Fans of dark ambient are no doubt aware of the “biggest” releases the genre saw this year. If this end-of-the-year list was to include those, it would ignore the smaller albums that, in some ways, were just as good. Rather than embark upon the nigh-impossible task to rank and compare all of them, I have decided to adopt a different track: these five albums here are ones that even fans might have missed, but each is well worth your time. Several of them are available for free via netlabels, too.
There are, of course, many, many releases out there, so even in the process of tracking these down, you might find something you didn’t expect. That’s exactly how I discovered these – while searching for something else.
Grove of Whispers – The Wind From Nowhere (Buddhist On Fire)
Here’s an example of an album of such focused and singular power, it’s almost overwhelming. John Tocher’s synthetic hurricane seems ripped from the most alien of shores. Its lack of subtlety can become numbing, but at its apex, the album creates a cosmic sense of awe with enviable ease.
Seetyca – Nemeton (Winter-Light)
On the other end of the spectrum from, you’ve got Nemeton, a meditative collection of melancholic and reflective drones, finely tuned by the prolific Seetyca. Never one to stay quiet for long, the elusive German soundsmith’s discography is a bit uneven, but when it all falls into place, there’s few artists who can match his unfolding sense of the mystic. Calming and visceral, Nemeton is a wondrous journey through a fantastic realm of dreams.
Bleak Fiction – Ghost Picture (m.i.s.t. records)
Ezequiel Lobo is relatively new to the scene, but he’s broken in with a bang. This album is a practiced display of aesthetic noise; not many artists reach this level of careful attention to detail and songwriting aplomb, but Bleak Fiction has already done so early in his career. A surreal collection of haunting distorted dronework that moves in gradual and unexpected ways, Ghost Picture is one of the most satisfying albums I heard this year. Held back only by technical limitations that I’m sure are temporary, Bleak Fiction is a name to watch.
Flowers For Bodysnatchers – Aokigahara (Cryo Chamber)
Cryo Chamber has garnered something of a reputation for releasing dark ambient soundtracks to non-existing films. While this has, to date, met with varying levels of success, this album blew my expectations out of the water. Duncan Ritchie’s second release as Flowers For Bodysnatchers is inspired by the so-called “Suicide Forest” in Japan where an unusual number of people travel to contemplate ending it all. While this is an intriguing concept on its own, Ritchie examines it by focusing on traditional instruments like piano and violin that enhance his electronics, and creates a stunning and unique atmosphere along the way. Also featuring measured drumming and sampled Japanese vocalizations, Aokigahara is perhaps the best example of “cinematic dark ambient” style that Cryo Chamber is becoming noted for. A fascinating, unexpected experiment that is a mournful and touching tribute to the confusion felt by those visiting the forest, Flowers For Bodysnatchers has crafted both an album of accomplished music and one of powerful atmosphere. Don’t let the odd name or the lack of history mislead you – this album is legitimately great.
Tor Lundvall – The Park (Dais Records)
OK, so the esteemed Mr. Lundvall might not exactly qualify as “undiscovered.” He still doesn’t have the reputation he deserves. The Park is his first new instrumental album in three years, and it was worth the wait. Lundvall has always been able to blur the lines between our world and the one he sees, and his ability to do this has increased. Simultaneously stripped down and deeper, The Park is both a refinement of Lundvall’s combination of strange ambiance and sparse percussion, and a new level of aesthetic excellence. Inspired by the real-life parks he frequents, this Park exists solely in Lundvall’s eerie yet familiar territory, and he has invited us to visit. All we need to do is listen.