ASIP - Reflection on 2017

 
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2017 was undoubtedly a year for many of us turning to a softer, more comforting style of music to help heal and escape the real world. Many of you reading this probably use the type of music covered here on ASIP as a remedy and form of escapism, and some may just be getting acquainted. Now more than ever, I feel like people are connecting with ambient music, and I see it in the comments, feedback, support and thoughts that accompany each release, friends releases, mixes etc, and and in the growing popularity of the genre in the wider-music spectrum. 

We’ve managed to present three vinyl releases this year, and I'm extremely proud of each one. Starting with the organic calming of Lav & Purl'sA State Of Becoming; we then went denser and deeper with Leandro Fresco & Rafael Anton Irisarri'sLa Equidistancia. In August, Arovane & Hior Chronik returned for their second album, Into my own. And in the middle of all of this, we experienced the worst possible outcome with our vinyl production (as did many others), but that was put into balance with your amazing support and kind donations for La Espera; the companion EP by Leandro and Rafael, which helped raise funds and get us back on track to continue with a new press (more to come on that one soon, along with news on the vinyl for La Equidistancia).

We're already looking forward to 2018's releases, with the announcement of Christian Kleine's upcoming album in January. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it's time to look back at all the music that kept the inspiration high and the mind elsewhere over the last year...

Here's a breathless-quick rundown on what’s included...

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Young composer, Sophia Jani opens up our mix; Kai Schumacher reimagines a Moderat favorite; and South Africa's Jason Van Wyk finds the magical atmospheric piano balance on his Home Normal release. Leandro Fresco pairs up with Kompakt companion Thore Pfeiffer (who also just dropped a new album with Max Wurden); whilst Warmth is back on the year-end list with another pure blanket of warm ambience. I watched Earthen Sea play live in a church this year, and his Silent Season anniversary release was one of the best of a brilliant bunch from the label. ASC strayed away from his Silent Season ambient home to put out a deep-cut on his own label Auxiliary. The powerful, heart-pulls of Black Swan, 36 and Secret Pyramid were some of my favorite tear-jerkers of the year, whilst Rafael Anton Irisarri's political masterpiece on Umor Rex took our emotions to the next level. Noveller moved to LA recently, which might've  inspired one of my favorites of hers in a long time. Ryuichi Sakamoto returned with a twisted and interesting set of compositions, whilst PAN released an intriguing dig through relatively new and unheard ambient artists on their highly regarded compilation, Mono No Aware. Field Records and Acronym are no strangers to us individually, but their combined output was undoubtedly one of this years best pieces of ambient music. The one sweeping piece of ambient from nthng’s original and innovative techno record makes the cut, triggering some deepness from Luigi Tozzi in a rare ambient remix- a break from his bubbling techno on the high-flying Hypnus label. Wanderwelle landed strong with one of the most innovative dub-techno records we've heard in a very long time, whilst my fandom for Alexsi Perälä went up a notch, via his relentless Colundi Sequence compositions. We get deeper with Primal Code (Hypnus with another great release) and then Artefakt pull out the swirling, progressive techno-stomp and another must-own album. Joachim Spieth finally unveils a full-length album spanning ambient and techno- one of the only people who could strike this balance so well. Loess is another big return for 2017 with their signature deep and unique glitches, and Purl continues his many guises with one of this years most original pieces under his Illuvia moniker. Speaking of originality, no-one comes close to the bvdub style, but again he manages to surprise and delight. Loscil pairs with Mark Bridges as High Plains in their brooding instrumental piece, which is followed by our very own modern-classical prodigy Hior Chronik and his debut album on 7K!. Ghostly's, Christoper Willits scores a film on The Art Of Listening with some beautiful textures and Leyland Kirby scored a lifetime of mental degradation this year with his Caretaker series, but chose to release some of his best stuff for free. Hammock and Billow Observatory were once again on point to soothe with their dreamy lulls and enchanting melodies. The Thesis Project continued to present unique collaborations with Anna Rose Carter and Dag Rosenqvist just one of the many standouts from the series. The Susumu Yokota stylings of Poppy Ackroyd, are followed by the now legendary sounds of Four Tet. And with one of my most anticipated returns in a while, The Gentleman Losers begin to end proceedings with their Air/Bibio/Quiet Village dreaminess. And finally, the curtain closer coming from the biggest return of the year, Slowdive.

