Haunting, introspective releases from Sophia Saze, Rafael Anton Irisarri and K. Leimer inspire discussion and change.

The ambient and chill releases of June have been particularly thought-provoking with artists Sophia Saze, Rafael Anton Irisarri and K. Leimer exploring themes of human nature, the threat of climate change and frightening political agendas. Yet, the artists working through these heavy topics seem to provide a sense of hope as well. It can be heard in the bright and soothing tones that wash over you, picking you up when you thought you might not make it through the day.

True to this special genre, these selections are wide ranging from hypnotic downtempo to curious, industrial soundscapes. Ambient music is made for inward reflection, but it can also be a wonderful shared experience that sparks discussions or simply feeling the music together can be enough.

1. “HOWL” – SOPHIA SAZE [KINGDOMS]

Since the beginning of May, we have been getting small tastes of Brooklyn-based Sophia Saze’s latest LP, Self Part 1. The Georgian producer’s dark, downtempo memoir explores the struggles of identity while embracing unique imperfections. After growing up in several different countries, the producer has made a name for herself in the Brooklyn techno scene where her label, Dusk and Haze, was born in 2017. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any track from this mysterious album. The dreamy “Howl” is full of distorted voices that shh and hush. Accompanied by a seductive synth groove and a touch of acid padding, this one is a contemplative night ride.

2. “BLACK PITCH” – RAFAEL ANTON IRISARRI [ROOM40]

New York-based musician, record producer, and mastering engineer, Rafael Anton Irisarri needs little introduction. On the heels of the summer solstice, comes his latest haunting and cinematic imprint, Solastalgia, which grapples with the impending threat of climate change and our nation’s indifference towards it. The epic, yet brooding tone of "Black Pitch" feels like searching through the fog. Warm drone orchestras build into waves that steer you into solemn reflection. It’s hard not to get lost in this journey.  

3. “FATAL FLOWER” – CITY AND I.O [PTP] 

Electronic artist, Will Ballantyne (City) and musician, Maxwell Patterson (i.o) have joined forces and it’s hard to believe that their album, Spirit Volume, was made long distance. “Fatal Flower,” one of the calmer additions, fuses a hypnotizing whiplash that sounds like a broken piece of machinery spinning around. The harsh rotation grows louder until it sputters off and melancholic drones take over again, but they’re peaceful. As waves of static wash over a voice asks, “What happened in your dreams?” At least, that’s what I think is being asked. It’s too subdued to know for sure, kind of like an actual dream. There’s no telling what turns this track will take next, which is why it’s one of my favorites from the album. As soon as there’s a continuous motion, all sounds crumple together and fly off into some abyss. 

4. “YOU, ONLY” – EKIN FIL [VAAGNER]

Setting the scene in pouring rain with machinery and distant explosions, this ominous dream state develops into a textured forest of reverberating drones and sputtering bleeps that sound like they’re being blown out of a bubble wand. It’s a very pleasing atmosphere for such a bleak opening. “You, Only” is also the title name of Turkish musician Ekin Fil’s album, out now on Berlin label, Vaagner.

5. “PQ CQ” – DJ PYTHON [DEKMANTEL]

Derretirse, DJ Python’s latest release, has a lot of hypnotic quirks to choose from. “Pq Cq” gives a gentle downtempo end to the collection with rolling, bubbling pads, and a nice deep groove that’s true to the producer’s infectious house-meets techno-meets reggaeton approach. If you’re looking for the perfect combination of trippy soundscapes and feel-good melodies, check out the album out now via Dekmantel. 

6. “STATE FOREST” – BURIAL [HYPERDUB]

Beloved London producer, Burial, delivered Claustro / State Forest on June 14 and the 2-track project truly has the best of both worlds. While the more soulful, break-beat “Claustro” shows off the artist’s adventurous imagination, “State Forest” is pure introspection. This all-consuming track is cinematic melancholia at its finest, incorporating slight flicks of a lighter and a constant vinyl crackle against a drawn out, echoing soundscape. An exhalation and distant footsteps are heard as if someone is contemplating down an endless dark tunnel.

