Sean Williams

2017 in Music

posted on 20 Dec 2017 at 12:18 am

Put 2017 down as the year Jeffrey Koepper rekindled my love of the Berlin School–although it would be fair to say that my adoration of analogue sequencing could never really be extinguished. From the moment my father bought me a Tangerine Dream album (Ricochet, in the vicinity of 1983) I’ve been comprehensively hooked. This probably makes me a bit of a dinosaur, but I don’t care. I love it.

Stranger Things has apparently revived interest in such music. Seems to me that, as with my love of it, the Berlin School never actually went away. Jeffrey Koepper’s oeuvre stretches back many years; the fault is mine that I didn’t discover it sooner. Other artists like Red Shift, Steve Roach, and the continuing Tangerine Dream (who had a new album this year, despite the death of their founding member) comprise a large and (I do hope!) growing intersection of nostalgia and innovation that will keep this sublime music bubbling away, far into the future. Long may people keep making their beautiful, urgent sounds.

Regular readers of these end of year music posts will know how much I love Steve Roach. Normally it’s difficult to pick just one from his many new releases, which this year included Nostalgia for the Future (surprisingly nothing to do with the Berlin School), Painting in the Dark, The Passing, Fade to Gray (no connection to the 80s here either), Long Thoughts and an extended “Eclipse Mix” of several works he wrote for the recent solar obfuscation. I love them all. One, however, did stand out far above the rest in terms of spins around the desktop.

Without further ado, here are my top five ambient albums for 2017:

#1 Steve Roach, Spiral Revelation

From the sublime opening track to the endless weave of the closer, this is an astounding return to SR’s sequencer roots. Composed entirely (iirc) on analogue synths, this album is something of a culmination of recent ambient retro-experiments in atmosphere, melody and rhythm. This is the one ambient album I listened to in Antarctica. What more can I say?

#2 Martin Goodwin, Hearth

I hadn’t listened to MG before this year and was hooked from the opening track. No nostalgia here. This is a lush, modern work, deeply layered, full of downplayed drama, rewarding repeated listens. Every track is unique, and I hesitate to recommend one in particular, but as with Spiral Revelation, the beginning is a pretty good place to start. It’s a rewarding journey.

#3 Jeffrey Koepper, MantraSequent

This is the album that set me off. Again, what an opener! The record-collecting teenager in me wanted to dance around the study as the drum machines kicked in. Love at first beat. The subsequent tracks capture different modes of energy, all fabulous in their own way.

#4 Brendon Moeller, Arcadian Rhythms

An unexpected treat, this four-track EP is part of a series of small releases from label Silent Season, celebrating their tenth anniversary. It paired well (in a way that’s difficult to explain) with MantraSequent to form a mini-playlist of their own while I was working on a new novel. Muddy loops and driving beats put me in mind of Gas, but with more of a Noughties trance vibe. Hypnotic.

#5 Brian Eno, Reflection

Any new album by Eno is worth a listen, and I enjoyed this one, but this title really earns its place on the list for the app, which generates an endless noodling of music in a similar vein. Literally endless, possibly. I’ve slept overnight to this and woken with its hauntingly joyful strains still twiddling in my ears. The app costs more than the album but is an excellent investment. Ambience on tap!

Other highlights:

The Revenant soundtrack, by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and Bryce Dessner

Here’s a taste. I liked the movie a lot, but the highlight for me was its extraordinary score. When I saw the composers, I did a little dance of delight. Sakamoto and Alva Noto are just about my favourite ambient duo ever.

The Caretaker, Everywhere at the end of time

No year would be complete without a reminder that all will decay into dust as the Overlook Hotel lives on!

Max Richter, Sleep

Eight hours of music designed to snooze to? Sounds boring? It is not. Here’s the official video (don’t worry, it only goes for ten minutes). I have listened to this while working and slept to it as well. Inspired and inspiring.

Steven Wilson, The Last Day of June

The soundtrack to a game, this album consists of new instrumental mixes of old tracks and ambience lifted from rare, pseudonymous works. Great to write to.

In non-ambient music, there was Steven Wilson’s album To the Bone, Gary Numan’s Savage (Songs from a Broken World), and Goldfrapp’s Silver Eye, which pretty much clinches the case that I’m living in the past. Which is just fine with me!