Entries in Best Ambient of 2014 (1)


Best Ambient Albums of 2014

This marks the fifth straight year I've done an end-of-year ambient roundup. It's taken this long, but it seems that ambient music is finally in fashion in a big way. Not only did noticeably more ambient music come out in 2014 than in any previous year in memory, but Bandcamp, the unceasing cassette craze and a budding new age revival, which as been covered rather extensively here on AiMT, have made ambient more visible than ever. Beyond that, the "return of the chill out room" seems to be a recurring theme on music news sites. And on a personal note, the most successful AiMT podcast episode of 2014 was an all-ambient affair.

With all that in mind, this list could have easily been 60 entries deep, but I decided to pare things down to the best of the best. Stay tuned for more end-of-year ambient features.

Click the thumbnails for snippets and full album streams:

25. Ernest Gibson - Pastoral IV [Crash Symbols]

24. Vleese - Substance [Twin Springs Tapes]

23. Golden Retriever - Seer [Thrill Jockey]

22. Klara Lewis - Ett [Editions Mego]

21. V/A - Oceanic Triangulation [Inner Islands]

20. Fennesz - Bécs [Editions Mego]

19. DBGE - Dreamscape™ + Mellowphase [Scanline Society]

18. Oneohtrix Point Never - Commissions I [Warp Records]

17. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Alpha Piscium [Hooker Vision]

16. Le Révélateur - Extreme Events [Root Strata]

15. I Am Just a Pupil - Heartful [Twin Springs Tapes]

14. Jonas Reinhardt - Ganymede [Constellation Tatsu]

13. V/A - Air Texture, Vol. IV [Air Texture]

12. DSR Lines - Spoel [SicSic Tapes]

11. Evan Caminiti - Coiling [Dust Editions]

10. Leyland Kirby - We Drink to Forget the Coming Storm [S/R]

9. Julianna Barwick - Rosabi EP [Dead Oceans]

8. Vladislav Delay - Visa [Ripatti Label]

7. V/A - Pop Ambient 2014/2015 [Kompakt]

6. Magic Eye - Babylon [Not Not Fun]

5. Babe Rainbow - Music for 1 Piano, 2 Pianos & More Pianos [1080p]

While many ambient purists might scoff and turn away at the sight of the cheeky, divisive cover art, Babe Rainbow has crafted a simple-but-memorable album centered around the piano, which is—you know—not exactly an unfamiliar element in the genre. Of the record's 12 skeletal tracks, some are solo piano with little if any accompaniment. Others are reinforced with bits of reverb and other drifty elements but keep the focus on the piano itself. Many might liken this work to easy listening drivel based on a quick skim through, but Babe Rainbow adds just the right amount of flair and edge to these otherwise ordinary pieces to rescue them from humdrum status and deliver them as a clever reexamination of compositions that may have otherwise been overlooked.

4. Opaline - No Words [Rainbow Pyramid] / Quintox [S/R] / Night Sounds,
Vol. I
[S/R] / Shade Virtual [Habitat Tapes] / Projector Refining [Phinery]

This Portland-based new ager put out a number of solid tape and digital releases this year, and it's tough to point to one as his definitive 2014 project. I personally don't hear a ton of thematic distinction between these five releases. They're all just lovely little collections of the producer's offerings, some of which are pulsating while others are more on the droney side of things. Occasionally things get tense and caustic, but Opaline keeps things mostly vibrant and uplifting, characteristics which align closely with the new age revival of recent years that seems to have come to a head in 2014. You'd do fine to pick an Opaline release at random and start there, but if I had to recommend one alone, I would chose the Phinery-released Projector Mapping because it's perhaps a bit more varied than the others.

3. Sevendeaths - Concreté Misery [LuckyMe]

The beat-centric Glasgow-based label LuckyMe is home to festival-ready headlining bass acts like Baauer, TNGHT and Cashmere Cat, but lately they've stuck their toe into ambient waters. The excellently busy Concreté Misery has a punchier palette than that of the majority of albums on this list, which isn't surprising considering the label's typical theme. It sounds like the ambient work of someone who might be more of a full-time dance or bass producer, but Sevendeaths, aka Steven Shade, actually comes from a post-rock background via his work in the band American Men. In any case, Concreté Misery is highly textured and forceful at times but accessible enough to potentially even please skeptics of ambient music.

2. M. Geddes Gengras - Ishi [Leaving Records] / Ishi Outtakes [S/R]

In recent years, M. Geddes Gengras has maintained a busy release schedule of new material, collected older works and one-off sessions. Unlike his other 2014 releases, Ishi has the feel of a "proper full length." The psych-influenced sound palette is brash and intense, very punctual but never too noisy. Ishi's four lengthy pieces are fluid and textured enough for foreground listening but could just as easily provide a subtle soundtrack to your work day or study session. And to sweeten the deal, Gengras just dropped the self-released Ishi Outtakes, which features seven tracks, several of which could have easily made the album quality-wise.

1. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Ballades [Hooker Vision]

Giving the top spot to a 10+ hour album feels like cheating, especially considering the music on Ballades isn't exactly the most interesting or boundary-pushing music featured on this list. Don't get me wrong—Rachel Evans' brand of minimal, drifting ambient found on this series is top-notch for what it is. It just lacks the originality and complexity on first listen one might look for when scouting out Album of the Year contenders. The Ballades project began as a monthly homemade CD-R series in late 2013. Each entry was a full length album confined into a single track clocking in at just under an hour. Once 12 entries had been issued, a 100-run cassette box was released by Hooker Vision. It promptly sold out like most of Evans' physical releases. (Luckily you can still cop the full digital series here for a mere $20.)

Some of these entries fixate on a single mood throughout their entirety while others ebb and flow into contrasting themes. Some moments are noisy but most are calming, melodic and quiet. What's so noteworthy about Ballades is Evans' knack for selling the listener on an extended atmosphere. Her patience for crafting a mood and nurturing it over a 50+ minute span is unparalleled. Pair that with the series' highly ambitious release structure, and Evans leaves me with no other choice but to pin the blue ribbon on Ballades.