7. “TEIRI” – SEAKETA [CHINABOT]

Kyoto-based Seaketa creates a glitchy-pop dreamland with this piece and there’s no telling where these lightly bursting patterns will end. The experimental fluctuations are so playful, they’re almost like courtships. His EP, Gion, roughly translating to both onomatopoeia and Kyoto, is out now via Chinabot.

8. “SANTICA” – CROSSING AVENUE [SPAZIO DISPONIBILE]

This wavy percussive addition comes off Italian duo Crossing Avenue’s EP, Carmaleonte, their third release with Spazio Disponibile. The EP is deep aquatic techno, but with plenty of left field laser bursts and synth twists to make it completely surprising. “Spazio” is extra slow, rolling you into the unknown with hypnotizing loop after loop.

9. “BAMBOO PILLARS” – OWL [LOWLESS]

Sensuous dub lines roll across a soothing atmosphere while distant forest sounds make their way in. It’s a complete dreamscape and Belgium-based Owl is a producer who has mastered this deep ambient style. His EP, Arashiyama is out now via Lowless.

10. “LOOPING TRUTHS AND EXPECTATIONS” – UNKNOWN MOBILE [PACIFIC RHYTHM]

This laid back groove shimmers and twinkles in all the right places. A positively light and warm atmosphere using chime inflections and soft tribal percussions to bring you into a pleasant dream state. You won’t want to do much else except lay back, close your eyes, and smile. Unknown Mobile's LP, Daucile Moon, is out now via Vancouver label, Pacific Rhythm. 

11. “@TRITION” – ABADIR [YEREVAN TAPES]

Shifting gears now into more melancholic ambient is Cairo-based Abadir’s “@Trition,” a sorrowful, yet angelic and trembling soundscape. This riveting addition comes off the producer’s album, Aphasia, a dystopian world where human’s ability to communicate has vanished and their only shot at survival is self-transformation into cyborgs. Known for his collaborative project, 0N4B and his audio-visual collective, Mapping Possibilities, Abadir comes through on the solo tip for this dark, imaginative piece. 

12. “UNCERTAIN INSTRUCTION” – K. LEIMER [FIRST TERRACE]

This fragmented lo-fi composition is a part of legendary electronic music artist Kerry Leimer’s album, Irrational Overcast. It’s a meditative project that K. Leimer views as a way to deal with authoritarianism and everything that is wrong with today’s political climate. The distortion heard in the sputtering voices and crumpling surroundings is purposefully used to show troubling human behavior and how contagious it is. The gentle piano rhythm seems to be the part that searches for a cure. 

13. “RENAME” – CEDRIC ELISABETH [MALM]

French composer and sound artist Cedric Elisabeth puts together a really beautiful, otherworldly landscape here. Soft knocks tap through a shivering backdrop that seems to have a pulse. Echoing laser beams and frequencies add to this track’s deep enchantment. Giving the whole album a listen through isn’t a bad idea either, especially since each track flows into the next for a continuous journey. The EP, Prosperus is out now on Copenhagen-based label, Malm.

14. “MOOD SWINGS” – ATARIAME [NOT NOT FUN]

Singer/songwriter and ambient artist, Artariame, brings her experimental and ethereal sound to eclectic label, Not Not Fun with her album, Voiceless. “Mood Swings” is a gentle, yet trippy ride through pulsing, synthy soundscapes. The melodic first half gently flutters and beeps, gradually descending into hypnotizing, electronic machinery. Sometimes, there is nothing more sonically pleasing than warped transmissions. 

15. “FONTES SEQUANAE” – SODA LITE [INNER ISLANDS]

Dutch-born and Melbourne-based producer Soda Lite, real name Alex Last, is known for infusing blissful sounds of nature into ambient electronics. His latest album, Vale and Stone off Oakland label, Inner Islands, is a magical display of these techniques. “Fontes Sequanae” begins with a running stream, but it doesn’t sound completely organic. It quivers along with the rest of the woodland backdrop. Soft organs make an appearance with equally soft drums, creating a completely enchanting territory. There is an intriguing strangeness to the track’s tone that makes it stand out from other soothing ambient. 

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