So the Ambient/Experimental releases for 2018 were phenomenal. Picking and choosing what to highlight and write on was a herculean task and, at the end of the day, I settled on those that really impacted me most and impressed me most. There are outliers here that land on no other list I’ve seen but I’m hoping that this will turn people on to some new artists that deserve mass recognition in the genre. There are so many more artists that belong here but here are the ones I’ve chosen for 2018. Listen to their music and, more importantly, buy it.
1. Akkad the Orphic Priest: Once I Was As You Are Now (Aural Canyon, 2018)
Akkad the Orphic Priest is the project of Dallas’ M. Cody McPhail. A rather active and important part of the Dallas ambient scene, McPhail not only records his own music and plays live but he also organizes and curates Dallas Ambient Music Nights or D.A.M.N. Having seen him a number of times live and being a constant listener to the music he has released, his Once I Was As You Are Now is his mastery at work in all the right ways. Here, he has rallied all his electronic and artistic sorcery into something intimate and exquisite. Expressing himself through a sophisticated simplicity, McPhail constructs an aural landscape that, personally, has impacted me and hasn’t left my rotation since its release back in July. Best of the year? Yes, I think so.
2. Winterlight: The Longest Sleep Through the Darkest Day (n5MD, 2018)
Lush and open, Winterlight‘s The Longest Sleep Through the Darkest Day is an electronic and guitar driven ethereal masterpiece. The project of Tim Ingham and Isabel Ingham, there is an openness to this album that many reach for but still strive to touch. Released back in March, The Longest Sleep Through the Darkness Day has been in my rotation since. Patient and healing, the longing for a break in the clouds tumbles about in the midst of aural vapor trails throughout the album. This is a balm to the soul and I highly recommend everyone pick up a copy!
3. Tim Hecker: Konoyo (Kranky, 2018)
Tim Hecker has long been considered one of the greats in the genre and rightfully so. His output and compositions never cease to excite, stimulate the senses, and challenge one to think about the genre in general. Populated with percussive strings, glacial tonekeys, and simple, sparse compositions, Konoyo proves to be an album worthy of Tim Hecker‘s output. Dark and thunderous at times, Hecker‘s aural choices captivate and, when there is a build in tension, release the listener into an ease.
4. Future Museums: Rosewater Ceremony/Rosewater Ceremony Part II: Guardian of Solitude (Holodeck Records, 2018)
Future Museums is the incredible project from the very prolific Neil Lord. Lord released two Rosewater releases this year on Holodeck Records and, as list creator, I’ve deemed it possible to post both at the #4 position in the list. Electronically sophisticated and deeply layered, Rosewater Ceremony is a collection of tracks meant for meditation and the healing balm of solitude. Giving the listener an aural brain cleanse, both albums ease one into a state of calm and produce a warm blanket of ever measured therapeutic moments. Lord‘s work throughout 2018 has been incredible, with multiple inclusions in this list and the top Shoegaze/Dreampop list of 2018 here at the site. I can’t wait to hear what he does next!
5. Thousand Foot Whale Claw: Black Hole Party (Holodeck Records, 2018)
Featuring members of S U R V I V E, Troller, Single Lash and Future Museums, Thousand Foot Whale Claw‘s Black Hole Party is an ambient, experimental, kraut-rock tour de force. From the very first hum of the synths in “No Kingdom” to the final explosive ending in “Double Abyss”, this super group has composed a selection of tracks for the ages. Head-bobbing moments, scintillating ambient textures, captivating guitar lines, and so much more populate the universe of this black hole party. This album is utterly contagious, spreading a net of magical aural connectivity throughout the universe. Thousand Foot Whale Claw is indeed a super group and, at the end of the day, I hope they can come back together soon and produce more of this sonic goodness!
6. David Newlyn: Church Fires (Polar Seas, 2018)
David Newlyn is the mastermind behind the ever popular record label Cathedral Transmissions. A curator of ambient and experimental music, Newlyn has positioned himself as one of the “finders” in the genre. But he’s not only a connoisseur of the genre, he also contributes to it through his own enigmatic project. Church Fires is one track of the same title and it is 43:20 minutes long. A careful undulating drone threads this piece as light warbling synths and understated tones dot the soundscape. It is a calming piece but never boring. A sort of siren call appears here and there, perhaps denoting an urgency to the horrors of churches set on fire by those who would destroy. It’s difficult to tell but, as it is, the interpretation of the track cannot be singular. There is also a melancholia here perhaps intonating loss. This is a gorgeous piece of ambient work that should not be missed.
