Now that I’ve gotten my complaining out of the way, it’s time to resume my infrequent “what have I been listening to lately?” surveys of various genres, starting with ambient. Ambient is obviously a vast genre to simplify down to the bands I’ve picked today, and a lot more could be said than I’m going to say, but I’ll give you some excellent entry-level material to explore.
Eluvium. I’m torn in my feelings for Eluvium, because I really like his music, but some of it is guilty of the kind of “exploitation” I called contemporary classical musicians out on¹. Listen to Radio Ballet, for example. It is a good song, but why is it a good song? Well, if you ask me, it’s because he’s using the magic four chords, it’s got that personal, engaging feel that solo piano works often do, it has that easily-reproducible sense of movement that 3/4 (or is it 6/8?) songs often do. In short, it’s a good song more due to the techniques employed rather than because he actually wrote something original. That said, he really does have a lot of great songs. An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, while it may seem like Radio Ballet at first, has got a lot of presence (maybe he turned up the reverb), and I think it’s a more powerful song. Another good example of his ability to generate an atmosphere is Indoor Swimming at the Space Station. Overall, you may see what I’m saying about his “style,” but I’ll bet most people would enjoy him anyway.
Mountains. This is a great ambient/post-rock band. I regret to say their latest album is so new that I couldn’t find the songs I wanted to share on youtube. That said, I caught Propeller on internet radio, and it is one of the best songs I have heard all year. It’s got an awe-inspiring crescendo effect that makes you feel like you’re not the same person you were when you started the track. Just hearing it made me want to listen to more of their stuff. As I said before, they’ve got some more ambient-sounding music, like Choral, and some more post-rock-sounding music, like Telescope. With music like that, it’s all about the places it takes your mind.
Stars of the Lid. If you’ve got a lot of free time, this is a band you should definitely check out. They’re kind of strange, in my opinion. I don’t have a favorite song, and peculiarly, I wouldn’t say that any of their songs are really meant to stand on their own. They’re more of an “album” band, and the journey you’re taken on through their music is best experienced that way. They have a very good control of calmness. You’ll hear them introduce anxiety into their music, in order to calm it. My favorite album by them is Avec Laudenum, but here are one or two tracks to familiarize you with their sound².
Hammock. These guys are a personal favorite of mine. They are also a bit of an ambient/post-rock hybrid, but in what I’ve listened to, they really tend toward the ambient side more than “proper” post-rock. At this point in the article it goes without saying that they have quite a bit in common with the bands listed above, but I’d say that what makes them stand out is that they are generally more melodious. This could be interpreted to mean they don’t take many risks, but I don’t listen to ambient music to be shocked. Listen to We Will Say Goodbye to Everyone, as well as All Is Dream and Everything Is Real (you can always spot a post-rock band by their song names). What you’ll notice is that even though their music is loud, it is very soothing. It would probably make good stargazing music.
Windy & Carl. These two sound different than the other bands in this article, and I believe that is because their influence is more shoegaze than anything else. For example, A Dream of Blue includes vocals and pretty heavily distorted sounds. This is calming to some people, disturbing to others. They’ve got a mixture of more oppressive songs, like The Same Moon and Stars, as well as more traditional ambient work like Balance (Trembling). They weren’t really my favorite of the bunch, but I include them for those who might prefer their sound to the others.
I think we all know I secretly desire more pageviews on my last.fm profile, but if you want to see what kind of stuff I might talk about before I even right the article, it’s a good place to start.
¹Matthew Robert Cooper, the man behind Eluvium, is himself a decent contemporary classical composer