Sunday 9 May 2021

A Certain Ambiance

This BC Friday was a little different to usual - I had planned to get even more IDM adjacent stuff after my recent trip into the archives of Toytronic, but instead I ended up getting a fair bit of another genre that's very close to my heart: Ambient. I can be a little picky when it comes to Ambient releases, I'm not huge on the drone style outside of some of Oneohtrix Point Never's side projects, but it had been a long time since I got anything pure ambient so I thought I'd see what's out there. And here are the results.

Truth be told only one of the things I'm bringing up today was new to me, the other two are things I long since wish-listed and just felt like it was right to check them out now. Starting with a small EP from Sachi Kobayashi - I don't quite remember how I came into this one, part of me thinks it could have been a 'New Ambient releases' article from BC's front page, but regardless it's been sitting in my wishlist for some time now just waiting for it's chance to shine. Title track Ephemeral Beauty, though perhaps a little cliché on the title front, is a very good embodiment of the kind of ambient I like. It strikes a nice balance between the more drone elements and hints of melody - effortlessly flowing between them. This is something which I think makes it a very good stepping stone into the genre if this post will be your intro to the genre, the relatively short length of roundabout 5 minutes also helps on this front, it can be hard to suggest Ambient sometimes when you have colossal releases like Eno's Thursday Afternoon clocking in at an hour long. Don't get me wrong though - Eno is fantastic at the genre in his own right, with Ambient I: Music For Airports being utterly essential if you are at all into the genre, but having something a little more digestible is nice too.

Moving on to a release I've been eyeing for a long long time: The perfectly titled Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980 - 1990. It's a fantastic little compilation of rarities from that era that either never made it to the west or were never repressed beyond their original runs. I've been spending a fair bit of time with it as of late and I thought I'd mention some of my favourites, there's a few (Abridged) versions of some tracks on this comp, and this is one of them. The original runtime of See The Light is a hefty 24:57 while the version on the comp is a much lighter 7-ish minutes instead. There's a few reasons this was probably done, could be a licensing thing first of all, but also it makes it easier for the actual physical release too, this compilation is already 2CDs and 3LPs as-is so including the full run of some of these tracks would only bump that number higher. There's an argument to be made that Abridging them spoils the intended experience and I can understand that, though I think Light In The Attic have done their utmost to compress it down while keeping it fairly intact. See The Light is (ironically) not as bright sounding as Ephemeral Beauty, it's much much more sedate in comparison the rising tides and lush waves of sound heard there. Evoking parts of Eno's Ambient I as mentioned above, See The Light is more about sustained tones punctuated by warm pads, and it's gorgeous.

And my other favourite from the comp, it's one I've posted before but it bears repeating. To the point where I'm pretty much going to copy/paste what I said last time. The team at Light In The Attic did a fantastic job curating the track list, and the choice of using Still Space from Satoshi Ashikawa as the opening was an almost perfect decision. If there were a sonic phrase to define the album, the opening tones would be it, an ideal distillation of not only the compilation's title - but the overriding atmosphere as well. It's a much more sparse affair than the other two examples I've posted, one that again invites comparisons to Eno's Ambient I, but once again it's a much more digestible piece at just shy of 4 minutes. It is simply wonderful and I cannot think of a better opener to set the tone for this compilation With the possible exception of another of my favourites Hiroshi Yoshimura's Time After Time. If you at all like the sound of this one, I would urge you to check out the compilation in full - especially the physical release which almost doubles the track list of the digital version.

Stepping into something more conventional this time. I will admit the things I've posted so far are very much in the deep end of Ambient - there are plenty of artists out there who make ambient that's not quite as spacey as the one's I've talked about so far. Hirotaka Shirotsubaki is normally one of those, but a few of his pieces are much more in line with something you might hear from artists like Boards Of Canada or Röyksopp. August Rain is one of those, there are a lot of field recordings in Shirotsubaki's work and the introduction of this one is no different - however after about 15 seconds this lonesome guitar chord comes into the mix and will continue to stick around for the remainder of the runtime. Something about the guitar tone reminded me a whole lot of the kind Akira Yamaoka uses on the more indie-sounding bits of the Silent Hill soundtracks, those do get pretty chill at times (and even go full on ambient in parts) but tend to dwell more in the Trip Hop side of things, where August Rain is much more skeletal in structure. In terms of establishing atmosphere it's brilliant, the warmer tones making a much more cozy experience than the cooler vibes of the rest of this post. It's a much different approach, but a welcome one.

And that'll do us for today. I think part of why I gravitated towards Ambient this time is because some of the week that's just gone has been pretty intense, and as cliché as it sounds, these kind of tunes make for good decompression music. If you're in need of a moment of calm then the selections here are a good start. And Ambient is a really good genre to binge on if it's done well - after all the whole philosophy is pretty much music that sounds just as good if it's being actively listened to or just on in the background. Keep that in mind when sampling this post, and remember that the bandcamp players will go onto the next track of the album automatically if you reach the end of one!

And as always - Stay safe and enjoy the music.


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