A list comprised of both bright and haunting tones to save you from February’s winter blues.

Rolling through the chilled out ambient waves once more, it’s inspiring to see familiar labels like Chinabot and Opal Tapes consistently delivering thought-provoking music as well as techno and ambient platforms, Ceili and Kornarion making a splash. Vaagner and Cryo Chamber also had some solid releases this past month and were close calls.

The end of the month saw the first vinyl release of Unseen Worlds, electronic music pioneer, Lauren Spiegel’s 1991 renowned ambient CD. Fittingly, the New York label now pressing her album is also called Unseen Worlds. Portuguese producer, Lewis Fautzi, also came out with his LP, Insanity Department, which creeps steadily along his signature hypnotic, textured techno.

Trapped in the dead of winter, February is often associated with gloominess and lonesome energy. Fortunately for me, that means artists are tucked away in their studios, creating magic or putting the finishing touches on a track. As always, I was left with a much longer list I had to narrow down, but I think these selections will offer the right amount of warmth and surprise to lift your spirits. 

1. “NUCIFORA” - WITCH TRIALS [CEILI]

A truly angelic track with subtle acid incorporations bouncing in the background. They fade into uplifting and bright tones that flow up and down like waves. This addition comes off the 6-track VA compilation release from Irish-bred, London-based label, Ceili. The name is an Irish term for gatherings where stories are told and music is shared. Witch Trials, real name Omar O’Reilly, swoops in at the end of the album for a perfect ambient rescue.   

 2. “CONTRAIL” - NORAUS [MICROCOSMOS]

This is a really peaceful and spacey tune from a late, beloved producer and author. Max Tsibizov, or Noraus, almost finished his final full-length before his death in August 2018. In an effort to complete his musical legacy, his friends joined forces to release the compilation. You can stream and purchase it here. Album sale funds will go to close friends and loved ones of the artist. 

3. “AFTER ITS OWN DEATH: SIDE B” - NIVHEK [YELLOW ELECTRIC]

Liz Harris, half of the ambient project, Grouper, has debuted solo this month as Nivhek with an elegant and reflective 4-track album titled After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house. With echoing guitar strums and soft vocals layered in, “After its own death side B” brings peace to darkness. The unpredictable moments of silence and explosive sounds are carefully composed as though telling a story. Curious field recordings of distant conversations and footsteps lead into beautiful drones, adding to the complexity of the track but never over-doing it. 

4. “QUIET TURMOIL” - POLYGONIA [IO]

Deep, trippy and an absolutely dreamy melody, this track instantly transported me to some parallel universe. Polygonia’s entire album, In the Dead of Night, reflects her visual artistry. The textures layer on top of one another, pulse and ripple so much you can almost see them. Stop what you’re doing, put on some good headphones, and give this masterpiece a listen. 

5. “LOOKING BACK” - JAEHO HWANG 

Chinabot has a serious gift for unearthing brilliant musical minds from Asia. This dark, echoing experiment comes from Korean musician and visual artist, Jaeho Hwang. The 6-track EP titled, Non-self 비자아, blends traditional Korean instruments as well as influential sounds of the dark London underground where Hwang roams. I really enjoy the reverberating layers in “Looking Back.” A heavy stomp that sounds like a giant approaching gradually picks up into a thundering rhythm as stringed instruments make their appearance with the slightest effort.

6. “SHANI” - ANCESTRAL VOICES [HORO]

Off his LP, Navagraha, Ancestral Voices, real name Liam Blackburn, returns with this haunting, experimental gem. The British sound designer, whose other aliases include Indigo, Akkord, and Seers, is known for incorporating dub, ambiance, techno, and IDM. His leftfield sounds unsettle and awaken the darkness within listeners. This track, with its pulsating beat and stretched out, reverberating synth lines, would make for an ideal set-opener. 

7. “MURMURES” - FLORA YIN-WONG [C.A.N.V.A.S.]

A bursting distortion of sound starts off this track. Chimes follow, then a breath, the ding of a bell, one after the other. A rumbling finds its way into calm string plucking, which is eventually interrupted. Flora Yin-Wong manipulates sound delicately here, so the sudden shifts are never too harsh. A point is reached where the music flutters rapidly, giving the title its name. This addition comes off London label C.A.N.V.A.S.’s first VA compilation, Cipher. 

8. “MERIDIAN LANDS” - OWL [KORNARION]

This dub-filled downtempo selection practically swallows you whole in its hypnotic and atmospheric energy. The mystical melody is very euphoric, inducing chills at just the right moment. The French audiovisual label released a couple of compilations this month, both including plenty of ambient and techno.

9. “SUNDRESS BEVERAGE” - BODY SAN [100% SILK]

As the title suggests, this is one sexy, chilled-out summer vibe. Slow deep house with a jazzy rhythm, this track will transport you to the happiest rooftop you can imagine. With not a cloud in sight, let the bass lines roll over you as quirky sounds poke through the absolutely feel-good melody.

10. "ITEM 7" - PONTIAC STREATOR AND ULLA STRAUS

Philly’s Pontiac Streator and Chicago’s Ulla Straus combine forces once again for this smooth, experimental ride through the subconscious. The trippy melody incorporates voices and faint audience applauses repeatedly to create a really pleasing atmosphere.

11. “VOYAGE INTERIEUR” - STEPH OUNA AND LENA

Here is a dose of zen ambiance that truly lives up to its title. This inner voyage includes gongs, bells, drones and an array of other surprises along the way. A gentle build, in the beginning, releases into an otherworldly soundscape perfect for reflective moments or transcending time.

12. “KAWANABE KYOSAI [PT. II]” - METEI [MÉTRON]

A curious, at times disruptive take on traditional Japanese aesthetics, Hiroshima-based artist Metei seems to be moving parts around in this track, seeing what works. It’s a meditation of sorts with a deepness that provides the sense of being underwater. Melodic keys and field recordings breathe in and out of each other against a soothing, grainy backdrop. This careful composition comes off Metei’s first full-length vinyl release, Komachi, which like his previous work, explores lost Japanese traditions. 

13. “THAT WORLD” - TIM HECKER [KRANKY]

While flutes play delicately across a dreamy atmosphere, it is the subtle slide- scratching sounds that take this track to the next level. Kranky delivers more mystifying ambient goodness once again. Hecker’s album, Anoyo, will be available May 10.

14. “ZINNEN” - KILCHHOFER ANKLIN [MARIONETTE]

Strange buzzing and tapping, birds chirping and other organic sounds...if there were a soundtrack for background noise, this would be it. There are so many viewpoints presented, but Benjamin Kilchhofer and Michael Anklin mesh them together cohesively, creating a peaceful melody with lots of textures. The duo also created a video to accompany the track using Super 8 film while on a trip. Their album, Moto Perpetuo, is out next month via Marionette. 

15. “PHORUSRHAECIDAE (SILVIA KASTEL REMIX)” - CHRA [EDITIONS MEGO]

Off the downloadable album, Ghost, comes a dark and disorienting experimentation from Vienna producer, Chra. Percussions pitter patter through beeps and lasers, creating an almost frantic feeling among echoes. A vibrating scratching that reminds me of a lie detector needle shakes out of control while a constant human breath reminds us that time is running out. 

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