Rounding the Fringes - October 18


The Billows Burn Bright - A Comprehensive List

Released: October 15


Well known for branching out into multiple forms of downtempo electronic music, Daniel Armstrong (a.k.a. The Billows Burn Bright) take this opportunity to bring forth a short collection of purely ambient works in his signature style. On this release, we are treated to a wonderous assortment of ethereal visions that evoke feelings of being some kind of non-participating observer in the world. It is difficult to describe, but each track seems to tell a separate story that forms a cohesive index of places and mental states.


Opening up with "The Quiet (1AM - 5AM)," we are taken in a sort of blank space in which stillness is the only occurrence. We are simply standing in the moment as time passes effortlessly and uneventfully. From here, we move on to new places and times. In fact, the very next track "Earth (Viewed From a Great Distance)" takes us to the outer reaches of our world with softly warbling pads and the wonderful addition of spoken word from the days of early space exploration. The BIllows continues setting these incredible stages throughout the album, moving swiftly from each place and time and taking us from the real and tangible to the abstract and less concrete. Simply wonderful and serene throughout.



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Heavy Cloud - The Precession of Simulacra

Released: October 15


An aptly named EP from Ryan Hooper (a.k.a. Heavy Cloud), this recent release is named in recognition of the work of philosopher Jean Baudrillard and it seems to do quite a bit of sonic justice to this origin. Divided into two separate but connected parts, the compositions here are unique and sometimes flustering. Both pieces move quickly from sound to sound, with some pinging synths and drones one moment and bizarre electronically manipulated chatter with glitchy and indecipherable words the next.


For much of part the first part, we are seemingly underwater with errant-sounding audio manipulations and splashing. This slightly confounding moment is replaced with softer synths as the movement progresses but even with these more fully fleshed out sounds, there is still that odd feeling coming from these tones. As it progresses into the second part, we return to the strange chattering noises that the album began with although we are now firmly out of the water and thrust into a more odd and alien space. Eventually, this jabber subsides into the background and we are treating to soft pinging synths that have a distinctly lo-fi quality to them. However, no matter what sounds are present, they all have the same quality of feeling, well, unreal.



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Ryan James Mawbey - Slow Wave of Long Comfort

Released: October 16


A drummer by trade, Ryan James Mawbey's recent release on Woodford Halse is a very interesting piece of work. While firmly within the realm of ambient music, the prominence of the drums throughout the album is not something that is often heard within the genre. Thinking to yourself that an ambient album that makes such heavy use of percussion certainly couldn't be ambient is understandable but wonderfully incorrect. These five compositions are ultimately subtle and entrancing, with an oddly meditative quality about them.


In the very first track, "Still," you are given a clear picture of what this album is all about. A long and droning pad of sorts introduces itself slowly until it crescendos into less droning pads and the percussion comes in swiftly. The drums play a repeating riff that slowly and subtly gets more complex as you listen (or am I imagining things?) until it slowly fades from the mix and leaves us only with the softly ringing pads in a haunting space. But not all of the tracks here are percussion driven. In "Inner Light," Mawbey steps away from the drum kit to give us an airy and slightly unsettling track that features the sparsest of percussion which sounds like someone banging on a sheet of metal somewhere in an alleyway. While miles more haunting, it still maintains the meditative quality that seems to define the album as a whole.



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Tape Sounds - Eureka

Released: September 28


Built entirely from cut-up and highly processed tape loops, Eureka is a collection of short vignettes that explore a variety of moods. Though the entire album clocks in at about 45 minutes, there are exactly 39 tracks here, so the compositions themselves are quite short. Despite this brevity, the album seems to flow together wonderfully as these short pieces run seamlessly into one another with ease. This is quite amazing considering how quickly the sounds seem to shift gears from warm and fuzzy to colder and sharper.


On first listen, I enjoyed what I heard. However, I realized later that I was actually missing a bit of context for this album. It is not just an album, but rather it was intended to be a full-fledged audio-visual project with similarly pieced together scenes of nature at the world at large juxtaposed against these cleverly manipulated pieces of dusty old audio. The scenes throughout pair up brilliantly with the created soundscapes and form a remarkably introspective look at the world that I highly recommend seeing for yourself.



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The Aquaerials - Moonriser

Released: September 3


I have to start out by saying that this EP tickled every single bit of my nostalgia to the highest degree. While I wouldn't necessarily call this synthwave, I could not shake the absolutely 80s vibes this whole album gave me. What I particularly enjoyed about it was that it seemed to be something of a callback to the huge pop ballads of that decade such as those from artists like Phil Collins and Richard Marx, a thing that I unashamedly admit to loving. What's more I got to enjoy these huge ballads without the nuisance of pretending I can sing along.


While I enjoyed all five tracks, a couple certainly stood out to me. First and foremost was the third track, "The Calming," a piano-centered ballad that called me back to the romantic movies of days gone with its incredibly emotive melody supported by a chorus of soft synths and an absence of percussion. Second, "Dust Bowl" was probably my next favorite as it contains some strange quality that reminds me of the late 80s slowly transforming into the 90s with acts like Sting moving away from their former bands and adopting a more contemporary sound. All in all, this is a beautiful album that is sure to remind you of days past, so long as you are at least 30 or so.



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Zpell Hologos - Birmania

Released: October 4


Zpell Hologos is the newest alias of Brazilian musician Claudio Szynkier, previously known as Babe, Terror. Being unfamiliar with his previous works, I can't compare this newest incarnation to his earlier works but I am also not sure what to make of this collection. This album seems to lie in some kind of strange blank space in between neoclassical composition and purely experimental with some tracks leaning harder in one direction or the other.


A great example of leaning towards the neoclassical direction is "Huni Kuyn." This track opens with darkly textured piano chords, giving the impression of strictly classical composition. However, Szynkier cleverly subverts this expectation halfway through by making these chords temporarily disappear and replaces them with eerily-tinged synth tones before bringing back those somber piano pieces alongside them. And while each track seems to lean further in one direction than the other, this subversion seems to define the overall work here. You are never really allowed to assume or predict the direction a track will take without being terribly wrong. To me, that seems to be there the real strength of this album. It refuses to let you predict anything and instead leaves you at the mercy of its whims.



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