Sean Williams

2016 in Music

posted on 31 Dec 2016 at 10:00 pm

I’m not sure I’ve explored a single new ambient artist this year, which is a reflection on my state of mind rather than the state of the music industry. It’s been a year of reinvention and complication on the professional and personal fronts of my life. There’s only so much novelty an old guy like me can take!

Here are my ambient top picks for the year:

stars end#1 most-played track AND album

Erik Wøllo’s Star’s End (Silent Currents 4) is the latest in a series of live performances that shift smoothly between many diverse tonal soundscapes. This is the best so far. I’m hopeful there are more coming. (Hear the full album at the link above. Where possible, I’ve tried to provide playable samples.)

#2 Steve Roach, Live In Tucson – Pinnacle Moments

Another live album containing more diverse sonic adventures, from another of my favourite ambient artists. The favourite – and as always it’s hard to pick just one album from the many SR releases in a given year. (You’ll find another in the also-rans below.) This performance must have been quite an experience, particularly once the sequencers started kicking in. Favourite track: “Skeleton Passage”, which you can also buy in an extended form on the “Skeleton-Spiral Passage” EP.)

atmospherics - signed#3 Bass Communion, Atmospherics

If 2015 was the year I invested in Steven Wilson as a contemporary artist, 2016 was the year I discovered his ambient and more experimental work. Released under the name Incredible Expanding Mindfuck as well as Bass Communion, there are several hard-to-impossible-to find albums that I accessed however I could. One of them, Atmospherics, is an unreleased compilation of aural backdrops that might have been suitable for TV. This CD of short bits has been on heavy rotation all year (and my copy is now signed by the man himself). Favourite track: “The Fog.”

#4 Sasha – Scene Delete (Late Night Tales)

Sasha the DJ probably needs no introduction. I’ve loved his more experimental mixes and original music for years now, and I was excited when LateNightTales announced that he would be recording a mix for them. It seemed to take forever, but was worth the wait. Crisp, complex, and cool. Also worth mentioning: Ólafur Arnalds did one as well.

texturen#5 Atom TM – Texturen I

I’ve been delving deep into the back-catalogue of this extraordinary artist, whose work I first encountered at Unsound Adelaide several years ago. This is a single work that evolves slowly and not always comfortably across a full hour. The middle section (along with the album on the cover) appears to be related to his second work in Adelaide, last year. Either way, I love this, but it may not be to everyone’s taste.

Other highlights:

ASC – No Stars Without Darkness

The Caretaker – Everywhere at the end of time

Steve Roach – Shadow of Time (the title track is one of my most played tracks of the year)

Stratosphere – Rise  (ditto!)

Max Richter – Sleep

All in all a good year, although I am aware there are probably lots of wonderful new ambient experiences I’m missing out on. (All suggestions welcome, by the way.) My favourite playlist was a collection of beloved orphaned tracks from albums I don’t listen to much anymore – works by Patrick O’Hearn, Gas, Biosphere, Greg Plummer, Global Communications, Altus, and others – so that’s really where my mind has been this year.

In terms of non-ambient music, I’ve been loving Underworld’s triumphant and surprisingly personal return to form Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future (the sountrack of my 2016), iamamiwhoami’s enigmatically poppy Blue, The 1975’s paean to 1986 I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, Stephen Wilson’s delightful EP of songs that didn’t make it to the last album 4 1/2, and the Nashville Season 4 sountrack (I know!).

Here’s to a 2017 full of beautiful sounds.

  1. Kristine says:

    Must dig into these–ambient is the best music for me when writing.

  2. Kristine says:

    …and I just bought the Underworld album. Not ambient, but I think I can write to it. Love learning about new stuff–thanks!

  3. sean says:

    No worries at all! Enjoy. 🙂

  4. Caden says:

    Always a good job right here. Keep rolling on thguroh.