Dylan M. Howe - Criterion Summer
Released: May 8
Criterion Summer takes a rather interesting approach to creating ambient soundscapes by varying the components in a way that leaves things a bit unpredictable. If your only indication of what is on the album is the first track "Port of Call," you may think you are in for a bit of 80's inflected abstract jazz. At least that is what I thought when I first heard the sultry notes of a saxophone ringing out over deep rumbling swells. Then, "Pottery Fragment" steps in the let you know that this is not all there is to it as twisted textures fill the stereo space with the sound of creaking metal, feedback, and dialogue so low as to be nearly unintelligible. By the third track, "Dune Months," we return to less abrasive textures and that silky saxophone ringing out among the ambiance.
This back and forth between silky soft notes and harsh noisy textures plays out throughout the whole album with some tracks veering sharply in either direction or attempting to split the difference. "Electric Street (OC)" is by far the most defined lean into the realm of the noisy; however, it still maintains an eerie softness about it despite the harsher textures that Howe employs. This is followed by the evolving "Lost in the Stream" that begins with harsh strings that feel somewhere in between the soundtracks to Psycho and There Will Be Blood only for them to fade away and be replaced with gentle pads and the sounds of water washing on to a shore. Howe seems to take every opportunity he can to keep his listeners intrigued.
Petridisch - Les Gouvernantes
Released: May 20
Based on a book of the same name by French novelist Anne Serre, Les Gouvernantes is a brief walk through loads of odd synth tones in minimalist arrangements. Though minimal, it feels rather complete overall as each individual abstract melody stands firmly on its own without the need for much help. Sure, we do get a couple of tracks with percussion here including the steady but soft rhythm of "Gala" or the odd arhythmic clattering on "Stranger 2." But the music really shines through in its synth work such as on the opening track that bears the album's name. Being little more than a slightly spooky organ with a fast rotation and a pad over the top, it casts the remainder of the album in context with following tracks such as "Life Tumbling and Absorption" with its rapidly moving arpeggios that seem to add some degree of tension. The album overall is hard to describe in a single word as it's not exactly frightening but seems to have some strange quality of the overly dramatic. Which is quite a feat considering its commitment to minimalism.
Sunwarper - Farther
Released: May 20
This latest EP from Michael Jakucs as Sunwarper brings a new dimension to his well-established sound with the revelation that, on top of being a talented producer and guitarist, he is also something a vocalist as well. With the title track, he puts his vocal skills on full display with a composition that exudes synthwave nostalgia (similar to his last release) but packages it up nicely in indie synth-pop sensibilities. Vocals may take the lead here but the well-crafted drums and guitar tones bring all the support needed to make this one something great. We even get an instrumental version at the end of the EP to boot. What's really cool about this EP though is that Jakucs gives us yet another dimension of his work with "Our View From Space." Gone are the pop sensibilities and are replaced with pure pad-driven ambient influences with that distinct guitar work that is indicative of his style. Quite an interesting combination of tracks here.
BREATHS - Isolera
Released: May 21
For his fourth full-length release, Richmond-based BREATHS takes an opportunity to experiment with combining multiple genres into one long EP. Long droning synths combine with heavy doom metal guitar riffs in "Movement I" though the transition between these two elements takes place over an epic seventeen minutes that eventually ends the track in a wall of sound. "Movement II" conversely gives us a more pure ambient sound with the synths providing a mysterious elegy in the background in the form of airy synths. "Movement III" seems to be a somewhat strange break in character from the previous two tracks as it seems to intertwine a bit of drums and sounds almost happy. Finally "Movement IV" rounds things out with a bit more of this happy character and drums a bit sparser, at least until the very end in which we are given a bit of a short callback to the first track. A rather interesting story told in four discrete pieces.
Bless This Machine - Synthetics
Released: May 27
Where Bless This Machine's last EP was an exploration of purely synth-forward ambient compositions, Synthetics is a sweeping foray into all that is possible with the use of electronic instruments and a few field recordings and bits of dialogue. "Memories" opens up the album in a long and spanning manner with birds chirping, warped dialogue, and some intriguing use of panning to create an immersive soundscape. From here, the Edinburgh trio proceeds to through everything their collective minds can come up with at us including crisp electronic drums and wildly evolving synths. And as they proceed to throw all of this in our direction, they are also careful never to do the same thing twice and give us something unique in every track.
After the deceptively calm and introspective introduction, Synthetics comes at you hard with three uptempo tracks that but the drums up front and the synths serve to drive the rhythms forward. My favorite of these three is by far "Synthetics" with its slightly off-kilter rhythms and pulsating bass that is ever so wonderfully topped off with the arpeggiated synth playing a short rapid-fire melody. But once those three tracks end, we come back to a bit of the gentle introspection with "17:44," a track that simply oozes wonder with its quick bell arpeggios and wobbly sweet pads. When the drums finally make a return on "Pleiades," they come in the form of a downtempo rhythm that resembles something more akin to a chilled dub track. It's this neat juggling act that Bless This Machine pulls off splendidly that makes the album such a treat to listen to.
Willebrant & Man vs Synth - alpha
Released: June 3
Continuing on his collaborative kick, bassist and field recording enthusiast Karl Willebrant teamed up with Man vs Synth (Mat Farry) to create a bass-heavy drone track that includes some oddly fun twinkling synths right at the edges. The fun part about this track is that it seems to seamlessly combine the influences of each artist to the point where it is difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. The deep rumbling of the bass seems to combine the smooth tones of Willebrant's bass guitar with the saw waves of Farry’s Moog Sub 37 so flawlessly to create a strange bit of deep droning that it is difficult not to get sucked into. It would be excellent to hear these two artists expand this idea into a larger work such as an EP or album.