Nils Frahm

14.  ‘Feel First Life’ – Jon Hopkins

15.  ‘Sisamaat’ – Nanook of the North

Ian Hawgood & Giulio Aldinucci – Consequence Shadows

Ian Hawgood teamed up with Giulio Aldinucci to create the phenomenal Consequence Shadows, released at the start of 2018. This followed quickly on the back of Faintly Recollected but is sonically very different from its’ predecessor.

Even before donning the headphones to listen to this, the tone of the album is set. Firstly, the title suggests this is an outcome, perhaps borne of a dark event. If something has a consequence then there is generally a connotation associated with it. Secondly, the black and white long exposure shot that forms the album cover evokes memories of solitude and decay and perhaps something that is not easily attainable, all set against a fairly unwelcoming horizon.

On first listen, as with a lot of ambient work, the album appears relatively straightforward in approach. However, the more listens, the more different layers reveal themselves. Those layers fit perfectly with each other creating, in my view, an almost faultless album. The stalwarts of ambient music are present: fields recordings, stretched/echoed guitar work, keys and drones. No single component is ever overused, each one placed exactly where it should be.

Many albums in this genre can be considered ‘samey’, hammering home the drone and not shifting style from one track to the next. However, this is an album that begins in relative darkness and moves towards the light. Album opener, Embarking Shadows, starts in an unassuming manner, but then an ethereal, almost choir like overlay brings this track to life and sets the scene for the remainder of the album.

Only Microns is a stuttering, Aphex Twin like, ambient piece that is underpinned by a haunting set of keys. This is darkness and light existing together. The Wasted Consequence brings it back to down a notch, if that was possible, still preserving the keys which made the previous track such a moment of beauty.

Album closer, Other Ashes, in total is approaching an astonishing 40 minutes. It is a hope filled behemoth created in collaboration with Belgian artist Stijn Hüwels who undertook the remix work. Although one piece is the original and one is the remix, they are 2 very different tracks. The original changes course around the 7-minute mark when a light synth envelops the track along with some well considered field recording work. After 10 minutes it returns back to the darker drone that began the piece. Again, dark and light in a single track, albeit it a long one. The Stijn Hüwels remix remains true to the original but has less peaks and returns. A nice end to the album as it drifts out.

The album may only be 5 tracks long including a remix but it is a beautifully considered body of work. Highly recommended.

Nanook of the North – Nanook of the North

Polish musicians Stefan Wesołowski and Piotr Kaliński form Nanook of the North. I write with faux authority as I learned this fact but 3 days ago. During those 3 days i’ve have very much been enjoying their eponymous debut album. What first grabbed my attention was that the release was by Denovali. Just about everything coming out of the label hits the spot. The label often occupies the slightly darker end of ambient, try Greig Haines for example.

I love an album with a story behind it. Nanook of the North was initially born of an improvised soundtrack they created to the 1922 silent movie of the same name.

In 2012, for the Sopot film festival, they were asked to soundtrack a silent movie. Finally settling on Nanook of the North, as it was a rare 100 year old silent movie that wasn’t considered laugh a minute.  Years after the event, Stefan and Piotr re-recorded the soundtrack in, where-else, but Ólafur Arnalds’ studio in Reykjavik. Over a 7 day period. the result was a multi textured, richly varied but ultimately dark album.

Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic is a 1922 American silent documentary by Robert J. Flaherty. The film showcases the struggles of Nanook, an Inuit man and his family, living in the Canadian Arctic as they try to exist day to day. The challenging nature of the film has led to a score that is both haunting and moving. I say this having not yet seen the movie.

Nanook of the North Movie Poster

Musically it’s a meld of drone, dub techno, analog synths, piano, strings and field recordings including those of some Inuit guests. Given the harsh landscape the documentary is set in, the soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment. From the start of Siulleq the stark emotional darkness drifts in. It continues to roll on until an Inuit Eskimo chant is heard as the synth drops. It immediately feels cold, bleak and menacing. It is very reminiscent of the Rellik soundtrack created by Clark in 2017 for the BBC. In fact, that comparison is accurate across various points of Nanook of the North.

Tulleq comprises of layers of rich synths slowly building. The pedestrian 4/4 beat and piano threaten to burst open in Pingajoq but again there is a breakdown to reveal the piano section in all its’ glory. Sisamaat is a thing of beauty. Atmospheric and poignant, it is one of the 2 main album highlights. Tallimaat is a simple piano piece, sombre throughout, occasionally promising hope but ultimately not delivering. With Arfernat, the mood changes slightly as dub techno is introduced. Pitch this up and it wouldn’t be out of place in a darker techno DJ set. The nature of the synths in this track make this feel more industrial or even upbeat without changing the overall feel of the album.

The dark ambient drones of Arfineq-Aappaat are at odds with Arfernat. The introduction of a piano does little to lighten the mood created. I’m guessing this soundtracked a particularly difficult section of the documentary. The tone continues into, and throughout, the 8 minute Arfineq-Pingajuat. Inuit drumming enters along with the Rellik-esque synths building to another piano drop half way through whilst the synths continue to rumble on the background. The second half of the track is reserved for a slow build but never a full release of tension. A highly emotive piece of music which is the other album standout. Qulingiluaat is an interlude and hardly registers paving the way for the end. Album closer, Qulingat, created using a Korg PS 3200, makes for a fitting climax, slow and desolate.

