Saturday, November 01, 2008

Favorite Netlabel albums: Part III

Well, It's been months since I posted anything really substantive here. Not only did life get busy, but I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by a lazy, defeatist, can't do attitude towards writing anything here. It seemed like too much effort and not enough time or energy, and I felt I just didn't have the ability. I'm trying to fight back against that mindset, though, so today I'm writing a substantive post here. This is one of the many further posts I promised a while back, a further listing of some of my favorite netlabel releases of all time:

Drifting in Silence - ladderdown (tonatom) - This is a great album of melodic, cinematic electronic music that ranges from ambient to straight-ahead, driving, high-energy electronica. The presence of these upbeat but still melodic tracks is one thing that really distinguishes this album from a lot of other netlabel music. The pieces are very well written, nicely recorded, and emotionally engaging. The album is also nicely paced, tending to alternate back and forth between the slower and more upbeat tracks, which keeps you from being either overwhelmed or lulled to sleep. Among my personal favorites tracks are the opening track, "uphillbattle," which is comprised entirely of what sounds like strummed, heavily reverbed electric guitar; "process of now," with its stunningly beautiful, melancholy piano melody; "wakeup," a driving number with gnarly keyboard sounds; and the closing track "between the lines," a beautiful piece of atmospheric, melancholy ambient that effectively incorporates a choir. The track "shadow" actually has vocals, and though I am not particularly crazy about them, it ends with a cool bit of sampled dialogue. All in all, this is a great, very listenable album that stands out in the world of netaudio. The follow up album, "Truth," which is a purchasable release, is a much more ambient affair, is also good and features reworked, renamed versions of some of the material from this album. There is also a third album "Fallto," which I have not really heard yet. These last two are both available for purchase from the iTunes store.

Jap Jap - Blue Shimmery Fall ( - Originally released through the now defunct Maetrixsolution netlabel, this is a great album of bright, melodic electronic music. It is hard to classify this album stylistically, but there are elements of ambient, IDM, chillout and even a shoegaze influence. I have seen it compared to Ulrich Schnauss, which doesn't seem like a bad comparison, though it has it's own unique sound. Sometimes, parts of it also remind me a bit of the Boards of Canada. Personal favorite tracks are "In a Bright Light," a nice piece of warmly glowing, mid-tempo ambient/electronica with a nicely mixed in vocal loop; "Only You," floating ambient electronica with a mid-tempo IDM beat underneath that evokes sunny afternoons; and "Now that You're Here," a more upbeat but still very atmospheric piece that features some nice electric guitar cords and a great vocal part at the end that I always find moving. There are several other very good tracks on the album besides these. One minor complaint I have about the album is that some of the keyboard souns used here veer a little to close to a cheesy synthetic sound on some tracks, though, thankfully, they manage to avoid going all the way there while some other tracks, like the above listed, avoid it altogether. All in all an excellent release.

Well, I guess that's it for now. Hope you enjoy these two great releases. I'm getting closer to the end of this series of favorite netlabel releases, but I can still think of several albums that I'd like to write about, so hopefully something new will go up here soon. Peace.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Intelligent Toys 5 on the way

It's been awhile since I posted on here. I've been busy a lot of the time and have just felt too drained to write anything whenever I'm not busy. Today, however, I received a bit of good news in my e-mail box that seemed appropriate to share here.

Sutemos netlabel, one of the most consistently excellent netlabels around, has just announced that they will soon be releasing the fifth installment of their excellent Intelligent Toys compilation series. I featured the Intelligent Toys series in a previous post about my favorite netlabel compilations. They feature many well-known and respected IDM and electronic musicians as well as the work of lesser known but often excellent artists. I have been introduced to many excellent artists and albums including Ulrich Schnauss, Quench, Near the Parenthesis, and Sleepy Town Manufacture through these compilations. The latest installment is said to feature tracks by Ulrich Schnauss, SubtractiveLAD, Ruxpin, Funckarma, Sleepy Town Manufacture, and Stockfinster, among numerous others. Hopefully the newest installment will be arriving sooner rather than later.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Good Find of the Week: free albums from Sleepy Town Manufacture and Myrakaru

