While post-rock, ambient, and shoegaze often go together, the three genres had very different years. Shoegaze is represented in this guide by two “album of the year” contenders from France, while ambient had a number of great releases as well in 2010. Post-rock had a mostly disappointing year in 2010, marked by uncharacteristically poor albums from some of the genre’s best bands.
Écailles de lune
Neige (born Stéphane Paut) has to be one of the best musicians in music today. His debut album for Alcest, Souvenirs d'un autre monde, was an absolute masterpiece. Not only was it one of the best albums of the decade, but it marked one of the few times I’ve been completely speechless after listening to an album. Écailles de lune is the second Alcest album, and it continues the gorgeous black metal-influenced shoegaze of the first. This time around there’s a little more emphasis on the atmospheric black metal side of the music, as it can get quite a bit heavier than Souvenirs d'un autre monde. There are moments of pure beauty and moments of pure chaos, but it’s when the two blend together that Écailles de lune is at its best. At times it can take a little long to get those moments, especially on the album’s latter half, but Écailles de lune is still a masterful follow up to one the best albums of the past decade.
The second solo album from Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry sounds a lot more like classic Dead Can Dance than his first. This is the same gorgeous ethereal darkwave that made Dead Can Dance such an influential group, although it’s missing some of the originality of those early records. Perry sticks close to style of his former group, and while Ark doesn’t a hold candle to anything in Dead Can Dance’s discography, it’s still very good. If you’re a fan of Dead Can Dance or other classic darkwave bands, chances are you’ll enjoy this album.
Crippled Black Phoenix
Quite possibly the best pure post-rock album of 2010, I, Vigilante is beautiful at its core, but it can also heavy and psychedelic at times. Crippled Black Phoenix consists of members of Electric Wizard, Portishead, Iron Monkey, Mogwai, and Borknagar just to name a few, so it’s not a surprise that this supergroup is far from ordinary. They had a number of great ideas that were only decently executed on their first two albums, but I , Vigilante is the first Crippled Black Phoenix album that really takes advantage of the talent at hand. It’s clearly post-rock, but the influences of the aforementioned bands are easy to spot, especially Electric Wizard. This is a great original post-rock album, and I look forward to hearing where Crippled Black Phoenix goes from here.
2010 was a surprisingly good year for Japanese ambient screamo. The genre had two albums considered for a place on this guide (the other being Paraselene by Heaven in Her Arms), but ultimately Envy’s Recitation was the one that made the cut. Needless to say, this is a unique album, as post-rock and screamo don’t necessarily seem like genres that would mix. The first time an inhale scream comes in over the beautiful post-rock instrumentals it can sound strange, but anyone who can tolerate screamed vocals should be able to get used to it. The heavy screaming actually adds an interesting element to the music, contrasting the simple beauty of post-rock with an incredibly dark and raw sound. Granted, other post-rock have been able to contrast light and dark emotions with just the post-rock elements, but the way Envy do it is interesting enough. Recitation is the better of the two ambient screamo albums released in 2010, but anyone interested in this style should give both albums a listen.
Chasing After Shadows… Living with the Ghosts
Some post-rock albums make you think. Others bring out emotions. Others, like Hammock’s Chasing After Shadows, are just plain beautiful. This is a very simple album, and not necessarily an original one. However, it doesn’t try to do anything more than that. Hammock have set out to make a beautiful album, and Chasing After Shadows is enjoyable simply for that reason. It won’t set the post-rock world on fire, and Hammock have certainly released better and more ambitious albums, but it deserves some credit for accomplishing what it sets out to do.
Septembre et ses dernières pensées
It’s hard to believe Septembre et ses dernières pensées is Les Discrets’ full length debut. This is a masterful album in every respect, and it’s one of the best albums of 2010. Les Discrets released a split last year with Alcest, so it’s no surprise that the album this is most reminiscent of is Alcest’s Souvenirs d'un autre monde. Much like Alcest’s debut, Septembre et ses dernières pensées combines elements of shoegaze, post-rock, and black metal, but the way those genres are combined is a bit unusual. Usually black metal is the most prevalent genre of the three, but here it’s comes second to shoegaze. This gives the music a raw sound that doesn’t overpower the gorgeous melodies and atmosphere. Septembre et ses dernières pensées is a brilliant album, and one that belongs in the collection of every music fan. It’s one of the best albums of 2010, and one of the finest shoegaze albums of recent memory.
Natural Snow Buildings
The Centauri Agent
Natural Snow Buildings haven’t been around for much longer than a decade, but they’ve released a seemingly infinite number of albums. None have come close to the two disc epic, The Dance of the Moon and the Sun. The Centauri Agent is a space-influenced drone album, and one of the best the Natural Snow Buildings have released since their peak in 2006. Like the aforementioned album, this is a two disc epic with a length of almost two hours, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Natural Snow Buildings vary their sound, exploring new territory with each song, but they’re at their best when they stick to the simpler post-rock influenced sounds of the first disc. Still, there’s a lot of quality music here, and it’s impossible not to recommend.
Coming off their masterful North Passage in 2008, Mathias Grassow and Tomas Weiss have solidified their place among modern ambient’s best musicians. Siberian Winter only strengthens their repertoire, combining elements of drone and dark ambient to create what may be the most atmospheric album of 2010. Rarely do subtle noises work so effectively in music, and there is a strong attention to detail throughout. Obviously, it requires patience to listen to an album like Siberian Winter, but anyone with interest in ambient and minimalist art will be in for a treat.
Nihil Novi Sub Sole
The Jupiter Temple
The debut album from Nihil Novi Sub Sole, a dark ambient project from members of various black and doom metal bands, is one of the most haunting albums of 2010. It’s slow, dark, and downright frightening at times, and does exactly what ambient music should- put its listener in specific state of mind. This is an album for fans of dark music only, but its combination of classical, darkwave, and ambient is irresistible for those who do.
Although most of the album can be downloaded legally for free, it’s worth tracking down all of Horror/Forsaken. This is dark ambient that aims to haunt and scare the listener, and it almost sounds like a soundtrack to a horror film. VoidWork play with volume quite a bit, intensifying noises and softening others as the songs build. There’s much more at play here than the tension usually found in music, and it’s really quite amazing how some of the most beautiful sounds you’ll ever hear can turn into dark drones over a period of just minutes.