Freak Scene: Emotional Ambient

September 28, 2012

When I started doing Freak Scene, my goal was to highlight weird corners of the music world. Whether that was through talking about an older record in a new way, or looking at a scene or record label that was doing something interesting. That's still the case, but there's so much incredible stuff out there that I don't always get to cover as much as I want to. Below are some recent records I've really enjoyed. They're not really united by anything, other than the fact that each has a strong emotional core. There's certainly an academic way to approach these albums, but listening to them the same way I'd listen to a Phoenix or Beach House album gives them new layers.

Villages, Theories of Ageing (Bathetic Records)
What initially drew me to the output of Bathetic Records was the way they were able to interpolate all these different sounds: cassette tape ambient, gorgeous acoustic folk and heavy drone into this heartbreakingly beautiful mixture on every single release. The music they release—as much as music can embody a season—is meant for fall. It's great to really burrow in, headphones wise, but it's also good for wandering around and kicking though some dead leaves. Villages embodies everything the label does: drawing out cracked guitar (and potentially banjo?) from a steady, textured drone. It's dark, sure and beautiful. Too often with this stuff, it sounds like someone just held down a bunch of keys on a fancy keyboard and called it a day, but the entirety of the Theories of Ageing album feels labored over, like every single tiny detail was the result of a heavy moment.

Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin, Instrumental Tourist (Software)
It's a no brainer that this is on here. Both Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin have made some of my favorite experimental records...ever. Hecker especially was an eye-opener in terms of showing how to coax emotion from a loose instrumental ebb and flow. For Instrumental Tourist the two got together to record an entire improvised album. If you're familiar with either artist, a lot of it is what you'd expect: cavernous rumbles, angelic keys and a masterful manipulation of harsh noise melded into something beautiful. There are weird moments, too. "GRM Blue II" approaches a sort of Herbie Hancock-esque level of digital keyboard experimentation, with tiny keyboard sounds clunking around what sounds like robotic bees.

The Slaves, Spirits of the Sun (Digitalis)
The moment that really got me into Tim Hecker was when I was first living in New York, I was obsessed with his Harmony in Ultraviolet album. All winter, I walked around, feeling like I was perpetually shoved by icy wind. Being from Seattle, East Coast cold was new to me. It's rare that I can find a release that brings me back to that eye-opening moment when Hecker's album felt like the truest possible form of emotional expression, but The Slaves' Spirits of the Sun did it. I'm thinking specifically of the track "The Field," which you can listen to right here. It's based in a perpetual rise-and-fall structure, creating a gorgeous pattern out of drone that subtly introduces new sounds in the margins as the track progresses.

RV Paintings Samoa Highway (The Helen Scarsdale Agency)
When I bought this, I was wandering around San Francisco in a daze. I didn't know anything about it, but based on the name, I assumed it was going to be some sort of vaguely new age psychedelic drone record that was super calming and would make me feel good about life every time I put it on. What I got was an extra heavy album's worth of perpetual tension. So...the exact opposite? I later found out that it was actually the project of brothers Brian and John Pyle. I was familiar with Brian's work as Ensemble Economique, where he somehow manages to make noise music accessible, and had I known this was, in part, his work, I would have had a better idea of what it sounded like. I think a lot of the time, when people talk about dark music, there's a tendency to want to find beauty in it. Sometimes it's there, sure, but a lot of the time dark music is just that. RV Paintings made a genuinely beautiful record from darkness—projecting a tense world view through never-ending strings and feedback.

From The Collection:

Freak Scene
Freak Scene: Emotional Ambient