March has been an exciting month with Leaving Records and Opal Tapes bringing more haunting and tech-inspired releases to the ambient table. Experimental collectives PAN, IA, and Genome continue to redefine what music is through film collaborations, spoken word, and even a 24-minute track. A more minimalist approach has been present in March which feels fitting for this time of year.
The spring season is associated with starting fresh. Goals set at the beginning of the year are revisited for a “Spring cleaning.” What is needed? What can be taken out or changed? This is the painstaking process of composition, especially in the ambient and chill genres where a beat is often absent.
The following list displays 15 stand-out artists, many of whom have scaled back a bit to show the possibility of less. In no particular order, here are my choices for March!
1. "NOCTURNE” – ANA ROXANNE [LEAVING RECORDS]
I first listened to Ana Roxanne’s album, ~~~, before bed, headphones on and wrapped in my blanket. While ambient, in general, is ideal music to fall asleep to, I’m very picky with the last thing I hear before dozing off, but Ana’s vocals covered me like echoing warm waves, the tones gently tugging my emotions. It was as if she was holding me in her voice. Yes, this analog ambiance and Ana’s unapologetic vulnerability might make you cry, but it’s well worth it, I promise.
2. “BO0VV” – N_/0 [OPAL TAPES]
UK label, Opal Tapes knocked it out of the park at the end of the month with four releases all touching on deep, minimal techno and ambient. Mexican soundtrack composer and producer, Luis Rivera, n_/0 for his analog electronic projects, confronts the human interaction with machines for his album, (entitYname0nly), raising questions of who (or what) makes the rules. “Bo0vv” is a slow-paced, meditative pulsation through distorted audio and echoing utensils. A soft, fading percussion becomes a recognized sound to latch onto in the dense atmosphere.
3. “ROOFTOP”– TUJIKO NORIKO [PAN]
A nostalgic lo-fi piece that mysteriously trudges onward. Haunting drones tremble while subtle echoes and brief pauses travel through past memories. Like being on a long train ride alone staring out the window, the tones in “Rooftop” are deeply personal, but out of reach at the same time. This sense of distance reflects the story behind Kuro, Tujiko Noriko’s upcoming LP and also a film released by PAN’s experimental soundtrack series, ENTOPIA. Tujiko Noriko co-wrote and directed, and also stars in the film about a Japanese woman in Paris taking care of her paraplegic lover.
4. “19 WHITE SHEETS” – B.YHZZ [IA]
Warsaw Label, Intruder Alert has been following mysterious noises of different underground cultures, bringing forth some of the most evocative and exploratory music I’ve heard in while. B.yhzz is an artist belonging to the core group. His latest release, Moments Before, Given Trust, has a minimalist approach instrumentally with unfiltered spoken word sprinkled throughout. I like the rolling wooden pieces moving around in “19 White Sheets.” They consume the track as if being trapped inside an old clock. A heavy touch on the piano keys goes well with B.yhzz’s soft and unapologetic vocals.
5. “LINES” – A VAGUE GARDENER [ETANG-BRULANT]
This pensive track has an alluring, 80s-feel to it that speaks to A Vague Gardener’s upcoming album, The Boy from Sasebo, which explores the dark, surrealist literature of Ryu Murakami. Synthlines swerve all the way through the end as an electric guitar that sounds far off makes an appearance. It creates a feeling of driving alone through dark, city streets with no real destination.
6. “BOUNDLESS EXPANSION (KRIS VANGO REMIX)”– FARWARMTH
Berlin-based Australian sound artist, Kris Vango offers a twist to Farwarmth’s original ambiance to create a graceful and dazzling composition. The track is very enchanting with well-orchestrated soundscapes and captivating vocals that appear mid-way through. A breathtaking sensation washed over, as if I were on a mountain, the land of Hyrule stretched out before me. I especially enjoy the different layered textures of musical notes, soft static, and breath during the second half.
