Albums & EP
Everyone seems to agree, the world is in a pretty sorry state at the moment. Over here we’re not quite sure if it’s 24/7 media coverage that exaggerates the evils of the world or if more bad things are actually happening than ever before. Whatever the cause, everyone needed sensitive, soothing music this year. So it’s unsurprising that ambient productions, in their ambiguous and subtle textures, enjoyed a huge surge in popularity this year alongside the more straightforward – but no less important – calming effect of balmy balearic and downtempo sounds.
One of our long-time favourites for feel-good electronic funk, Jex Opolis, had a banner year in 2017. His debut album Ravines crystallised all that was playful and imaginative in his work into nine pop-sized diamonds, becoming one of the year’s purest pleasures. Jex followed it up with the Human Emotion EP, an equally winning deviation into dancier territory. LA producer Benedek pulled off a similar feat with his Bene’s World LP, his woozy West Coast swagger evoking a freewheeling lifestyle and dreams of the beach. Over on the Canadian riviera, Mood Hut presented few surprises but kept up a steady drip of blissful tunes from Neo Image, Cloudface and Pender Street Steppers.
Excursions outside of Western musical traditions provided some of the year’s best music. 4th world experimentalist RAMZi landed on the 12th Isle label with Pèze-Piton, a humid trip through exotic locales both familiar and placeless. The album swerves between tempos and moods via a mysterious internal logic, crafted from instruments at once primitive and extra-terrestrial.
Visible Cloaks pieced together a synthetic reconstruction of Japanese ambient on Reassemblage, an enigmatic work that matched its uncanny textures with a sense of peace. Over in Mali hip hop producer Luka Productions gave us our biggest surprise of the year on Fasokan, an inspired blend of new age, balearic and traditional Malian instrumentation that sounded completely fresh and utterly engrossing.
This was also a year where a handful of dance producers turned away from the club to deliver ambient statements. Most impressive was Local Action artist and JRPG aficionado Yamaneko, who abandoned the canned grime beats of his debut LP for the weightless melodies of Spa Commissions. The gorgeous album of polished new age compositions was born from a commission to create music for a European spa. Canadian producer Khotin took a similar turn, drifting from his signature machine-house to the emotive, searching electronica of the New Tab LP.
Another artist who moved elegantly away from the dancefloor is Porn Sword Tobacco, who delivered an absolute gem on his four-track EP for Acido, simply titled 2017. Each track was a gorgeous miniature which seemed to have its own climate and wildlife, ready to welcome anyone who wanted to disappear for as long as they needed. The year also saw the storied return of one of the genre’s true masters, Wolfgang Voigt. Voigt’s return to his Gas project after 17 years gave us Narkopop, a record remarkably true to the original Gas records in both its softness and its inscrutability.
The year’s best ambient statement didn’t actually come from an artist, it came from a label. PAN’s Mono No Aware compilation asked the label’s regular producers of experimental club music for ambient and beatless cuts, resulting in sixteen very different tracks that each bore its own distinct melancholy.
Here’s a mix of balearic and downtempo music from White Noise resident DJ Moth.
Here’s a playlist, in no particular order, of our top downtempo, ambient and balearic tracks from 2017.
Blackbush Orchestra – My People
Luka Productions – Terriya
D.K. – Shaker Loops
Mark Barrott – Cascades (Francçois K Mix)
Jex Opolis – First Stomp
18 Rays – Long Time Ago
Pender Street Steppers – Raining Again
Gaussian Curve – The Distance
Benedek – Sonatine
D.K. & S.K. – Burn
Yamaneko – Any & Teardrop ASMR
Khotin – Frog Fractions
Sky H1 – Huit
Porn Sword Tobacco – Untitled
Jonny Nash – Lime
PLO Man – TX-i
Kilchhofer – Uzala