10 Interesting Ambient, Classical, Electronic Releases of 2020
While Scene Point Blank typically aligns our coverage to certain genres, a multitude of interesting releases of other types pop up each year. Here's a list of some albums released this year that it may be worth heading outside your comfort zone to explore.
The Most Beautiful Song I've Heard
At times ambient, more electronic, somewhat classical, and even playing as a found sound recording, this ultimately is just a fascinating tapestry of voices, sound effects, and frequently beautiful, sometimes just plain odd bits of sound. Though quite lengthy, this album might be the ticket if you’re looking to escape reality for a while.
Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft, Nels Cline
Music From The Early 21st Century
This improvised jazz recording featuring a trio of drummer, keyboardist, and guitarist regularly locks down some deep grooves while also delivering murky psychedelia, more upbeat moments, and utter serene beauty, particularly down the stretch. All the players here are clearly competent; the rhythms are tight and the guitar soars when needed, but it’s Saft on the keys who perhaps shines the brightest as he pumps out nifty melodies, soft ambiance, and bursts of synth weirdness.
Bing & Ruth
On a year when the human species went through a lot, Species the album is about the opposite of everything 2020 embodied. Warm and contemplative, the only thing I could maybe say against this ambient release is that its synth and keyboard-driven tracks get kind of samey after a while. Still, I think the overall effect is hypnotic rather than off-putting, and it’s exceedingly pleasant to listen to.
Aphex Twin didn’t release anything in 2020, but a host of electronic artists stepped up to fill that gap. From the breakbeat of Sewerslvt and John Frusciante (yes, the former Chili Peppers guitarist, whose catalog of solo work only gets more intriguing over time) to the glitchiness of Container (how weird was 2020? Container’s album this year actually had a title other than “LP”), there were some pretty outstanding electronic releases. Unleashing a plethora of bizarre tones and effects and doing a little of everything, from manic to chill, in the same way that Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James seems capable of, Ground Tactics’ Reality Implant may be the 2020 release that best embodies the Aphex spirit.
The Bandcamp page for this release includes the user comment “This album is really great on drugs.” That seems accurate. Mysterious, mesmerizing, and introspective ambient music that somewhat recalls for me the sort of material found on Selected Ambient Works Vol. II. Tracks gradually evolve, with synths bubbling up and pulsing around soothing atmospheric tones and white noise. While much of the album is vaguely unsettling and quietly tense, the whole thing builds to a nicely hopeful finale.
Taking the minimalist classical works of Flemish composer Kevin Imbrechts a.k.a. Illuminine and reimagining them as stripped down piano numbers, Dear, Piano is full of delicate melodies and has a lonely, almost haunting quality to it. One of the things about this album is that the tracks were created by 18 different artists and some of the compositions are featured more than once, making it interesting to see how different people worked with the same basic foundation using the same instrumentation. If you’re looking for something relaxing to listen to, this would certainly fit the bill.
Saffronkeira With Paolo Fresu
In Origine: The Field Of Repentence
A new album by Saffronkeira is something I look forward to. When I learned he had a new album in the makes I was excited. When I learned he teamed up with trumpeter Paolo Fresu I got even more excited. Why? Because his previous collaboration with a brass player (Mario Massa) the result was mind blowing. It gives his sound a bit more organic, which adds even more dynamism to an already dynamic sound. The high of his collaboration with Massa is matched at least on this album.
Sometimes I just buy records without checking them out, purely based on my (high) expectations. Home is one of those records. I loved her previous album Esja and could not resist the artwork of this one. At first I had to get used to one change: she is singing on about half the tracks now. I did not really expect that. I still really do love her instrumental tracks, which are beautiful piano driven soundscapes/neo-clasical pieces. Once I got used to the fact there's someone singing over the other tracks I started to see the beauty of these tracks as well.
Correlations (On 11 Pianos)
I got to know Carlos Cipa when I explored Denovali Records roster some years ago. I lost track of him after he changed labels. This year I rediscovered him and as reward I now have to new albums to explore. On his previous, Retronyms, he is exploring new territory. The first two records and a collaboration EP included piano only. On Retronyms, other instruments were included and got to play quite a big role really. Very enjoyable music still. On Correlations it seems he is returning a bit to his roots: the piano. At the same time this album feels like an exploration of sorts. An exploration of moods to conjure, of his mind perhaps. As the title explains this album is played on eleven different piano's. Each piano is selected as it matched the mood Carlos Cipa wanted to explore with you. The end result is a diverse and very exiting album!
I am cheating a little bit here, including an EP instead of full length. But hey, this is great stuff and as the full length is only just released (at the time of writing) I have not yet have had time to listen to it. Mansur is a project in which Jason Kohnen is involved. You might know his name from various projects or bands, but The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Orchestra is the most important reference point here. Think what that band did and add Eastern influences to that. The vocals are (because of those influences) less jazzy, but match the musical mood perfectly! There's only five tracks on this album, which leaves me hungry for more. I am looking forward to exploring the full length soon!