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Tag: ambient music

A Relentlessly Suspenseful, Immersive Soundtrack From Ronit Kirchman

Ronit Kirchman’s soundtrack to seasons two through four of the detective series The Sinner – streaming at Spotify – is tantalizingly allusive. Her chilly digital analogues to sweeping orchestration are assembled in and around a series of suites, a welcome change from the minutely fragmented playlist sequences that plague so many other recent soundtrack albums. Much of this could be considered ambient music.

Rhythms, such as they exist, tend to be on the unforgiving, mechanical side. Moments of reflective melancholy filter into Kirchman’s slowly and methodically spiraling kaleidoscope of sound. The opening diptych, Two Deaths Suite rises to a shivery, wildfire thicket of strings. Horizontal tone poems have never been so interesting. The second part is more techy, a study in contrasts and echo phrases.

Gently twinkling keys morph into a mechanical loop and give way to wafting down-the-drainpipe sonics and then a distantly wistful quasi-orchestral theme. Drifts, oscillations and motorik rhythms recede for unexpectedly droll, bubbly fishtank-scapes. There’s an airy simulation of what could be Asian temple ambience and instances of simple plucked violin accents warped into play-dough shapes. Throughout the score, chances that’s Kirchman overdubbing herself into a one-woman string section.

Just when it seems that the Lonely Traveler Suite is going to coalesce into a sweeping symphonic crescendo, the subway to dystopia approaches from far down the tunnel. Whirlybird is not a helicopter portrait but a subtly shifting, circular string piece in a Caroline Shaw vein. When an actual helicopter seems to enter the picture, it comes as a complete surprise.

Here, Midnight in Greenpoint seems far closer to desolate post-2020 nightmare than its previous bar-crawl bustle. As the album reaches the end, the immersiveness and tension rise considerably: it’s hard to think of a better advertisement for the show.

A Friendly Pitchblende Night Drive With Suss

New York instrumentalists Suss have carved out a unique niche playing big-sky nocturnes more evocative of the wide open spaces of the west than, say, Long Island City. That’s where the band are pictured on the cover of their very accurately titled latest album, Night Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. This time, they’ve switched out the locales of the mind conjured up in their previous work, and switched in an overnight trip on Highway 66 from Gallup, New Mexico to the desert town of Needles, California, just across the Colorado River.

As the convoy drift out of Gallup, casual flickers from reverb guitar, pedal steel and starry guitar pedalboard textures begin to creep through the shadowy calm. Flagstaff, Arizona turns out to be a patchwork of stillness punctuated by the occasional passing big rig, fluorescent-lit all-night diner or distant train whistle, or so it would seem.

Further into Arizona, there’s Ash Fork, the most expansive tableau here with its organlike high-lonesome washes of sound. If Pink Floyd were a Tucson band, they would have sounded like this. Guessing that’s Pat Irwin’s guitar flaring gently over Jonathan Gregg’s pedal steel and Gary Lieb’s gently keening synth.

Hints of southwestern gothic – that’s either Bob Holmes or Irwin on guitar – reverberate on the low end. static misting the mix when the convoy reaches Kingman. The distant ghost of a Lynchian ballad wafts in as the group pull gently into their final destination

Immersively Rippling Magic From Satoko Fujii and Taiko Saito’s Futari

As marimba player Taiko Saito tells it, pianist Satoko Fujii is the Shohei Ohtani of jazz: a fearsome hitter who is just as formidable on the pitching mound. As the duo Futari, the two musicians put out a magically spacious album, Beyond, last year. Because neither has been able to visit the other due to totalitarian restrictions, they decided to pitch files to each other over the web and then bat them back. They had so much fun doing it that they decided to release these pieces as a follow-up album, Underground, streaming at Bandcamp.

Fujii has always had an otherworldly, mystical side, and she’s gone into that more deeply than ever in the past few years, notably on her rapturous Piano Music album from last year. The title track here continues in that vein, with glissandos, puffy nebulous phrases and ominous drifts beneath a keening drone, Is that bowed marimba, or Fujii under the piano lid? It’s hard to tell. Another layer of mystery, when it comes to who’s playing what, is Fujii’s cut-and-paste vocalese (she also mixed the record).