7. “LATE SEPTEMBER SKY (HYDRANGEA REMIX)"– SEGUE
Hydrangea offers a heavier hand on the bass for this sensual remix of Segue’s beloved ambient gem. The producer’s pounding force never overpowers the dreamy soundscape, making this chilled out piece something you can really bounce to.
8. “FREEZE 2 (DUB MIX)”– PERMAFROST [CIRCULAR LIMITED]
Here is a sweet dose of pulsating ambient-tech to delve into your subconscious. Spooky echoes swirl around the deep drums that seem to originate from your own core. It’s dark and sinister, perfect for the 11 PM anticipation before the faster techno unleashes onto the dancefloor. Make sure to check out the rest of Permafrost’s EP, The North, for more wavy textures.
9. "OBLIQUE BEAT”– KORINAMI [EXPÉRIMENTAL]
It doesn’t get much deeper than this one. Korinami creates an ideal trance-inducer with a mystical beat that is both dark and tribal. The sound has a dub-techno essence fused with indigenous influence (think Wanderwelle's Gathering of the Ancient Spirits). A slow, absorbing dance that activates all the senses.
10. "NO TONGUE” – QASIM NAQVI [ERASED TAPES]
This uplifting and free-flowing piece is what you’d expect from an album titled Teenages. After a curious halt in the beginning, bright and playful tones move around sporadically, yet with careful direction. Created entirely on a homemade modular synthesizer, composer and drummer, Qasim Naqvi developed his album through experimenting. As his machine grew with different components so did its ability to rebel against Naqvi's direction, giving the album title its name. Teenages drops in May.
11. “UN JARDÍN DE LAMENTOS” – PORTENTO [GENOME]
Technically, this 24-minute track is also the album...an intoxicating album. Portento has a delicate touch overall, but there are brief moments of bursting snaps and uneven static that sound like fuses blowing out. There are several pauses, so this could be interpreted as tracks within a track. Keyboard melodies dance but never stick around. The song remains a journey with alluring vocals and no indication of where it will go next. It is hard to compose a piece that is both melodically soothing and unpredictable, but Portento leaves the listener guessing until the very end.
12. “STILL WAITING AT THE RECEPTION” – PENTU [MERCI JITTER]
London and Seoul–based collective, Merci Jitter approaches the compilation format with an analytical lens for their release, Riddled Form. Pentu, real name Chris Jordan, is one of the ten artists featured on this assemblage, which explores how today’s generation is managing a world ruled by social media. Far off voices get lost in the shaky transmission that begins this track. The vibrations open up into a vast soundscape, leaving plenty of room to run through stabbing synths and frantic electronics. The constant movement is pulled together for an inspirational melody, a perfect ending to a record that addresses a particularly tough issue.
13. “TUOLLA PUOLEN" – LINNUISSA [TRUE AETHER]
The hashtag, #energymusic, caught my eye when I stumbled upon Linnuissa’s release, Vihreä Talo. A contradicting tag for ambient music, one might think, but “Tuolla Puolen” provides pleasant energy that drifts across ethereal drones and vast, open space. Linnuissa are Karri Luhtala and Joni Judén (aka Celestial Trax). Luhtala’s signature instruments like the Fender Rhodes and Judén’s trippy electronics reunite again for their third album.
14. "STATUS"– ALIS [ASTRAL PLANE RECORDINGS]
The tension between the scratchy percussions and Alis’ soft vocals make this track from her LP, Papercuts, my favorite. Known for her experimental club music, the Berlin and London-based producer creates a more visceral atmosphere on this release that varies from abstract discordance to airy, rustic ambient.
15. "THE WEAK SONG" – PHILIPP OTTERBACH [KNEKELHUIS]
Desire fights regret on this absolutely riveting track. Slow, seductive 303 chords stretch out into a void as a repeated female vocal keeps it too real. While this mysterious addition stands out to me, Philipp Otterbach’s EP, The Rest is Bliss, is addicting sleek and sexy ambient.