-Folk- Coming Soon
-Doom Metal- Coming Soon
-Experimental- Coming Soon
Ambient music and its more rock-influenced cousin, post-rock, had many great releases in 2011. Established greats returned with new albums that didn’t disappoint, plenty of newcomers added their new ideas to the mix, and a few old favorites even returned to form. More so than ever before, ambient music is appealing to wider audience, and 2011 had plenty of albums that should appeal to anyone who enjoys the simpler and slower side of music.
Explosions in the Sky
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
I admit that I came into Take Care, Take Care, Take Care expecting more of the same from Explosions in the Sky. Their last album was solid, but there was a feeling that this band may have taken their sound as far as it can go. While Take Care… doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of their best albums, it has a surprising amount of diversity that takes their established sound in interesting new directions. It keeps the band’s blend epic and often beautiful post-rock, while adding subtle indie rock elements. “Trembling Hands” is the most obvious example of this, as it incorporates looped “ooh”s over a kind of post-rock/indie hybrid instrumental. It sounds strange at first, but the song builds into a fairly epic conclusion (albeit one that comes a little too soon). Things like that appear all over the album, often in more subtle ways. The structure of the more pure post-rock songs isn’t always what one would expect, especially from a band that many have criticized for their often predictable song structure. The conclusions aren’t always as epic as they’ve been in the past, and the chaotic and emotionally draining moments of past Explosions in the Sky aren’t as prevalent here. It’s a trade-off, and one that might silence a few of the band’s critics. For fans of Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is a solid album that isn’t as much of a journey as The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place or Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, but Explosions have changed their sound enough to keep things interesting while still maintaining much of what garnered them followers in the first place.
Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite
When it comes to lyrics, there has also been a debate about its relation to poetry. Farewell Poetry don’t exactly take a side in that debate, but they certainly relate to it. Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite is as much performance poetry as it is post-rock. Jayne Amara Ross is the poet, and she reads her work over ambient post-rock that wraps itself around the words. The focus is on the poetry, and the instrumentation changes to fit the words and subsequently build with them. The two parts are never at odds, and the tension they create are a product of both working together. The work as a whole it haunting, beautiful, and interesting, and it’s the type of album that can be analyzed both as poetry and music. The case can be made that the poetry has become lyrics in the way that it’s used, but there’s definitely something different going on here. I can’t say I’ve ever hard music and lyrics that relate so well, and it’s interesting to hear an album that focuses on the words and builds the music around it. Regardless of how its classified, Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite is an incredibly unique work of art, and one that deserves the attention of any music lover.
A I A
Released as a double album on vinyl and separately as individual albums digitally, Grouper’s A I A: Dream Loss and A I A: Alien Observer are distinct stylistically, but work brilliantly together. The first part, Dream Loss is full of fuzzy drone ambiance and is far heavier than fans of Grouper’s more melodic Dragging a Deer Up a Hill might be used to. Still, Liz Harris’ vocals are beautiful, albeit used more as background in Dream Loss, but the music ends up being a dark and uneasy wave of ambient beauty. The second half, Alien Observer is catchier and more vocal-heavy while still building on the drone-aspect of the first half. Each part is great on its own, but as a whole A I A is something special. The way that everything comes together after 75 minutes is extraordinary, as there’s a full spectrum of varied, emotional music on display, and it’s simply gorgeous from start to finish. This is one of the best albums of 2011, and an essential release for anyone with a passing interest in ambient music.
Ambient fans can rest easy. After a hugely disappointing follow up to the wonderful Treny, Michael Jacaszek is back on the right track. Glimmer picks up right where Treny left off, with muddy ambient tunes that are complex and uneasy while being oddly soothing at the same time. This comes from Jacaszek’s exceptional layering, as he creates a powerful background atmosphere where slow building electronic, drone, and acoustic sounds can form over it. It sounds like two distinct tracks being played over each other, but they way they match up and eventually form into one cohesive sound is nothing short of incredible. Jacaszek also plays with volume in ways that a noise musician would, ranging things from near silent to full volume, and changing volume quicker than the music. When all is said and done, Glimmer is an outstanding album. This is the type of ambient release with tons of depth and subtlety, and it sees this talented musician heading in the right direction once again.