7. Steve Hauschildt: Dissolvi (Ghostly International, 2018)
To say that the anticipation of a new Steve Hauschildt release is always high is an understatement. As I’ve gotten to know his work and seen him play live, It’s become clear to me that he is a master of his art. Hauschildt returned in 2018 with Dissolvi, the follow up to the acclaimed Strands which was released in 2016. Commanding his synths to produce organically lush tones along with soothing plush moments, Hauschildt delivers another set of tracks that will wow the listener and envelop them into his universe. There are also very energetic moments on Dissolvi as Hauschildt flexes his sonic and quite layered muscles. I’m not shocked he has released another top 10 album for me. Rather, I would have been shocked if it fell flat. Get a copy, put on your best cans, and turn up the volume.
8. Yellow6: REFLECT (Self Release, 2018)
So, this is not necessarily an album but rather a five disc box set that marks the 20th anniversary of releases for Jon Attwood aka Yellow6. Somewherecold has been a place where Yellow6 has been paid attention to since near the beginning of his releases on the project and the progression of his music has been incredibly enjoyable to watch and to listen. REFLECTS plays on a few ideas throughout the box. Discs Red, Green, and Blue all have a singular guitar melody/idea that is altered, revisited, changed, rearranged, and fine tuned throughout. It is simple yet altogether gorgeous as you move through the discs and really encounter Attwood‘s thinking and creativity. The other two discs are drone albums, one with guest appearances from AMP, Brian John Mitchell, Yumah, Grey Frequency, The Corrupting Sea, Dual, Garwin, and Beth Lily Georgiou. The other drone disc is Attwood himself captivating his listener into magical sound spaces. What is amazing about this entire box set is it is all original music with no sort of compilation of older tunes. REFLECT, rather than look back, looks forward and I hope there are another 20 years of tunes in Attwood to come.
9. Jake Schrock: Tropical Depression (Holodeck Records, 2018)
Jake Schrock, like M. Cody McPhail of Akkad the Orphic Priest, is a mainstay of the vibrant and deep electronic, ambient, and experimental scene in Dallas, Texas. Back in July, Schrock released his debut album Tropical Depression on Holodeck Records. Schrock‘s compositions are masterful and the tonal choices exquisite. Channeling the best of 80’s synth keytones, Schrock molds them into creative and sci-fi filled soundscapes. There is brilliant movement here as different sounds and musical structure kaleidoscope around one another, fading and melding into orchestral electronics. Brilliant from start to finish, Tropical Depression is a must have!
10. Forest Management: 21st Century Man (Terrible Cloud, 2018)
Forest Management is the ambient project of John Daniel out of Chicago, IL. Prolific and masterful at drone/ambient expressions, Daniel has once again produced a series of tracks that captivate. 21st Century Man pulsates, swirls, dives, appears, disappears, warps, and drones into infinities. Collapsing then building, Daniel crafts a noisescape that is soothing with an edge of tension. Anti-form populates the tracks as sound textures are brought to bear on placid drones and fragile tones. While Daniel has been incredibly prolific this year, 21st Century Man is a stand out album among his catalog and among other albums in the genre as well.
11. PJS: Hermes (Aural Canyon, 2018)
PJS is the ambient spiritual-wave project of Patrick Dique and Jordan Christoff hailing from Vancouver Island. Hermes begins with soaring synthtones and pulsating soundwaves. Masters of texture, Dique and Christoff compose magnificent sound worlds that evoke serenity, contemplation, and a relaxing aesthetic. This is essentially and album that draws you into its orbit and holds you captive in all the right ways. Aural Canyon keeps gathering a great selection of artists and PJS is certainly at the top of the list of amazing releases from the label. Check out the tunes and pick up a tape at the Bandcamp link below!
12. Riverrun: Lilliput (Self Release, 2018)
Daniel Land is most certainly a favorite artist around Somewherecold. His solo work is impeccably amazing but some don’t know that he is also an ambient artist recording under the name Riverrun. Back in February, he released Lilliput, a 50 hour looped, masterfully crafted dronescape that was carved into 50 unique segments for release on 50 cds. For my listening, I have the digital copy which, of course, doesn’t vary for each person but it is a breathtaking piece of the Lilliput monster pie. Subtle and lulling, Lilliput is magical as its textures cascade in and out of the mix, moving and breathing but never in any way the same. While the cds are sold out, I highly recommend getting a digital copy.