The album’s second track, Break in the Clouds has puckish accents – Fujii’s prepared piano? – sprinkled throughout Saito’s slow, tremoloing washes of bowed vibraphone. Piano and vibes are distinct in Meerenspiegel, Saito creating a rapt pebbles-in-a-lake atmosphere over Fujii’s stern, emphatic chords and stately cadences. That carefree/serious dichotomy persists throughout most of the record.

Some people will hear the intro to Air and expect to hear Keith Richards’ modal bass riff introducing the Stones’ 2000 Light Years From Home. Instead, what sounds like backward masking gives way to spare, playful pings and bits of melody interspersed with more disquieting textures, then a slow, brightly unfolding melody.

In Frost Stirring, Fujii is grumpy Old Man Winter to Saito’s spring sprite – or Messiaen to Saito’s Joe Locke on the Twin Peaks movie soundtrack. The duo follow the most atmospheric track here, Memory or Illusion with Finite or Infinite, eight minutes of pinging, rhythmically shifting Terry Riley-ish loopmusic.

In Ayasake, after an amusing nightly news theme of sorts, Fujii builds an ominous undercurrent beneath Saito’s resolute blitheness. Saito responds to Fujii’s somber bell-like accents and surreal inside-the-piano swipes with a sepulchral sustain throughout the closing number, Street Ramp, the most striking piece on the album. There’s also a redemptively amusing bonus track, One Note Techno Punks

Invitingly Nocturnal Minimalist Sounds From Enona

Atmospheric Brooklyn instrumental duo Enona‘s debut album from last year was the result of a productive collaboration that began with trading files over the web. Auspiciously, they were able to defy the odds and made their second one, Broken – streaming at Bandcamp – in the friendlier confines of a real studio. And as you would hope, there’s more of an immediacy to the music. While it can be downright Lynchian in places, it’s also more warmly optimistic. Kind of like February 2022, huh?

The opening cut, Rekindle sounds like a more organic Julee Cruise backing track, Ron Tucker’s spare, starrily nostalgic piano eventually joined by Arun Antonyraj’s atmospheric washes of guitar and guest Marwan Kanafani’s even more minimalistic Rhodes

Tucker builds a dissociatively psychedelic web of stalactite piano motives over a gentle hailstorm of tremolo-picked guitar in the album’s second track,  Recollections. Track three, Unspoken has a sparse lead piano line over brassy sustain from the guitar that falls away to an unexpected starkness.

Lament, a solo piano piece, is less plaintive than simply a study in dichotomies. The duo revisit a wistful nocturnal ambience in the conclusion, Broke. It’s a good rainy-day late-night listen.

Eclectic Digital Sounds Trace the Development of an Analog World

Multi-instrumentalist Uèle Lamore‘s new instrumental album Loom – streaming at Spotify – traces the evolution of life on earth. The music is more airy and playful than you would probably expect from such an ambitious theme. Lamore blends elements of psychedelia, downtempo, chillwave, ambient and film music in a series of succinct, relatively brief tracks with occasional vocals.

A loon, or the electronic equivalent, calls out in the darkness, then a swaying, echoing, slickly 80s-style trip-hop theme develops to open the record. Lamore takes a flippant little piano phrase, flips it upside down and then runs the riff and variations through a series of patches for the second track, The Dark.

The Creation begins with gamelan-like chimes, then a flute patch moves to the forefront over puffy, rhythmic synth.

The First Tree is a sweeping, vaguely mysterious hip-hop tune.The next track, Breathe is not a Pink Floyd cover but a motorik-flavored theme that reminds of a big hit by Prince.

Currents has a wry vocoder track over the swirl, while Gene Pool is a return to fun things that can be done with a simple piano riff and textural variations.

Lamore follows Pollen, an atmospheric neosoul tune, with Predation, a muted whoomp-whoomp dancefloor jam. By the time we reach Dominance, are we in the dinosaur era yet? This loopy, cinematic segment is much more futuristic. Lamore winds up the album with Warm Blood, her vocals adrift in an echoey sheen.

A Haunting New Thriller Score by Isobel Waller-Bridge

Today’s episode in New York Music Daily’s second annual January-long celebration of big sounds and towering achievements is Isobel Waller-Bridge‘s 25-track original soundtrack to the World War II thriller Munich: The Edge of War, streaming at Spotify. Interestingly, the composer doesn’t go for retro, whether with orchestration or any of the European or American pop sounds of the day. Instead, her brooding score follows a largely desolate, chilly trajectory that often ends up in ambient industrial territory. It would work just as readily in a dystopic sci-fi thriller.

