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ACL 2023 ~ Top Ten Ambient

Написано на 15.12.2023

By our estimate, there was enough ambient music released in 2023 to fill every waking minute of every day.  How does one stand out in a genre that values slipping beneath the surface?  These ten artists found a way, whether through distinctive textures, hybrid tones or sheer compositional quality.  In addition, many of these releases bear intriguing backstories.  Each possesses a quality elusive in ambient music: memorability.  After playing these albums multiple times throughout the year, we returned to them at year’s end.  Depending on one’s perspective, we are currently experiencing an ambient torrent or an ambient renaissance; R. Keane’s cover art for Clare Deak’s Sotto Voce suggests both.  We hope you’ll enjoy our selection of the year’s best ambient music!

Antonymes ~ The Gramophone Suite
An album like this will always be a treat: thought-provoking themes, excellent execution, and pretty much perfect cohesion. To meditate alongside the music about the nature of recordings and their relationship to history and memory is to let oneself be carried away by the album’s combination of ambient layering, concise melodic directions, spoken poetry, and crystal-clear mixing. I can only say: welcome back, Antonymes, I hope you never lose your magic touch. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

aus ~ Everis (flau)
“Lost memories exist everywhere,” writes Yasuhiko Fukuzono (aus).  Samples of ticket gates, airport runways, a brass band and more are subsumed into the music, a blend of organic and electronic that dances on the edge of modern composition.  A remix album, Revise, followed in October, bringing the electronic elements to the fore.  For us it’s about the soft piano, the sweet strings and the sense of something beautiful bubbling to the surface.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Claire Deak ~ Sotto Voce (Lost Tribe Sound)
Part of the 11-album Maps to Where the Poison Grows series, Sotto Voce is a celebration of baroque composers Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi.  By recreating music from fragments and wisps, Clare Deak recasts their relevance.  As historic traces become full-fledged compositions, a bridge is built across generations.  Musical loops become metaphors for memories forgotten and restored. Caccini and Strozzi are no longer ghosts, but guests.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Heinali ~ Kyiv Eternal (Injazero)
It is often said that to truly understand and capture the place that one inhabits, one needs a certain distance. Drawing from his extensive collection of field recordings, Heinali creates a series of aural postcards from his hometown while living in Germany due to full-scale Russian invasion. Eschewing the trappings of nostalgia, he lets the sonic halo of Kyiv illuminate his mnemonic journey towards home by retracing its topography through sound. With Kyiv Eternal, Heinali highlights the role of acoustic memory in reaffirming an identity process that is both deeply personal and collective, in a deliberate move against war aphasia with Kyiv refusing to be silenced or even muted. (Gianmarco Del Re)

Original Review

Hollie Kenniff ~ We All Have Places That We Miss (Western Vinyl)
The very title is evocative: we all have places that we miss.  On the tail end of a pandemic, in the midst of a second ongoing conflict, we continue to lose places and people.  Hollie Kenniff offers a melancholic sort of solace; her music sounds like empathy.  The shoegaze element dips the project in gauze.  While listening, one feels nostalgia, or at the very least, hiraeth.  Will we ever reach the places that we miss, or are they forever gone?  Kenniff’s goodwill is summarized by the track title “Eunoia,” which means “a perceived benevolence, a desire to help.”  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Karen Vogt ~ Losing the Sea/Losing the Sea Remixes (Mare Nostrum)
As a parting love letter to the ocean, this album revels in expressive connections between person and place, in which creativity and art are but an extension of a nurturing, ecological relationship. That the latest version of it includes a wealth of remixes is but a continuation of this dynamic, a close-knit collaboration between criss-cross visions of something greater than each one, in the way that seas turn to rivers turn to sand turn to stone. It would be difficult to think that, rendered with such devoted poetry, the ocean wouldn’t love the artist back. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Mary Lattimore ~ Goodbye, Hotel Arkada (Ghostly International)
Although Mary Lattimore has collaborated with numerous musicians on projects before, this is the first time that so many of her friends and inspirations have appeared on a solo record. These contributions are subtle and generous; an additional texture here, a delicate counter-melody there. Themes of reminiscence, loss and mourning run throughout Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, but it’s almost overwhelmingly beautiful, an album full of grace. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Penelope Trappes ~ Heavenly Spheres (Nite Hive)
Penelope Trappes launched her new label with Heavenly Spheres, a haunted and haunting cassette release. The tape hiss only helps to bring out the crackle and static in the work, but even in a digital format, this has a highly-charged atmosphere that lends itself to soundtracking ghost stories of drowned sailors. These eight pieces were produced using voice, piano and a reel-to-reel tape recorder during a residency by the Suffolk coast in Aldeburgh; both the sea and land seep into these recordings. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Tim Hecker ~ No Highs (Kranky)
Following a couple film scores, longtime favorite Tim Hecker returned for his first proper solo album since his pair of successful collaborations with the ensemble Tokyo Gakuso. In contrast, No Highs is a stripped down affair, but Hecker is always moving forward, so don’t expect a rehash of the tectonic tonal drifts of a decade ago. While many turned to sound as a “soothing balm for troubled times” during the pandemic, Hecker has taken quite the opposite approach. The pulsing repetition developed over that period is brought even more into the foreground, and if anything No Highs is something of an anti-ambient album, actively refusing to fade into the background. Hecker’s song titles have often been tongue in cheek, but tracks  like “Monotony,” “Pure Depression,” and “Anxiety” truly live up to their names. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Tujiko Noriko ~ Crépuscule I & II (Editions Mego)
There are a number of ways to musically evoke our fraught experience of memory, time, and the past. Drone and ambient music are genres with a full history of exploring the emotional experience of duration. And then there’s Crepuscule I & II a breathtaking album by Tujiko Noriko that manages to make soft and often spartan compositions sound epic. On many tracks subtly manipulated instruments soundtrack Noriko’s haunting vocals. Gauzy, resonant strings and keys and horns slowly wander. She shifts seamlessly between the more melodically driven tracks such as “Fossil Words” to shimmering, luscious soundscape on tracks like “Opening Night.” On the second half of the album Noriko experiments more with duration, the final tracks stretching towards twenty minutes her voice often just barely there. A masterful sculptor of sound, on Crepuscule I & II Noriko crafts a record steeped in both sweetness and awe that traffics in an aching sense of yearning. (Jennifer Smart)

Original Review

Ambient music of 2023 stood out by various artists using unique textures, hybrid tones, and intriguing backstories with a memorable quality.

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