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Despite a hefty 36 tracks, and 2hr 42mins total,  I've still left-out a bunch of my favorite releases of the year from this mix. But, I let the flow of the mix dictate what is included whilst pulling from my whittled-down playlist from the past year. It's restrictive whilst also liberating doing it this way, as putting together lists is a near impossible task for me. This method forces my hand, whilst also presenting something a little different to the normal year-end lists. 

To all those artists I’ve missed out, keep doing what you’re doing, we’re still listening. If you need to see more of the music I've been enjoying, well, this blog is of course a good place to start, as well as everything I've purchased and supported on Bandcamp, shown in my Fan Collection (go Bandcamp!).

Thank you to all the artists and labels featured, and a big thank you to everyone for continuing to support ASIP this year, buy our records and listen to the music featured on the blog and the label.  Next year will be ten years since the very first ASIP blog post, so we’ll be celebrating with some very special projects.

Until then, enjoy a look back at 2017...

Download
Stream tracklist (Spotify/Apple Music). (Not all tracks included)

Tracklist [label & link to buy] (ASIP links) rough start time.

01. Sophia Jani - Those Who Stay [Unreleased / Soundcloud] 00.00>
02. Kai Schumacher - A New Error [Neue Meister] 04.04>
03. Jason Van Wyk - Clouds [Home Normal] (Review) 07.55>
04. Fresco & Pfeiffer - Splinter [Kompakt] (Review) 10.16>
05. Warmth - Isolation [Archives] (isolatedmix) 14.00>
06. Earthen Sea - The Time Past [Silent Season] 17.50>
07. ASC - Quaoar [Auxiliary] (ASC isolatedmix) (Review) 22.22>
08. Black Swan - The Escapist [Self] 27.06>
09. Secret Pyramid - Two Shadows [Ba Da Bing!] (isolatedmix) 30.48>
10. 36 - Black Soma [Self] (artist page) (isolatedmix) 34.30>
11. Rafael Anton Irisarri - RH Negative [Umor Rex] (artist page) 39.34>
12. Noveller - The Unveiling [Fire Records] 43.40>
13. Ryuichi Sakamoto - honj [Milan Records] 46.30>
14. Malibu - Held [PAN] 48.30>
15. Acronym - The Final Decision [Field Records] (Review) 49.32>
16. nthng - Touches [Lobster Theremin] 55.34>
17. Luigi Tozzi - Yavin (Ambient remix) [Hypnus] 60.42>
18. Wanderwelle - The Starry Night [Silent Season] (isolatedmix) 63.28>
19. Aleksi Perälä - NLL561606935 [Clone Basement Series] 68.36>
20. Primal Code - Junkan [Hypnus] 71.47>
21. Artefakt - Entering The City [Delsin] 77.58>
22. Joachim Spieth - Radiance [Affin] (isolatedmix) 88.17>
23. Loess - Wrikken [n5MD] (Review) (isolatedmix) 94.02>
24. Illuvia - Illuvia (Exaltation) [Eternell] (Review) 99.00>
25. bvdub - Limitless [n5MD] (interview) (isolatedmix) 108.18>
26. High Plains - Ten Sleep [Kranky] (isolatedmix) 113.42>
27. Hior Chronik - That Mistery Again [7K!] (artist page) (isolatedmix) 116.30>
28. Christopher Willits - Beginning [Ghostly] 118.52>
29. Leyland Kirby - Dig Deep March On [History Always Favours The Winners] 122.12>
30. Hammock - Dust Swirling Into Your Shape [Hammock music] 127.04>
31. Billow Observatory - Montclair [Azure Vista] (Review) (isolatedmix) 130.00>
32. Anna Rose Carter & Dag Rosenqvist - Nothing Ever [Thesis] (Feature) 133.26>
33. Poppy Ackroyd - The Calm Before [One Little Indian] 137.50>
34. Four Tet - You Are Loved [Text Records] 143.38>
35. The Gentleman Losers - Holding Back The Night [Grainy Records] 149.30>
36. Slowdive - Falling Ashes [Dead Oceans] 154.24>

 

Hior Chronik - Out Of The Dust

 
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If you're familiar with Arovane and Hior Chronik’s past two releases here on ASIP you probably noticed Hior’ Chronik's eye for the more instrumental and modern-classical sound, especially if you went back further to reference his album on Kitchen Label. Whilst it wasn’t always a straight split in responsibilities when pairing with Arovane, George proved to be the perfect balance for Uwe, often bringing melodies, compositions, field recordings and piano to both Into my own and In-between, alongside Uwe’s ear for electronics, texture and detail. (You’d actually be surprised as to who did what on certain tracks in many instances). 