One of my favorite netlabel releases of the past couple of years that I haven't written about here is Sleepy Town Manufacture's "Inspired By You," available for free download from Sutemos netlabel. Sleepy Town Manufacture excels at making beautiful, warm, melodic IDM/ambient music. He has produced enough really good tracks to qualify as a top notch artist in my opinion. Aside from "Inspired By You," he also has releases on the Monotonik netlabel and numerous tracks available on Sutemos's "Intelligent Toys" compilations. He has also released several albums that, in the past, were available for purchase.

The good news, however, is that he has now made all of his past albums available as free downloads. You can go to his website to download them or follow this link.

In a similar vein, Sutemos netlabel has just made Myrakaru's "Tammetoru" album available for free download as well. I was not familiar with Myrakaru before now, but the "Tammetoru" album was previously released for purchase by the electronic record label Expanding Records, which also released music by Benge, Sovacusa, and Maps and Diagrams. It is a good album of melodic IDM with glitchy beats, reminiscent in some ways of another of my netlabel favorites, Esem's "Scataren." If you like melodic IDM it's definitely worth your time to check it out.

Hope you enjoy these!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Earth Mantra Netlabel - a recomendation and a link

To my regular readers, I again apologize for the lack of new posting, especially for the lack of new posts that I promised a while back would be forthcoming. I have many plans for this blog, but far less time and energy, especially now that the school year is starting back up and things are much busier at my job. Have patience, and I promise that some substantial posts will be forthcoming, as I am able to work on them. Aside from the posts I promised, I am constantly finding myself bombarded with random ideas and inspiration for subjects to post about. Today's post is one such inspiration.

I want to simply offer a quick recommendation and link today, to the Earth Mantra website. Earth Mantra is a netlabel which focuses on deep ambient music. Some of you may have already discovered them from my earlier (still incomplete) post on free deep ambient music, which featured a couple of their artists/releases. If you are into deep space music, dark ambient, or other kinds of deep ambient music in the vein of Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Vidna Obmana, or the like, you should at least check out their list of releases as you will probably find something you like. You could build an entire collection of this type of music from their site completely free. Lately they have been especially prolific (which is what inspired this post), releasing something like six albums in a period of about three weeks. These include releases from the highly praised Kit Watkins, as well as a just released album by Philip Wilkerson that is supposedly in the vein of Thom Brennan styled ambient music (I haven't had the chance to download and listen to this one yet, though I am excited to hear it.) Happy listening!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A couple more free tracks

Well, the big three mentioned in my last post have come out and I have downloaded them all. I've had time to listen to the Bitcrush and the Near the Parenthesis, and they both sound good. I'll be listening to the Lights Out Asia shortly. I'll try to post more about these albums after I've had the chance to listen to them some more.

In the meantime, I discovered that Hidden Shoal Records is offering a free track each from a couple of their upcoming releases, one from Sankt Otten and another from My Majestic Star. The Sankt Otten track is a groovy, almost menacing number driven by a low, dirty bassline and slow beat, vaguely reminiscent of Massive Attack. The My Majestic Star track is a really nice piece of beat driven shoegaze.

Click the links above to go to the download page for each track. Hurry though, as both tracks are only available as free downloads for a limited time. Enjoy!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Big Three: with some free download links

Most electronic, shoegaze and ambient music fans are probably aware of this by now, but just in case you're not, this coming week, on August 19, three of the most anticipated albums of the year will be releasing simultaneously on the N5MD record label: Lights Out Asia's "Eyes Like Brontide," Near the Parenthesis' "L'eixample," and the rerelease, with additional tracks of Bitcrush's "Shimmer and Fade." This is like Christmas in August. I'm saving aside the requisite number of downloads on my emusic account in hopes that they'll be available there on the day of release or shortly thereafter. Once I've had the chance to adequately listen to them, I'll try to review them here as I have time and energy.