13. Celer: I Wish You Could (Constellation Tatsu, 2018)
I have long been a Celer fan since the days he was releasing hand made cdrs and the like. I own all those very early releases and treasure them. The fact that Will Long is still creating gorgeous soundscapes and entrancing drones makes me all the more pleased. His recent offerings have been up to the standards of his work and I Wish You Could stands out in a years worth of multiple releases. Hypnotic and tonally captivating, the glacial movements, bright moments, and stunning prickles of texture make for a relaxing and altogether deep listen. Constellation Tatsu never fails to release great music and Celer‘s newest is a welcome addition to Long‘s stellar discography.
14. Tapes and Topographies: Insomniac Drones (Simulacra Records, 2018)
Tapes and Topographies is the project of Todd Gauthreaux who resides in Dallas, TX and also curates the label Simulacra Records. His releases under the Tapes and Topographies name are also engaging and breathtaking. He has a way of arranging sound tonally as well as melodically that is really a thing to behold. Fuzzy coatings drift on ambling, flowing drones that rise and fall amid sonic rivers and opens seas. Insomia Drones is ten tracks of electronic effulgence welded to an almost organic, warm glow. These are tracks that will remain in your rotation for a long time and I highly recommend you pick up a cd of this, and the whole back catalog, release of Tapes and Topographies.
15. City of Dawn: Hymn of the Voyage Wanderer (Self Release, 2018)
City of Dawn is the project of McAllen, TX based artist Damien Duque. For those of you familiar with his work, he utilizes a guitar to masterful affect, layering ambient textures and tones into a cascade of beautifully written tracks. Every composition by Duque is magical and Hymn of the Voyage Wanderer is a collection of tracks that lives up to that description once again. To swim in Duque‘s aural textures and tonally translucence rivers is a treat that all lovers of music should experience. There is a majesty here and, in release after release, City of Dawn continues to impress. Pick up a copy on CD.
16. Marcus Fischer & Simon Scott: Shape Memory (12k, 2018)
Marcus Fischer and Simon Scott come together to produce three tracks of incredible depth and complexity utilizing various DIY instruments, percussion, and underlying drones. Both drummers in their own right, the pair collaborate to incredible effect on this 12k release. Each listen brings to the fore new nuances in the work, as textures, sounds, and various tons move about the soundscape and fill the abstract sonics with new details. It really is an awesome series of sounds and depth that combine in a well mixed and extremely populated mix. If you are a fan of Fischer‘s and Scott‘s solo works, you will hear them in here as unique voices but also as partners in the creation of something new. Get a copy! You won’t regret it!
17. A Journey of Giraffes: Hour Club (Self Release, 2018)
A Journey of Giraffes came on my radar very recently through the recommendations of Orange Crate Art. The project of John Lane, I was immediately drawn into his aural aesthetic. Hour Club, released on December 23, is a three hour long sonic journey with 25 tracks running at exactly seven minutes each. Lane moves from drone/ambient pieces to pieces with percussion and almost danceable beats that are populated with blips and warbles. The tracks move from haunting to unsettling to lush and comforting. The mixture of organic type tonal choices and electronic noise and textures really build a thoughtful soundworld in Hour Club. Highly recommended!
18. Michael C. Sharp: End Times in Babylon (Self Release, 2018)
Michael C. Sharp is a member of the awesome band Sungod and also records as a solo electronic/ambient/experimental artist. His release, End Times in Babylon, came out back in September and it’s mixture of electronic pulses and gorgeous guitar work place it easily in the top experimental list for the year. A veteran of Holodeck Records, Sharp decided to release this one on his own. Epic in its scope, Sharp shapes exquisite compositions into sci-fi melding soundtracks that evoke time, space, and everything in-between. Pulsing, reverberating, climbing, falling, and looping, End Times in Babylon paints a sonic soundtrack to the seeming apocalyptic times in which we venture. Give it a listen and pick up a tape!
19. Hammock: Universalis (Blue Raft Music, 2018)
The follow up to Mysterium and the second album in a trilogy, Universalis points toward a more hopeful side as Hammock bring bright, beautiful strings and drone arrangements to bear on their signature sound. Hailing back to their beginnings, the album really is a throwback and a sort of reminiscing while, at the same time, a new and glorious beginning. Playing with moments of layered sound that move toward brief moments of silence, Universalis bends the airwaves with thoughtful moments of self-reflection and portents of a hopefulness. This is an album infused with positivity which is rare in this darker time. As capitalism dies, fascism raises its ugly head globally, and cruelty becomes the accepted politics of the day, Hammock challenges us with Universalis to remember that history, with all its human failings, bends towards justice and, perhaps, a greater hope.