With his self-titled debut in 2004 and the masterful Silver EP in 2006, there was a time not too long ago when Jesu looked to be the future of ambient music. His blend of so many different types of heavy ambient sounds was both original and powerful, and even somewhat accessible. After a string of disappointing albums since, it’s somewhat of a surprise to see Jesu return with an album that can be compared to his early work. Don’t get me wrong, Ascension is not the best album Jesu has made, but it’s easily the finest work of his since Silver. Ascension is not a return to the all-purpose ambient sound of early Jesu, but instead a simpler and more focused effort. There are shoegaze elements, as well as heavy metal and drone elements, and they mix in such a way where the tracks sound like cohesive, well constructed music, and less like a barrage of individual sounds and influences. Ascension just oozes atmosphere, and while it may be a simpler take on Jesu’s sound, that’s all for the better. This is a beautiful, well refined album, and it makes this talented artist worth listening to again.
It’s always strange to hear ambient music that is legitimately catchy. Tragedy by Julia Holter is a catchy ambient album, but more importantly it’s a great one. This is the kind of original album that should appeal to ambient listeners, while introducing new listeners to the beauty of atmospheric art. Holter has drawn comparisons to Grouper, mostly due to that aforementioned catchiness, but it’s more that she’s one of the few others to actually pull off this type of sound. The influences on Tragedy are quite different from Grouper, as Holter pulls less from drone and heavier ambient and more from classical and chamber music, which makes for an interesting contrast to the low vocals. The vocals may seem out of place at first, but it really does work well with the music. Again, that contrast is important, as it allows the atmosphere to become more varied. There’s both light and dark here, and often the vocals bring out the darker side of Tragedy. Overall, this is a multi-layered work of art, and an exceptional ambient release that is both unique and accessible.
Long Distance Calling
Long Distance Calling
Long Distance Calling’s self-titled third album is slightly more streamlined than their first two. There are moments where the music is almost indistinguishable from the average post-rock band, and that’s certainly disappointing. However, when Long Distance Calling works in their progressive, psychedelic, and metal influences, things get a lot more interesting. Thankfully most of this album has those in some capacity, and as a result each song becomes progressively crazier as it moves along. This isn’t necessarily post-rock that you feel an emotion connection with, although there are moments that come close, but instead post-rock with some solid riffs and atmosphere. It’s great to hear progressive solos transition into the traditional post-rock sound, and even when parts of Long Distance Calling seem familiar and even boring, there’s always something around the corner to redeem it.
I Was Here for a Moment, Then I Was Gone
The problem with Maybeshewill has never been in their post-rock sound. At the core of their music lied a beautiful, extremely well executed take on the genre. It’s been the other stuff, or more specifically how the other stuff fits in with the post-rock foundation, that hasn’t always gone right. With their third album, Maybeshewill have removed the “other stuff” from their sound. Gone are the samples, the vocals, and the electronic influences. What you’re left with is a far more focused album, and one that still does things differently enough from other post-rock albums to make it stand out. The songs here are more aggressive and build at a faster pace than most other contemporary post-rock, and this works to the album’s advantage. There are still beautiful moments, heavy moments, and stunning climaxes, but it’s done in a much shorter package. This is not an atmospheric epic, so much as a collection of individual songs that are technical, varied, and just so happen to share the structure and sound of bands like Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and God is an Astronaut. To some, I Was Here For a Moment, Then I Was Gone may be seen has an original band conforming to the masses. In some ways it is, but what remains is a well above average post-rock album that does what it does very well.
Plains of the Purple Buffalo
Plains of the Purple Buffalo is a post-rock/ambient album completely unconcerned with being beautiful or pretty. This is a rough, sludge-y album that may have some lighter melodic moments, but gets a lot out of the heavy riffs it builds towards. There’s a great deal of atmosphere, although *Shels surprisingly deals with the atmosphere better during the heavier parts. *Shels also use of an interesting array of instruments, and while Plains of the Purple Buffalo is certainly a post-rock album that goes from light to heavy, the type of light and heavy is very unique for the genre. Few albums have the unpredictability of this one, and while not every moment is great, Plains of the Purple Buffalo has many awe-inspiring parts that make the rough spots worth enduring.
Tangled Thoughts of Leaving
Deaden the Fields
One of 2011’s most original albums and overall best debuts, Deaden the Fields is a very promising first release from Tangled Thoughts of Leaving. This jazz-influenced post-rock album is absolutely crazy, taking the structure of post-rock and introducing some very interesting sounds to the mix. The jazz influence is at the forefront, but there’s also progressive rock, metal, and tons of avant-garde music. At times the tracks can sound like experimental electronic pieces with noises that sound like something from a Satanicpornocultshop or The Residents song. Not all of the songs progress well enough, notably when parts stop and drastic new sounds are introduced at odd times, but for the most Tangled Thoughts of Leaving do a solid job of condensing a vast array of influences into songs that build logically.