I have about 10 years of catching up to do, so I had a brainwave: a series of posts highlighting the best free netlabel ambient releases on my hard drive. The ones that I seem to return to regularly, the classics that have soothed my cortex. This will be the first of a few posts, I do believe, but it does not preclude my someday choosing to do a longer review of any of them. Note this is not a ranking … all of these are wonderful recordings of the highest quality by very talented artists. You’d be downright stupid not to check ‘em out. This is only the beginning of my excavations here and I look forward to unearthing many more gems for y’all.
Without further ado:
Darren Harper – Whispers (Earth Mantra, 2010)
Harper is a pretty prolific artist with many releases. This is one of his more experimental ones and wouldn’t at all be out of place as a 12k release. From the noisy but soothing glitchiness of “Lattice” to the heavy bass tones of “Carve” to the aptly titled hazy beauty of “Autumn Droning” and the Tod Dockstader-ish burbling of “Static Lull”, this recording effectively rides the line between sonic experimentation and ambient drift. Excellent.
Seetcya with Mári Solaris – Zeit2 (Endless Ascent, 2010)
A monolithic 70-minute drone piece by Seetcya on electronics with vocal samples from Solaris. If they meant the title to hearken back to Tangerine Dream, it’s not unapt at all. This slow-moving drift drone moves with the speed of an ambling tortoise, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If this doesn’t settle down your ire, I have no idea what will. A wonderful long-form journey.
Nunc Stans – Land (Ping Things, 2008)
Ping Things is based in Canada so it’s appropriate that it hosts this wintery expedition. This is not drift ambient … there’s plenty of noise bubbling around, percussive noises and some samples, but the effect is peaceful. Each piece has its own distinct character, but each sounds cold as the bejeezus. I would recommend this to fans of Robert Rich and Vidna Obmana, and the quality is definitely on a level with their work.
Matthew Florianz and Erik T’Sas – Improvisaties op d (Laidback Electronica, 2005)
I think this is a netlabel, anyway. In any case, the album is still available, so snap it up. The two artists create a wonderfully consistent atmosphere of delicate beauty with shimmering pads, ruminative piano and pretty pseudo-melodies. Florianz has a few albums available worth paying for, but this free number is as good as any of them.
Naono – Sleepy Pebbles (Archaic Horizon, 2010)
This fine release actually falls partially in the IDM genre (stupidly named genre but a name nonetheless), meaning many of the pieces have actual melodies and basslines in addition to the ambient atmospheres we all enjoy. There are even beats, which I usually don’t care for, but when used in a classy way, they work. They do here. There’s also an effective use of field recordings for extra sauce. In some ways this reminds of Future Sound of London’s friendlier 90s work and also Helios. Anyway, get it.
Adam Michalak – Seven Colours (Test Tube, 2010)
Michalak is a talented Pole who makes mournful, minimal ambient relying heavily on the use of complementary field recordings. Fortunately, this is always done tastefully and really aids in creating the appropriate atmosphere. A bit at times like good ol’ Aphex Twin’s ambient days (oh how we miss those, eh?), this is another recording that expertly sets a mood that lasts its entire length using less as more. Really pretty stuff.
Arcticology – Deep Spring (Earth Mantra, 2008)
One of a series of incredible and consistent releases by Arcticology, who unfortunately hasn’t been heard from in a while. Pure ambient pads with a touch of vintage Eno goodness, redolent of a breezy, partly cloudy day. Definitely one of my top netlabel ambient releases by a top artist who should get going again!
Sylvia Walder and Entia Non – Bewilderment (Resting Bell, 2009)
This minimalist collaboration between two top-shelf artists is a wonderful union of experimental, ominous sounds, featuring rustly field recordings, foreboding crackles and ominous piano fragments. A short release but definitely one I find myself returning to. It has a wonderfully autumnal feel.
On_14 – Night Song (Rain, 2007)
I’m not happy that the Japanese artist behind On_14 seems to have given up being On_14, because his guitar-based releases are amongst my favourites. No one creates waves of beauty with crashing layers of shoegaze guitar better than he. Really, guitar-based ambient doesn’t get any better than this evocation of the depths of the night. Quieter and more reflective than the rest of his albums, I find this a work of surpassing beauty.
Phillip Wilkerson – Highlands (Free Floating, 2012)
Wilkerson is a modern ambient master, as you will find explained here. He records in a variety of styles, but this masterwork of four tracks on the new Free Floating label is pure waves of padded bliss, celestial, comforting, calming. Possibly his best release yet. Need I say more?
GET THEM ALL!
PS: I tried not to allow myself to do this, but I lost…or won. Anyway, I too have a netlabel release. No claims of artistic glory, just have a listen if you please.