In the meantime, if you're unfamiliar with these artists or, like me, a fan chomping at the bit waiting for the new releases, here are some links to free music from these artists to familiarize you or to tide you over.

Bitcrush - There are five free downloads available from the Bitcrush website, which are all worth downloading. They give a good example of the scope of the Bitcrush sound, from the haunting electronics of "as end begins," to the more guitar driven/shoegaze sound of "dusstrait," and the lovely "to the beach."

Near the Parenthesis - I first discovered this artist's music through the Sutemos netlabel compilation "Intelligent Toys 4" and the track Nidae. Also the Sutemos remix compilation "Leon Somov feat. Jazzu: Offline Remixed" features a remix of the track Mano by Arclab and Near the Parenthesis.

Lights Out Asia - Has two free downloads available from their web page. These two tracks are from their first album "Garmonia," and though their sound has progressed some since that album, these tracks should still give you a general idea of their sound.

Happy Listening!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Best Free Music: Deep Ambient (A Rudimentary List)

Hey Everyone. Sorry for the delay in getting something new up here. Aside from going back to work full time after a month of extended weekends, I've also been fighting a summer cold for the past several days. Nevertheless, I wanted to get something posted on here for those of you who have begun checking this blog regularly. I am putting up a rudimentary version of this post, which I will go back and fill in soon, adding links, commentary, etc.

I've been thinking for a bit about some of my favorite deep ambient music available for free download. By deep ambient music, I mean spacious, floating, vast, largely beatless soundscape type music exemplified by folks like Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Vidna Obmana, and similar artists. There are a number of good artists making this type of music and offering it for free on the web. Here are some of my favorites:

1.) Mooma - Herd Forming - This is a lovely album of deep, drifting ambient music. Whereas, a lot of the free ambient music available on the web veers towards experimental, dark, or drone oriented ambiance, this album has a brighter sound, in keeping with the album cover artwork, and even features melodic elements at times. If that description makes you think of New Age music, don't worry, this is definitely serious ambient music. One of the things that distinguishes this album for me, from among the many ambient releases available for free download, is that it avoids the sappiness of new age music on the one hand, and the oppressive darkness and isolationism of a lot of ambient music on the other. The music calls to mind vast open spaces.

Tracks like "Shelter" and "Hello Dawn Horizon" have a kind of nostalgic, melancholy melody to them, while other tracks like "Entropy" feature drifting pads and vague background noises that bring the natural world to mind. Even the darkly named "Don't Bring Light Into This Place" is far more spacious and bright than one would expect, and also features sparse melodic elements. This one is a definite winner. If you like beatless, drifting ambient music, it's hard to go wrong with this album.

2.) Altus - various releases - Altus is an ambient artist who offers nearly his entire discography as free downloads. While his music can be generally classed under the deep ambient/new age label, his sound varies from album to album. There is the dark, dramatic "Only One Earth to Destroy," the lighter, more melodic sounds of "Excursion One," and the majestic space music of "The Grand Expanse, to name just a few. His most recent album "Macro" is highly different from anything he has done before, collection of short instrumental pieces that vary in sound and style, from "classical" sounding string pieces, to sparsely treated piano sounds, to full on electronic ambient. "Singulus," a collection of various pieces composed for different compilation albums, also gives a good introduction to the variety of Altus sound. Most of his prodigiously large output is available for download directly from the Altus website. Very good stuff.

