The new year starts off right with beloved producers making comebacks and more underground artists testing the ambient waters.

Traditionally a month of radical changes and new beginnings, January certainly lived up to its name in the ambient and chill world. Originally from Orcas Island in Washington, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith released some older creations that sound like the actual ocean. While Virginia-based, Mumbai-born sound artist, Tavishi experimented boldly on an album drawing inspiration from scientific data and social issues.

This month’s list showcases noteworthy labels from around the world. Some are familiar favorites like British Columbia’s Silent Season and Latency based in France and some underground labels like Intruder Alert from Poland and South Korea’s Oslated are delivering consistently curious sounds.

The new year is a time to test limits and there have been several long-form compositions from ambient veterans like Hammock of Nashville and Bookworms based in Brooklyn. While their January releases aren’t on this list, they’re definitely worth checking out on Bandcamp. With that being said, the following songs represent ambient’s broad spectrum, which spans from lightly soothing to unsettling darkness. And of course, all the stuff in between.

Starting off in a meditative atmosphere, the list gradually grows heavier until we are immersed in the final track, which contains so many elements it’s difficult to categorize. Here are my selections for a relaxing and inspiring start to the new year. 

1. “TIDES IV” - KAITLYN AURELIA SMITH [TOUCH THE PLANTS]

Recorded in 2013, but just released this month, is Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s much-anticipated album, Tides: Music for Yoga and Meditation, made especially for her mother who is a yoga teacher. The artist is known for stretching sounds far beyond their limits, so while this compilation is meditative and serene, it is plenty strange. Smith’s use of the Buchla Music Easel makes rippling drones feel like hovering above and below sea level in “Tides IV,” while a vacuum-like addition reminds me of waves spraying in the distance.

2. “EXPLORER” - SCULPTING POWER

An uplifting tune with lots of organic jungle sounds and just the right amount of weird. A deep 303 beat lightly bounces through bird chirps and running water as videogame-like tunes playfully run their course. If you need to relax and want to feel like you’re in Donkey Kong (before a Kremling shows up), this track is perfect. 

3. “HY’NAKU”- ALUME [OSLATED]

Taken from Oslated’s 3rd compilation, Jeju 濟州, this otherworldly techno gem pulsates calmly, deep synths rising up from left field. Soft bubbles make it feel like an underwater journey, a technique the Rotterdam producer, Alume, is known for.  

4. "OCEAN SHADOW" - ASC [SILENT SEASON]

Ambient label, Silent Season has held this spacey, enchanting dream over our heads for about three weeks and finally released The Waves by ASC on January 30th. As the title suggests, the album explores the depths of natural elements with plenty of soothing echoes. In “Ocean Shadow” insect clicks reverberate into whispering trees, creating a soft melody that transports you to a dark forest. The mysterious tone makes the track feel like an exploration of uncharted territory. 

5. “EXPECTATION OR OBSESSION” - MARTINA LUSSI [LATENCY]

The sound construction here is very thoughtful with steady high hats and unexpected cheers from a sports crowd. What feels disorienting at first manages to form into a unique, cohesive composition. Switzerland-based Martina Lussi uses sound as a way to explore current topics from politics to digital music consumption on her new album, Diffusion is a Force.

6. “PERC MOD X CONTINUOUS MIX” - GLITTER SKULLS

More of a chill experimental sound journey, this extended percussive piece is the result of good ole improvisation. Constructed by Ithaca-based Glitter Skulls, who goes by other aliases like Robot Detective, this track, with its enchanting 80s sci-fi melody, is made for early morning come-downs.

7. “AMBEXP1” - S. CHANNEL [FREUND DER FAMILIE]

After listening to Inverted Audio’s premiere of “Distant Shores,” which is also S. Channel’s EP title, I had to check out the rest of the album and found the only other ambient track, “Ambexp1,” to be delightfully different. The reverberating drones and rapid beeping patterns are a far stretch from “Distant Shores’” echoing guitar and soft-ticking clock, a fitting final track. Bleeping bloops drip-drop continually onto a bed of soft static, a nod to the French producer’s playful electronic sounds. 

8. “ØO”-M422 [PATTERN ABUSE] 

The bass pads along this slow-moving acid trip. Warped voices cry out, their pitch a fine line between human voice and music. Something that sounds like a stick hitting a brick wall comes in as reverberating gongs intensify, making the song feel like a trance. Indeed, this one could be useful for a really trippy meditation. 

9. “BLACK MOTHER KALI GANDAKI” - BLACK RAIN [BLACKEST EVER BLACK]

As water pours through, a subtle violin melts into drowning reverb, making it sound like a voice crying down a bottomless well. The windswept drones make for a chilly and somber track, fitting the overtone of Black Rain's album, Computer Soul, which explores a timeless world through eerie dub-filled rides, distorted vocals, and gothic trepidations.

10. “CADENCE OF SLEEPLESSNESS” - SURACHAI [BL_K NOISE]

A melancholic melody gradually develops into a percussive warp through space. Deep and scratchy acid rhythms creep up from the depths landing this track somewhere between euphoria and a dystopian future. Check out Surachai’s LP, Come, Deathless on Bandcamp.

11. “EN” - NUJI [INTRUDER ALERT]

Chilling echoes and taunting melodies build while sharp sounds like that of a scissor snip, snipping away continue throughout. “En” is a very unsettling, yet curious ride. There are a few unexpected turns that feel like the air is being sucked out of you as the crunchiness picks up and up until you are dissolved. Warsaw label, Intruder Alert has been becoming one of my favorite stops for experimental ambient.

12. “KEEP MOVING FORWARD” - XIORRO 

As a promoter, DJ and producer, Xiorro is well versed in the industrial underground, constantly pushing the boundaries musically. This push is reflective of his stance in the Brooklyn scene where he is a leader in highlighting diversity. Released on the MLK holiday, “Keep Moving Forward” builds slowly as a noise like that of metal tapping metal, clangs just loudly enough until it softly fades. A long drone lands somewhere between a human voice and a siren. The quality is almost threatening, a warning that the inevitable change will come.

13. "LIVING THROUGH SLEEPING THROUGH" - 9T ANTIOPE [PTP]

Paris-based Iranian duo, 9T Antiope teases us before their LP, Nocebo releases next month. Machine music at its finest with a few ominous vocals. Plenty of twisting and cracking that forms a staggering beat. Transmission-like waves become uncontrollable, making this track feel like a soon to be aborted space ship.

14. “SPIRALING DOWN” - BUZZI

Straight from his EP with the same title, Brooklyn-based producer and DJ, Buzzi slows it down 10-fold for this one. While his signature 145+ bpm takes a back seat, the harsh, industrial style remains present. Weighted by suffocating static and crunch that sound like something being ground up in a machine, it really does feel like we are spiraling down. Taunting percussions start clinking their way in, adding to the disturbed overcast of the track and leaving little room to breathe. True to form, Buzzi also includes a "hard" version on the EP for a more sped up force. 

15. ”SATYAMEVA JAYATE” - TAVISHI [CHINABOT]

Biologist and multi-media artist, Tavishi returns with album, Voices in My Head via Chinabot this month for more ambient and industrial experimentation. Incorporating music from her home country of India and industrial sounds, “Satyameva Jayate” or “Truth triumphs alone” is 12+ minutes of building commotion and hypnotizing field recordings. 

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