Tara Nome Doyle sings the opening credits theme, You Dream with a drifting, hazy warmth over lushly orchestrated, moody piano pop. After that, there’s a tensely hurried walk to the British royal residence, coldly plasticky atmospherics and ominous cello beneath disquieted violin harmonics – or their electronic analogue.

From there it’s much of the same. The majority of the tracks here are very brief, under the two-minute mark. Waller-Bridge likes to say a lot with a little: there are no grandiose moments here, only unrelenting grey skies. Sad minimalist piano beneath scrapy microtonal strings, mercilessly mechanical footfalls, grim smoke-off-the-battlefield tableaux and a mercifully brief, eerily whistling cameo by Hitler himself follow in turn.

With its swooping violin, the next-to-last segment, They’ll Hang You For That will give you shivers. Doyle brings the soundtrack full circle with a stripped-down German-language version of the opening theme.

Pensive, Disquieting Minimalism For Piano and a Rare Early Electronic Instrument

As Snowdrops, Christine Ott and Mathieu Gabry have been releasing a series of albums which blend new classical music, electronic soundscapes and film score atmospherics. On their latest release, Inner Fires – streaming at Bandcamp – Ott shifts between piano and the surreal ondes Martenot, an electronic keyboard which predates the theremin and can create a wild variety of sounds. Gabry plays piano on the first two tracks plus electronic keys and tubular bells on the final two. It’s distantly, sometimes persistently troubled, immersive music.

The first track, Elevation begins with Gabry’s spare rainy-day piano over subtly gritty and airier textures, which Ott expands on with loopy upper-register work as the piano grows more insistent. The template is the same for the fourteen-minute Egopolis, icy piano incisions over low, looming fog from the ondes Martenot. From there, Ott slowly constructs a less ornate, funereal. Radiohead-like tableau.

Ott and Gabry switch places, essentially, for the diptych Shadow Society/A Piece of Freedom, a chuffing, loopy industrial rhythm receding for echoey, plaintively glistening piano. Ott remains on (and inside) the piano for the final cut, Ruptur 47, with Gabry on tubular bells plus Richard Knox on guitar, shifting from dark, hypnotic polyrhythms to a slowly spinning bell choir. By that point, the listener has gone through the funhouse mirror and it’s not clear who’s playing what, validating this duo’s singular, uneasy vision.

A New Vinyl Box Set For Lovers of 70s Psychedelia, Mystical Indian and Middle Eastern Sounds

It may seem strange that an Indian-influenced German jamband would name themselves after a Mayan creation myth. But Popol Vuh’s influences, and the scope of their music, were vast. Bandleader and keyboardist Florian Fricke came out of the minimalist side of the German avant garde, but by the time the band were through, they’d taken successful plunges into ornate, High Romantic orchestral rock, psychedelia, ambient music and movie scores. Much of it is unselfconsciously beautiful.

Werner Herzog asserts that without Popul Vuh’s soundtracks, several of his best films never would have existed: endorsements don’t get better than that. This year saw the reissue of four of the band’s best-loved albums – 1973’s Seligpreisung, 1979’s Coeur de Verre, 1983’s Agape-Agape Love-Love and the 1987 score to Herzog’s film Cobra Verde – as a lavish vinyl box set complete with original artwork, posters and expanded liner notes. Considering that Popul Vuh’s albums were European imports, expensive to begin with and now command daunting prices on the collector market, this is a goldmine for 70s art-rock fans. Each of the records is streaming at Spotify (click the links in the titles below).

There’s a verdant Moody Blues Romanticism to much of Seligpreisung, fueled by Robert Eliscu’s soaring, expressive oboe over Fricke’s bright but often hypnotic, mantra-like piano and synth work. With the addition of guitarists Conny Veit and Amon Düül II’s Daniel Fichelscher, this was the group’s first real rock record, veering suddenly from moody Pink Floyd interludes to the careening Grateful Dead-influenced jams that would pervade much of the rest of their rock material. Selig sind die, die da hungem (Blessed Are Those Who Are Hungry), with a long, bluesy, Gilmouresque guitar solo from Fichelscher, perfectly encapsulates all that. As with all these records, there’s a bonus track, in this case the rare single Be in Love, a sunny chamber pop ballad.