3.) Deepspace - The Barometric Sun; Subantarctic Sessions

4.)Palancar - Various releases

5.) Copal River - Ancara

6.) The Nature of Light - Shores of Jupiter

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More stuff on the way

Hello all. Just wanted to let those of you who have begun to check this blog with some regularity know that there is plenty more stuff on the way. I've been listening to and thinking about music I like for a long time now, and have plenty of ideas for more posts here. I've run out of vacation time, however, and now that I only have two day weekends again for the foreseeable future, my posting may slow down a bit, so please bear with me. I'm currently working on a new post featuring some of my favorite deep ambient music available for free download on the web. Aside from this post I also have posts in the work on the following topics:

1.) More of my favorite netlabel releases of all time (at least one more post)
2.) More of my favorite shoegazer music
3.) Some of my favorite instrumental/ambient guitar albums
4.) More of my favorite netlabel compilations

Keep checking back and I will be posting new things when I have the time and energy to get to it. Also, I've updated the songs in my player to reflect the contents of the last few posts. I've attempted to include as many full length songs as possible. Peace.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Favorite Netlabel Compilations - Part I

It's hard to believe it's been almost two months since my first post featuring my favorite netlabel albums. I promised, in that post, to do a list of my favorite netlabel compilations before too long had passed. Two months seems long enough, so here it is. I should note before I start the list that there really are very few compilations from which I like every song. Most of the compilations listed here have at least a couple of tracks which I consider really superb.

Draumar Um Kalt Sumar (Sutemos) - I've already made a complete post about this album, which is the only post still around from when I first started this blog two years ago. This probably gets my award for the best netlabel compilation ever. Being mainly made up of ambient/IDM music with an other-worldly vibe, it is remarkably consistent in its overall sound and feel, has a very nice flow from track to track, and is simply beautiful. While there are a number of tracks that stand out on it for me (especially the first five) the whole compilation is good and deserves to be listened to from start to finish. I basically discovered the music of artists like Am-boy, Isan, and Static from this album and went on to purchase or download albums by all three of them. Excellent stuff.

Intelligent Toys 1, 2, 3, & 4 (Sutemos) - Sutemos scores again on this list with their excellent Intelligent Toys series. These compilation albums which again focus mainly on melodic IDM and ambient music are one of the best places on the web to discover a host of great electronic music that you may not have been familiar with before. It was through these compilations that I first discovered the music of numerous well known and respected electronic artists such as Manual, Ruxpin, Sense, Sleepy Town Manufacture, Ulrich Schnauss, Near the Parenthesis, and Quench, as well as lesser known but equally great artists like Crashed By Car, Bauri, Verbose, and Skardas. As with Draumar Um Kalt Sumar above, I have gone on to purchase the works of many these artists. While I think the first two releases in the series are probably the best, every one of them contains some real gems worth discovering. There is enough good music found on these compilations to launch you off in multiple directions into the world of electronic music. Highly recomended.

The Silent Ballet I - IV (Lost Children) - The Silent Ballet compilations, associated with the excellent website of the same name, are pretty much to post-rock music what the Intelligent Toys compilations are to melodic IDM/ambient music. So far there are nine compilations, with one releasing roughly every quarter of the year (although the last two came out simultaneously.) Though most of the compilations lean towards post-rock music, a few of them are geared towards other styles of music, such as number IV, which features a lot of cinematic and moody ambient and instrumental music. Again, as with the previous compilations on this list, I have discovered the music of many excellent artists with whom I was previously unfamiliar, including Caspian, God is an Astronaut, Joy Wants Eternity, City of One Hundred Spires, Apeiron Flux, pg.lost, Tunturia, Anoice, Bersarin Quartet, and The Abbasi Brothers to name a handful. Lots of great stuff waiting to be discovered here.

Red, Green, Blue, and other Summer Feelings (Sutemos) - Sutemos shows up one more time with this compilation, which shies away from the IDM oriented Intelligent Toys releases and features a wider selection of styles. While I am not as enamoured of this release as a whole as I am of some other Sutemos releases such as Draumar Um Kalt Sumar, there are numerous tracks that stand out here including the post-rock oriented sounds of Fonoda, and the super catchy shoegaze oriented sounds of ST and Readymade. Stockfinster features two cuts here from his excellent debut album "All Becomes Music," including an alternate version of the title track that I actually like better than the album version, while FusedMARc offer up eleven minutes of Massive Attack influenced electronic menace and aggression. Good stuff.