Hior now presents us with a new release on 7K! (K7!’s modern classical imprint) that truly focuses on his passion for modern classical style compositions, titled Out Of The Dust

Whilst it would be easy to imagine what Hior would bring to the table on a modern-classical label based on his previous productions, the album is a new style and sound in many ways, brought to life as an imaginary soundtrack. 

The main thing you’ll notice is a focus on the trumpet as a lead instrument throughout the album. Without listening, you’re no doubt wondering how such an instrument will sound alongside slow tinkering pianos and abstract background noises, without becoming jarring. But Hior uses it as the lead character amongst a wider cast, extending introductions, interspersing drama and bringing subtle changes in melody that constantly evolve as piano melodies and dramatic strings intertwine. This brings an overall heightened sense of listening to the album - the tracks become movements and stories as you come into the imaginary world Hior has set out to create. 

There are chapters within the tracks, played out between the three main characters; the trumpet, piano and strings. Each of them have their moment as the album evolves, with a gentle piano piece appending a Johann Jóhannsson style quartet, and vice versa. Then an enigmatic trumpet solo setting the tone for a beautiful rolling piano melody. The trumpet, slowly dying out as the album begins to end, and the strings attach a more sombre note to a perhaps, sad ending to whatever film your imagining. 

These evolutions keep the story vivid, and the listener engaged throughout, eager to hear a new combination, or left wondering when another character would be re-introduced. 

Hior set out to create a soundtrack for an imaginary film, and because there are no images to accompany the album or a sign of the film he had in mind (surprising given Hior’s amazing talents with photography and the more personal touch to the artwork), the album leaves you pondering your own story and your own attachment to the characters amidst your own little world. The perfect escape. 

Available on 7K!.

 

Kompakt - Pop Ambient 2018

 
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Given this is now a yearly tradition for me, I'm going to mix it up a little...

Firstly, a few thoughts on Kompakt's latest addition to its ambient series, Pop Ambient 2018.  Knowing where to start when these drop at the end of every year, let alone what to say is often a challenge, without having to review for review's-sake. Every year I comment on how the style continues to evolve ever-so-slightly compared to the Gas-infused loops and drones from the earlier editions of 2003.  But that's a good thing, as Kompakt are essentially documenting a particular evolution of ambient music year-after-year. It may be a limited scope considering all things ambient, but for those that listen to the details, it starts to mimic some subtleties that are represented out ion the music world. 

One noticeable change, is the proliferation of modern-classical music. There was no such-thing on the earlier editions (at-least without some kind of heavy manipulation) , but now the likes of Kenneth James Gibson makes regular appearances (his latest on this 2018 edition, is one of his finest yet) and the piano is the core focus for Leandro Fresco and Thore Pfeiffer on the compilation opening track. And while newcomer Yui Onedera's depth in Prism, is manipulated enough to make it a beautiful drone record, there's no hiding the strings that power the emotion behind it. 

But before you start thinking we've got a new Erased Tapes compilation on our hands (nothing wrong with that I may add), curator Wolfgang Voigt, still manages to nail the Pop Ambient sound by bringing some old friends back to level the playing-field. Triola's, L'Atalante is a straight zip-line back to Jorg Burger's early contributions and The Orb, go swamp-walking again with Sky's Falling, harkening back to their early Kompakt album, Okie Dokie It's The Orb On Kompakt, or 2005's classic Pop Ambient track, Falkenbruck

Just when you think you've got your head around the evolution of sounds found in the latest edition, pedal steel guitarist Chuck Johnson hits you with a wisp of country-vibe, and dusty roads, a-la KLF in Brahmi

2018's Pop Ambient edition bridges some of the many sounds that have evolved since its inception all those years ago, with echoes of classics and nods to the new. It's a mainstay yearly release for this very reason, and whilst it's likely never going to try and revolutionize ambient music as we know it and present something different, that's not the point. Pop Ambient captures a sound many of us have now grown up with. 