This album is dark and moving, as it should be. However, on occasion, there are moments of light. It has only been a short time since the soundtrack release, but i am hooked on Nanook of the North. Now, to watch the documentary. I hope Nanook and his family were alright in the end.

Steve Pacheco – ‘Constellate’

Steve Pacheco is a classical music loving artist born and raised in Los Angeles, California. His debut album Constellate (also recorded in LA) was released in 2017 on Belgian label Dauw, and it sold out. The label do quirky cassette releases, in this case a run of 90, so it just takes a few die-hards and they’re gone. In this case, the digital release saves the day. That’s the extent of the background detail i can impart.

Constellate is a warm album, initially emphasised by the dried flower artwork and continued throughout the 7 ‘tunes’. Light/lush drones form the backbone and wrap the listener in a blanket from the outset. Rather than spending time waxing lyrical, using unnecessary adjectives, a few describe the album perfectly:

Soft, melodic, atmospheric, minimal, beautiful.

7 pieces, roughly 45 mins. Compact and perfectly formed. Perfect for sleep, perfect for reflective travelling, perfect for whenever.

I believe there is a new/old album entitled ‘4th’ which i’ve yet to hear. Given the quality of Constellate i’m sure it will be a blissful listening experience.

Jaykits Vol. 10

Jaykits Vol. 10 from 2015

  • Nada Es Para Siempre by Leandro Fresco
  • Crystal And Stuff by MisTek
  • In The Androgynous Dark by Brambles
  • Feathers by Poppy Ackroyd
  • EIO by Good Weather for an Airstrike with Inachus
  • Atomos VI by A Winged Victory For The Sullen
  • Familiar by Nils Frahm
  • Flown by Julianna Barwick
  • Campfire by Jon Hopkins
  • Daily Catachresis by Moss Garden
  • Sebastian Bergman Credits by Den Fordomde
  • Childhood by Alexander Desplat
  • Slow Breathing Circuit (A Winged Victory For The Sullen Remix) by Inventions
  • I Remember by Jon Hopkins
  • Glow by Lights & Motion
  • Springworlds by Inventions
  • Forbrydelsen (Neptune Mix) by Frans Bak

Jaykits Vol. 11

Jaykits Vol. 11 from 2016

  • Frank’s Axe Monologue by Frank Underwood
  • Opening Up by Horizontal Excursions
  • Chance by Ocoeur
  • The Art Of Forgetting Yourself by Kenneth James Gibson
  • Shadow Cutting by Ben Chatwin
  • Regenerative Being by Eluvium
  • Öldurót by Ólafur Arnalds
  • Time As A Reward (Album Version) by Warmth
  • The Blue Hour by Federico Albanese
  • Teil I by Kjartan Sveinsson
  • A Song For Europa by Jóhann Jóhannsson
  • Norrland by Gidge
  • Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand) by Irma Thomas
  • Tzar by Mogwai
  • We Don’t Submit Terror, We Make the Terror by Frank & Claire Underwood
  • Faith (The Field Remix) by I Break Horses

Jaykits Vol. 12

The 12th annual Jaykits mix is available. Had a lot of fun putting this together.

Tracklist:

  • Is He a Good Sheriff, or a Bad Sheriff? by Music From Fortitude
  • Pulsus by Billow Observatory
  • Empty Calls Quiet by Levi Patel
  • Rec Apr. 15, 18.32 by Illuvia
  • 3WW by Alt-J
  • Little’s Theme by Nicholas Brittell
  • Winding and Unwinding by Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano
  • Permafrost by Ben Frost
  • Un Horizointe En Llamas by Leandro Fresco & Rafael Anton Irisarri
  • Young & Dumb by Cigarettes After Sex
  • Don’t Believe the Fife by Mogwai
  • Falling Ashes by Slowdive
  • Corroded Hymnal by Clark
  • Shadow by Chromatics
  • This Is Not Christmas by Music From Fortitude
  • Slow Slippy by Underworld
  • Welcome To Fortitude by Ben Frost
  • Opening by Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano
  • Black Soma by 36
  • Dr. Khatri by Music From Fortitude
  • Novachord by Kid Koala

Top 10 Albums of 2017

A not bad year for music, not bad at all.

1. ‘Everything’ – Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano
2. ‘Cigarettes After Sex’ – Cigarettes After Sex
3. ‘II:Plains/Patterns’ – Billow Observatory
4. ‘Slowdive’ – Slowdive
5. ‘Pop Ambient 2018’ – Various Artists
6. ‘Carry Fire’ – Robert Plant
7. ‘Don’t Get Lost’ – Brian Jonestown Massacre
8. ‘Music From Fortitude’ – Ben Frost
9. ‘Weather Diaries’ – Ride
10. ‘Music To Draw To : Satellite’ – Kid Koala featuring Emiliana Torrini