Okay, I need to take a break as I've been blogging for two hours now. I still have other albums to add to this list, but these recommendations should be enough to give you many hours of listening pleasure and new music to explore. I hope to be back soon with another entry featuring more of my favorite netlabel compilations, as well as with a third post featuring more of my favorite netlabel albums of all time. Peace.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Best Shoegaze, Nu-gaze, Dream Pop albums

Here's a list of some of my favorite albums by shoegazer bands that I think you should know about. This is by no means a definitive list. It's just several bands and albums whose music I have really connected with or enjoyed. I have a lot of this type of music in my collection, thanks to E-music, and as I listen to it more, I will continue to add more bands and albums that I really like to this list. I am leaving the classic shoegaze bands off of this list, since their reputations are already well established, and instead am focusing on more recent and less well known artists.

The Daysleepers - Drowned in a Sea of Sound - Though I was aware of their two well regarded EPs, this, their debut full-length, is the first thing by them that I downloaded and really listened to. I liked it at first, but wasn't blown away by it. Then I woke up in the morning with the melody for one of the songs (Lovesparkles) going through my head. It was beautiful and I couldn't quite remember where I had heard it, but I knew I needed to figure it out. Some reflection brought this album to mind so I listened to it again, found the song, and realized just how good it is. This definitely has the energy of a rock album, but it's also very dreamy and atmospheric, featuring airy, sparkling guitars over driving bass and drums. The opening song, "Release the Kraken," has a catchy arpeggiated guitar riff that reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." The slower songs like "Distant Creatures," "Lovesparkles," and "The Secret Place" are all lovely and among my favorites on the record. Also really nice is the instrumental piece "Space Whale Migration."

Monster Movie - Last Night Something Happened - Monster Movie is a band featuring Christian Saville, formerly of Slowdive, which almost establishes their shoegazer credentials before you've even heard the music. Thankfully, the music lives up to the expectations generated by such credentials. I hear an element of britpop mixed in with the shoegaze sound here. There are so many songs on this album that really stick out that it's hard to keep track of them all. The instrumental opener, "First Trip to the City," features a great organ part over a slow but steady beat and a longing, melancholy melody. After this the album kicks into gear with "Shortwave," another emotionally engaging piece of yearning, mid-tempo, minor key melancholy featuring a spacious guitar sound. "Waiting" is a catchy, upbeat number that brings back the organ and features the lovely male/female vocal harmonies that are a hallmark of shoegazer bands like Slowdive. "Waiting on a Train" is an all out rocker featuring crunchy guitars and a driving beat. "4th and Pine," the song that gives the album its name, is a catchy bass driven track with a big chorus that features more of the wonderful vocal harmonies, and "Ooby" is another one of those tracks whose big, catchy chorus ingrained itself into my brain even before I was really well acquainted with the album. This is a definite winner.

Tears Run Rings - Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never - I downloaded this almost on a whim after listening to the 30 second samples on E-music, and boy am I glad I did. This is a great album. A lot of it has an edgier sound but still maintains the atmosphere and vibe of shoegaze music. Perhaps you could say the reference here is more My Bloody Valentine than Slowdive though that isn't quite right either, as some of the songs here like the slow, dreamy "Beautiful Stranger" are lifted right out of the Slowdive play book, with their big, warm, fuzzy, floating guitars and harmony vocals. The melodies are very strong throughout the album. Among my favorites: "How Will the Others Survive?," a driving melody, backed by a blistering wall of guitar noise, and featuring a cool two note opening riff; "World Upside Down," with it's pronounced back-beat, choppy but still dreamy rhythm guitar, and echoey vocals; and the uber-cool "Mind the Wires," which has a great fade in opening featuring a haunting female vocal part. "Waiting for the End" is also a lovely slower number. Highly recommended.