I see some people expecting something new and exciting every time this compilation comes out - something to write about maybe. It's the struggle I realize - how do you write about something new which sticks to the same great recipe and does it so well? Ambient music doesn't have something this consistent at this level - it's called 'Pop' Ambient for a reason, and I'm all good with it presenting a solid roster every year capturing the slowly evolving sound of the music we all love. 

Kompakt's Pop Ambient 2018, available to buy now.

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Given the retrospect theme coming through, I thought I'd follow in the footsteps of a few of the Kompakt artists (Leandro Fresco's selections here) and select my all-time top-10 Pop Ambient tracks since the very first compilation in 2001. This is something that's extremely hard for me to do given my love for the series, and I'm already changing my mind... so I'm not going to make a fuss and write about them all. Ok, too many early tracks in here, I should change it. No... I'm just gonna hit 'publish' and leave this right here... enjoy! Listen on Spotify.

Also available on Apple Music.

 

Acronym - Malm

 
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There's an uprising of deep techno coming from Scandinavia these past few years. Hypnus Records for example, responsible for bringing Luigi Tozzi, Feral and Fjader to the fore (more on them soon). Northern Electronics, helmed by Abdulla Rashim and churning out relentless, quick selling LP's by the likes of Varg, Dorisburg, Isorinne, and one of our favorites, Acronym

While Northern Electronics, or even Spain's Semantica have had the pleasure of Acronym in the past few years, it's the more established dutch label, Field Records that presents his latest album, Malm.  Known for his heady, deep and often abstract techno, Acronym found a new home for his ambient opus, with Field Records a well-known dutch destination for some of the best ambient and techno compilations of recent years. The output amongst the aforementioned labels contains some of my most treasured music, so to see their best artists switch things up on the label front is nothing but good news for us listeners, as long as the music finds a deserving home. 

Malm is Acronym's most emotive piece yet. The icy, vastness portrayed across the ten tracks takes you to a grainy, freezing landscape as depicted in the cover artwork. But it's not your usual long-paintbrush drones and crackling field recordings. Acronym has transported his heart and soul in the album's structure and melodies, with careful attention paid to the lush pads and flourishes of color, which make each track a piece unto its own. In a similar manner to the electronic wizardry of Biosphere, Acronym brings originality across the album very rarely replicating form or format across the ten tracks, electronic in sound yet deep in emotion. 

The glistening melting synthesizers on The Final Decision, juxtaposed with the heavy orchestral drones of Inner Conflict, and the slow acid-pulse of No Regrets, highlight the many outstanding styles you can find across the album, without a weak track amongst it. Malm manages to capture nearly every single element of electronic ambient music I love; be it the ability to transport to an off-world, the detailed textures that bring it life, the storytelling as the album evolves, or the melodies that make you hit repeat again and again. 

One of 2017's finest - don't miss it.

Available on Bandcamp. 

 
 

Eluvium - Shuffle Drones

 
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Matthew Cooper aka Eluvium continues to innovate his approach to ambient music, albeit this time, not in style but in form. 

I commented on his last album, False Readings On as yet another new take on the sound we had him down for as the album slowly transgressed into a power-house of angelic vocals and heart-tugging drones. For his next masterpiece, Matthew has stripped the actual music down to a very simple, cinematic sound and embraced today's most annoying habit, the 'shuffle'; building each track so it fits in sequence no-matter what order the album is played. 

For someone who respects the sequencing of albums, especially when it comes to something as considered as ambient music, the concept presents an interesting juxtaposition - one I hadn't really considered before as an actual output for an album. 

In a similar approach to Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers generative app (and album) Reflection,  you're now presented with an endless possible combination of music. The difference here compared to Eno's album, is that Matthew has been very forthright in embracing today's listening patterns and pushing the Spotify/streaming versions to encourage shuffling (as opposed to locking it behind a very expensive app...) And whilst the output isn't as inconspicuous as Eno's liquid meditation - Shuffle Drones has a very distinct 32-second pattern - it's just as magical when you put it into practice as the slow and beautiful swells wash over you again and again. 

Available to buy on Bandcamp, and stream everywhere else - give it a go below. 

Listen to Eluvium's isolatedmix here celebrating his last album, False Readings On.