Not necessarily the best ambient and space music of 2016

by Dave Maier

OfftheskyIt's that time of year again, when lists of all sorts start appearing everywhere you look. 2016 featured a *lot* of ambient, space, and other electronic releases, and only the hardiest of us got through more than a small fraction of it. I certainly didn't, anyway, so while our list (and accompanying podcast; see widget below) features excellent music released in 2016, it is in no way a best-of. Just so that's clear!

Now here's our list:

Steve Hauschildt – Same River Twice [Strands]

We’ve heard from Steve before on our journeys, when he was channeling Jean-Michel Jarre as I recall. His new record is not quite so retro, but on the other hand this particular sequencer workout is well within the boundaries of its genre, which is fine by me. Steve tells us that

Strands is a song cycle that is about cosmogony and creation/destruction myths. The title Steve alludes to the structural constitution of ropes as I wanted to approach the compositions so that they consisted of strands and fibers which form a unified whole […] I was also inspired by the movement of rivers, particularly their transformative aspect and how they’re in a state of flux and change, in particular the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland where I live, which notoriously caught on fire thirteen times because of industrial pollution in the 1960s and before. I was very interested in the dichotomy of oil and water and the resulting, unnatural symptoms of human industry. It’s a very personal record for me as it is a reflection of my hometown where I grew up and where it was mostly recorded.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani – Closed Circuit [FRKWYS Vol 13_Sunergy]

KaitlynaureliasmithWe also know Kaitlyn from an earlier set; but here she appears with another synthesist as part of FRKWYS’s “intergenerational collaboration series” (which we ran into earlier with Ariel Kalma as the elder half, with R. Lowe I think as the younger). At one time I would have puzzled at this pairing, as when I first ran into Suzanne Ciani she was releasing (let’s be honest) more or less meretricious material of the then popular “new age” variety. But I have since discovered that she has a long history of (much better, but not particularly well documented as far as I can tell, although see here) experimental work, often with Buchla synthesizers – which makes the pairing perfectly natural, as this picture of Kaitlyn shows (note dual Easels). This track, like the others, shows off the characteristic tonalities of that wonderful but unfortunately fairly pricey instrument.

Ekin Fil – Vapors [Being Near]

The label, the estimable Helen Scarsdale Agency, tells us that Ekin was “born ekin üzeltüzenci and based in her native istanbul, she cites the shoegazing classics (cocteau twins, cranes, slowdive, etc.) as her earliest influence, seeking out worn issues of melody maker or nme from second hand shops and trading cassettes with friends and fellow enthusiasts. this proustian obsession with rainsoaked melodies from the british isles blossomed into a foundation for her own art.”

A proustian obsession with shoegaze, eh? I guess if Marcel can go on for pages about Vinteuil's little phrase, then our Ekin can obsess similarly about the Cocteau Twins.

Chronotope Project – Moontide [Passages 2016]

ChronotopeChronotope Project is one Jeffrey Ericson Allen, and Passages is his sixth release to date. According to the label, this one promises, among other things, “expansive and effervescent ever-shifting liquid metamorphoses of sound”, so if you find yourself in need of same in your life, then this will be the place to turn.

Daniel Lanois – Falling Stanley [Goodbye to Language]

Lanois is a big name in ambient music, mostly as a producer (often alongside Brian Eno in the control room), but less so as a musician, as much of his output, however excellent, is on the folkier side. Here, though (as our title suggests), he and his collaborator Rocco Deluca keep their mouths shut and play their pedal and lap steel guitars (augmented by the miracle of modern technology, you can be sure).

anthéne – open air [permanence]

AntheneAnthéne (that aigu looks funny to me, but what do I know) is Brad Deschamps from Toronto, and as his bandcamp page describes him as a “member of north atlantic drift and founder of polar seas recordings”, we shouldn’t be surprised if his music sounds, well, drifty and/or aquatic. Let us ruminate on the paradox thus presented by the title of this record. Good stuff!

K Leimer – All That Follows [Re-Enact]

K (for Kerry, I think) has been around for a long time, releasing three fine Eno-esque LPs in the late 70s/early 80s, but then I lost track of him for a while. This is apparently his 17th record, which Boomkat calls “post-ambient”, and also says of it that it “sketches an antediluvian soundstage of deteriorating fragments scattered among still-recognizeable artifacts.” I don’t know about “antediluvian,” but any time you have a chance to use that word I think you should.

offthesky – Halcyon Blurr [Silent Went The Sea]

offthesky (also written Off The Sky, for googling purposes) is Jason Corder, recording here for the ambitious Eilean label out of France. I am generally leery of electronic releases with acoustic instruments (you’d think that would work better than it usually does …), but on this record Jason makes the two soundworlds coincide reasonably well. Still, I have to admit that my favorites of his records are the purely electronic ones (e.g. Gently Down the Stream).

Chihei Hatakeyama – Narrow Road to the Mountain [Coastal Railroads in Memories]

The ever-dependable Chihei Hatakeyama returns with yet another Morphic slab of dreamy oneiritude. About this particular one he tells us that

Chiheimany pale soundscapes are loom over like a waves beating the shore.

“Coastal Railroads In Memories” is Chihei Hatakeyama’s New Album.
he is inspired by his memory of a view of the sea from train that runs along the coast.
he thought roadbed was formerly symbol of civilization.

he was processing sound from piano, vibraphone and electric guitar by computer and modular synthesizer. and he was mixing by only analog mixer not use DAW.

Craig Padilla – Stonington Moon [Heaven Condensed]

CraigThis name is definitely familiar, but I don’t remember actually hearing any of Craig’s music before (although I must have). Anyway, this record is not pushing the boundaries of its genre, but as with the equally fine Steve Hauschildt track that started us off, I have no problem with that whatsoever.

Naturally you will want to hear these fine selections right away; so here's the Mixcloud widget (which doesn't always work – if it doesn't you should be able just to click over; here's the direct link in any case). Many thanks to Azu for her invaluable suggestions!