Highspire - Your Everything - This is another one that leans towards the edgier side of the shoegaze spectrum a lot. I haven't listened to this closely enough yet to pick out individual songs and talk about their features, but the few times I've played it I've been very impressed overall. One thing that sets this album apart from the others is that it experiments around with other styles of music, introducing trip-hop rhythms and big groovy chill-out base lines into several songs. So the album veers between driving, feedback oriented guitar numbers, slower dreamier tracks, and the trip-hop oriented tracks. The last track on the album features about two minutes of music, followed by about nine minutes of silence, and then a strange two minute spoken word track featuring a programed beat. When I become more familiar with this album, I try to fill in some of the details here.

Alright, that's a good start for now. I've been writing for over an hour and need to take a break, so I'll add to this list in further posts. One more thing of note that occured to me as was writing this is that all of the bands in this post are on the same record label, Clairecords. Clairecords is a label that specializes in shoegaze type music, so if you're into that you should definitely visit their webpage or their page on e-music.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Good find of the week: albums from Instinct Ambient Series available for download on

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the things I would like to do with this blog is help direct people towards hard-to-find or out-of-print music that becomes available again at reasonable prices, especially as downloads. This week I'd like to feature three albums originally released on the Instinct Ambient label during the mid 1990s. These albums are part of the numbered, monthly series of ten albums that the label released in 1995. This series of releases, featuring highly stylized, eye-catching artwork and distinct packaging, is very hard to find and highly desired by many ambient music lovers. All of the albums in the series are currently available used from, though the prices on a number of them are on the high side ($50-$75).

The good news, however, is that three of the albums have recently been made available as downloads through the MP3 store (a fourth, Adham Shaikh's "Journey to the Sun," has actually been re-released for some time now as a download, though with slightly altered cover art and no longer sporting the distinct numbering identifying it as part of the Instinct Ambient Series.) The three albums are as follows:

Facil - Facil - #4 in the series

Escape Tank - Escape Tank - #8 in the series - Escape Tank was a production of the ever prolific Taylor Deupree, who aside from being a well regarded ambient artist in his own right, was also the head of Instinct Records and is now head of the well respected 12k records. Deupree is also highly regarded for his ambient work under the Human Mesh Dance moniker, which released two albums on the Instinct label and the first album on the 12k label, as well as numerous tracks on various compilation CDs.

Control X - To Abort Transmission - #9 in the series

In the past, I owned two of these three albums for a short time, but never really had the chance to listen to them enough that I feel I can give substantial commentary on them here. Nor have I had the opportunity to download and listen to them yet. I just know they are highly regarded among many ambient and electronic music lovers, are highly sought after, and, in some cases, very expensive. To find them available, therefore, as downloads from for less than $10 dollars each is rather exciting and I am sure that many people will want to grab them for such a great price.

I'll also include a link to Adham Shaikh's "Journey to the Sun" album, since it was part of the original Instinct Ambient series and is an excellent album. Also, here is the original cover art, which I like better than the slightly revised cover art on the re-released version.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Favorite Netlabel Releases: Part II

Well, it's been awhile since I wrote and posted the first entry featuring my list of favorite netlabel releases. I wrote in detail about three of those releases and said I'd write about the others as I had time and energy. So, after a six week break, due mostly to laziness and time wasting, here's the other three albums:

Colin Everingham - Skies of Error - (Enpeg Digital)- This album is distinguished from the others on my list by being the only one that you have to pay for, albeit only $2.00. Probably the best classification of its musical style would be dark IDM. It is an album I think of as "cloudy day music." It evokes for me images of dark clouds rolling in from the Northwest across the wide open landscape of Northern Illinois, where I live. That alone would be reason enough to love it, as far as I'm concerned. The sound of it is dark (though not opressively so), melancholy, and sometimes ominous.