20. Endurance: Shade Terrarium (Constellation Tatsu, 2018)
Endurance is the brainchild of Joshua Stefane who lives in Nara, Japan. Shade Terrarium, like it’s name implies, has a rather organic feel to it with various bird sounds kicking off the album in “Coruscent Reas”. Stefane‘s choice of ambient tones are glacial, shimmering, and glassy. They swirl about, hypnotizing the listener and lulling them into a magnetic trance-like moment. This is, indeed, a terrarium, as various bird calls and sounds populate the tracks throughout. Water or other various tones and sounds add depth to the various pieces and it is quite stunning. Constellation Tatsu puts out another gem and it really hasn’t left my rotation for some time.
21. Droneroom: Jesus Year (Self Release, 2018)
Droneroom‘s Jesus Year came out back in march and the album paints outside of the lines in many ways. The project of Blake Edward Conley, Droneroom is a mainstay of the Louisville, Kentucky ambient/experimental scene. Playing with guitar loops and noisey anti-structures, Jesus Year challenges the listener to hear layers individually, in conversation with one another, and as a whole. Much in the vein of Yellow6, Droneroom plays with looping melodies, plays with their form, moves them in and out of formlessness, and builds layers as tracks move along. The results are these incredible earworms which aren’t really a normal thing in ambient/experimental music, but, with Conley, the guitar lines really do stick in the mind in all the right ways. Highly recommend you support the work of Droneroom and give Jesus Year, and his back catalog, many many purchases.
22. Brian James Griffith: From Particles (Aural Canyon, 2018)
Mystical and floating, From Particles is the June release from Brian Jame Griffith also of Electric Sound Bath. Beyond the sort of existential and spiritual feel of Griffith‘s electronic compositions, there is a sci-fi soundtrack tinge to the various pieces on the album. That said, the tones chosen and the added pieces like a long, almost singular sounding chant like voice appear to keep the listener centered and breathing. I highly recommend putting on headphones, laying in a bed or sitting with legs crossed, turning up the sound, and really breathing in a meditative way. The experience that Griffith provides the listener will transport you to another dimension and, in many ways, give your brain, and perhaps your soul, a bath.
23. Hakobune: Parhelion (Constelation Tatsu, 2018)
Hakobune is the guitar drone project of Takahiro Yorifuji who currently resides in Tokyo, Japan. Parhelion contains two long form compositions that last for over 23 minutes each. Sparkling, warm, and flowing, Parhelion is like the most breathtakingly wonderful dream sequence one could imagine. Drones float amid looped layers and carry the listener forward with an ease that relaxes and mellows. This is a very subtle yet striking piece of work and would be incredible to sit in a room and hear live. Yorifuji‘s compositions never get boring in spite of their seeming simple nature which, I’m guessing, is deceptive given what seems like a full sound and probably many layers. Give Parhelion a listen and purchase a copy.
24. Heavy Sunrise: Launch Sequence (Self Release, 2018)
Heavy Sunrise is the guitar fueled ambient project of `Adam Cooper of Alison’s Halo fame. Dropping four EP’s in December including Between the Stars and You, Microwave Sway, Lunar Breakup, and Launch Sequence, Cooper has dropped a massive amount of material in a short period and all of it is amazing. I’m going to highlight my favorite of the four EP’s here but, I have to say, they all deserve to be in this position. Launch Sequence is a remarkable piece of work. Soaring with soft, warm layers wrapped in an astronaut’s dream, Launch Sequence transports the listener to another vast universe, with all its colorful nebulae and alien environments. I cannot wait for Cooper to bless the world with more from this project.
25. DR: Five Pieces (Histamine Tapes, 2018)
Rounding out Somewherecold’s top 25 Ambient/Experimental albums of 2018 is the fabulous Five Pieces by the artist known as DR. It is the project of Dominic Razlaff who hails from Braunschweig, Germany. A patient set of five pieces, drones hang in suspended animation as they float about an empty void. Careful, sinuous, and stratified, each of the five tracks is a drone centered sound construction that remains as it washes over the listener. It’s as if Razlaff is honoring the listener, allowing them to bask in the tonal waves and never, ever rushing them into the next sound or movement. Highly Recommended!