Sean Williams

2018 in Music

posted on 10 Dec 2018 at 5:20 pm

Last year, I wrote that I was living in the past. Today, in yesterday’s tomorrow, I can see where that urge for familiarity and, to a certain degree, comfort came from. You can’t keep reaching up without at least occasionally looking down at your foundations. I feel a lot more solid this year, as my listening in 2019 indicates.

Soundtracks formed a significant chunk of my ambient listening in 2018. This possibly reflects the fact that I’ve been living in Dublin and enjoying a lot more televisual media than normal, and therefore stumbling across more interesting music that way. Or maybe it’s just another reflection of my internal state: an adventure needs a soundtrack, so why not borrow someone else’s? Because I’ve cherry-picked these scores for the tracks that work best for my writing times (skipping anything with vocals, for instance), they don’t appear in my top five, but it would be wrong not to honour them. You’ll find my top three in Other Highlights, below.

You won’t find any Irish music here, alas. Not because Ireland isn’t full of brilliant, inspiring tunes, but because I can’t write or exercise to it, and therefore it doesn’t often enter my sights.

Here are my lists:

Top 5 Ambient Albums

France Jobin, Intrication

Hooray for the alphabet: it put my #1 album first! This fractal release encourages both long, slow listening experiences and close, almost micro examination. Featuring sounds across the full span of human hearing (some sections I thought were silent are in fact audible to my 19-year stepson), it’s truly an amazing release. I’m often troubled by the predominant maleness of my ambient playlists. This brilliant album goes some way towards correcting the balance. It’s also on the same small label (No.) as Texturen III (see below), which is doing interesting things.

Loscil, Sea Island (2014) & Monument Builders (2016)

Somehow, I lost track of Loscil’s recent releases even though I was still playing the older ones. These two are as fine as anything that came before, which sounds like faint praise but is not intended as such. Like slipping on a pair of new shoes that someone has handily broken in for you, these two albums are far from disposable and very comfortable indeed.

Loneward, Protection

The alter-ego of Altus, this album represents a conscious return to moody, slow-ambient music. Personally, I prefer this kind of musical expression, and will follow Loneward with interest.

Steve Roach, Molecules of Motion

See this blog post for my opinion of Steve Roach’s banner year. Isn’t every year a banner year for him? Anyway, this is the highlight for me, full of energy and space, as the title suggests.

Erik Wøllo, Threshold Point

This has been high on my playlist all year. I hear flashes of other artists whenever I listen to Wøllo, and this time I’m picking up some Peter Gabriel (Birdy), Patrick O’Hearn, and Steve Roach. It’s a skilful album that really showcases his diverse and interesting talent.

Other highlights

Atom TM, Texturen III (The latest of these extended, slowly-changing soundscapes is as fascinating as the rest, evoking Eliane Radique’s Trilogie de la Mort while at the same time being very much its own thing.)

Ramin Djawadi, Westworld Season One Soundtrack

Jóhann Jóhannsson, Mandy Soundtrack

Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Walfisch, Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack

(Okay, maybe there’s just a tiny bit of nostalgia in the OST department. Sue me!)

In non-ambient music

This is also the year I re-engaged with pop, maybe inspired by Steven Wilson, maybe just because my brain was ready for a bit of fun. Anyway, you’ll see that reflected in the list below, which ranges from hard riffs to boppy blips on the contemporary music radar.

Tesseract, Sonder

Chelsea Jade, Personal Best

Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer

Underworld & Iggy Pop, Teatime Dub Encounters EP

Steven Wilson, To the Bone

(More from me about Steven Wilson here.)

To get my next musical adventure off to a good start, I’ve just bought Submersion & Mon0’s Unison // Einklang, which looks to be something very special indeed.

Oh, and this: Erik Wollø’s Infinite Moments – guitar with EBow, no synths!

Have a wonderful finish to 2018, and a brilliant beginning to 2019!

Previous years: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and beyond.