Fricke and Fichelscher switch out the second guitar for Al Gromer’s sitar, adding both lush texture and curlicuing mystery to the Coeur de Verre soundtrack, incorporating more of the incantatory instrumental raga-rock sound of the band’s 1973 Hosianna Mantra album. Blatter aus dem Buch der Kuhnheit (Pages From the Book of Fearlessness) sounds like the Dead taking on a Scottish air with Indian tinges, while Der Ruf (The Call) comes across as a soaring, loopy three-man Dead jam. Rising from anxious minimalism to a crescendoing, clanging triumph, the big epic here is Engel de Gegenwart (Today’s Angel). There’s also a deliciously dark, chromatic interlude, Huter der Schwelle (Guardian of the Threshold). The bonus track is Earth View, a spare, sober 1977 Fricke solo piano piece.

Veit’s guitar returns on the harder-rocking Agape-Agape Love-Love, which foreshadows King Gizzard’s uneasy, chromatic Turkish trance-rock by almost forty years. Singer Renate Knaup’s crystalline, sepulchral vocalese sails over a similarly haunting Middle Eastern-inflected backdrop in the Rumi-inspired Behold, the Drover Summons. Circledance, the bonus track, fades up and eventually out like a second-set interlude by the Dead, who were arguably at their peak as a live band at the time Popul Vuh recorded this. Interestingly, the only piano-driven track is the starry closing nocturne Why Do I Sleep.

The Cobra Verde soundtrack is even more Indian-inflected and lushly symphonic, the Bavarian State Opera Chorus serving as kirtan choir in a theme and variations that hark back to Fricke’s beginnings. He reaches for the orchestra’s ominously drifting ambience in the marketplace scene with a couple of subsequent solo synthscapes. It’s a well-chosen way to bring the box set full circle.

Hauntingly Immersive, Dystopic Swirl From Resina and Avant Garde Choir 441Hz

Polish cellist and composer Karolina Rec a.k.a. Resina wrote her new album Speechless – streaming at Bandcamp – during the Women’s Strike protests there last year. Plans for the album were nearly derailed by lockdown insanity, but Rec and conductor Anna Wilczewska’s Gdańsk-based choir 441Hz worked fast during brief moments of freedom. The result is a whirling, dystopic, electroacoustic salute to nature before she gets sick of us and kicks us off the planet for good (if we don’t beat nature to the punch with lethal injections and mass sterilization).

Rec likes diptychs, ending in a sonic place completely different from where she begins. Her opening piece here is Mercury Immersion, a ghostly chorale amid a constantly shifting series of increasingly anguished, rising and falling waves. Drummer Mateusz Rychlicki takes the eerie grandeur to a boomy peak at the end.

There’s a sharp, singing quality to Rec’s cello in Horse Tail, her one-woman multitracked string section joined by the choir as they hypnotically pulse along at a quasi-gallop. The creepy electronic effect toward the end is too good to give away, and spot-on for the plandemic era.

Looping, cocooning phrases from the choir contrast with the starkness of the cello and what could be whalesong in Failed Myth Simulation, a diptych; the second half is a motorik theme. The dissociative soundscape Darwin’s Finches features birdsong field recordings by Michał Fojcik, which turn out to be more icily techy than bucolic.

Underneath the gritty textures and sepulchral washes of voices, Unveiling could be a circling Philip Glass etude. Slashes from the cello penetrate calm loopiness as track six, Manic gets underway, Rec building a somberly minimalist theme that she eventually takes in a grim industrial direction. After that, the brief tableau Hajstra makes a good segue.

Rec develops variations on a heroic marching theme in A Crooked God, again veering into industrial roar and clank. The album’s final cut is Recall, a surreal, staggered canon at quarterspeed which eventually collapses in an electronic ice storm. This is a sonic treat for those brave enough to confront it.

Drifting, Uneasy Atmospheric Vistas From Shida Shahabi

The central instrument in Shida Shahabi’s new score to Maria Eriksson-Hecht’s new short film Alvaret – streaming at Bandcamp – is Linnea Olsson’s cello. Minutely nuanced overtones flickering from her strings, it’s a well chosen vehicle for Shahabi’s slowly unfolding, minimalist vistas. Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s work comes strongly to mind.

This latest ep is consistent with Shahabi’s penchant for short, concise albums. It’s best appreciated as a single, drifting whole. The composer adds subtle synth washes and bowed bass in places. You have to wait til the fourth segment for the adrenaline from her slow, ominous glissandos to kick in. There are children in this cornfield, and they do not seem friendly!