The opening track, "In Memory, Differences Collide," has an almost wistful feel to it and makes me think of first waking up on a grey, overcast morning. After that opening, the album really gets going with the darker, more rhythmic "Subtractim," which features a chiming music box melody overtop of the gloom. "We Can Never Be" features a more ominous sort of overcast melancholy that evokes a deep sense of loss. The rest of the album largely follows suit, in varying degrees, from the template set by these three tracks. The short interlude "Similarities in Mind" features some darkly melodic piano playing, and the following track, "Corduroy Coast," features what sounds like an acoustic guitar. Several tracks feature a nice low bass sound that really adds a fullness to the music, while the beats and rhythms definitely reflect a mechanistic, Autechre type feel, but are nicely mixed in with the rest of the music, never becoming grating or obnoxious, even at the their most pronounced. At times, I am reminded of Gridlock, though with a less industrial feel. The album ends with "You Were Gone," six minutes of beatless, melancholy ambience. Another perfect album for a rainy day.

(Val)liam - Early Reflections - ( This excellent ambient album was originally released on the Dewtone netlabel, which has since reformatted its webpage and no longer releases new music, as far as I know. It can still be downloaded, however, from In contrast to the Colin Everingham album discussed above, this album brings to mind sunshine and cloud flecked blue skies. It has a dreamy feel to it that evokes heat waves rising on a slow summer afternoon when you're out of school and September still seems far off in some impossibly distant future.

After opening with the relatively short "Orange Horizon," which features a vaguely ominous and anticipatory plucked acoustic guitar melody, the album moves into two seven minute tracks of wonderfully dreamy, slow, warm, ambient music, which feature what sounds like sampled bird or animal noises mixed in. While the use of such sounds can sometimes evoke images of cheesy new-age nature music, these tracks avoid that possibility, much like Future Sounds of London's "Lifeforms" album, though where that album calls to mind a trip deep into some exotic jungle, these tracks evoke something more familiar and closer to home if still tinged by the mysterious. The rest of the album pretty much follows suit from these open tracks. The acoustic guitar makes a reappearance on a couple tracks, with the rest of the album mostly featuring beatless, warm, vaguely melodic, drifting ambient pieces. The album ends with a surprise, however, as the last track, which is also the title track, starts out with the dreamy ambient feel of most of the other tracks but then quickly morphs into a beat driven, ambient trance track. Though this might sound like a jarring incongruity with the rest of the album, it actually works rather well, as the track never loses the sunny, warm ambient feel of the album as a whole and calls to mind images of flying off into the bright blue summer skies that the rest of the album has evoked so well.

I own a lot of ambient music and this album is a standout, not only among netlabel releases but in general. It occupies a unique place in being deeply peaceful and evoking the natural world without devolving into new age cheesiness, while also avoiding the detached, isolationist feeling of a lot of ambient music. It's the perfect soundtrack for sitting in the backyard on a slow, sunny, summer afternoon and listening to the sounds of the neighborhood around you.

Xerxes - The Mirror Formula - (Xerxes webpage) - If the last two albums featured were perfect for cloudy and sunny days respectively, this album is more of a night or evening record for me (Of course you can listen to any music anytime you want. These are just my subjective impressions). Stylistically, this album falls somewhere in between ambient and chillout music.

The fittingly titled "Prologue" begins the album with dark, haunting, drawn out notes and builds a sense of anticipation by slowly adding in an ominous pulsing bass line and an almost martial sounding drum part before descending again back down to the opening notes. For a comparison, think of the progression of Massive Attack's "Angel" from beginning to end, though this track is far more restrained than that one. After that introduction, the album picks up with "Pirayana," a beat driven piece of moody ambient/chillout. This is followed by "Can You See This," a slower piece of ambient/chillout music, with a prominent piano melody. From here the album is nicely paced, moving back and forth between the darker, more beat driven ambient/chillout pieces and the slower more melodic, piano driven pieces. The album ends on what might be its best track, "Christmas Layers," which falls somewhere in between the more beat driven pieces and the slower more piano oriented tracks. An unforgetable, beautiful piano melody is played over a steady mid-tempo beat. The production here, as on the other albums included in this list, is excellent.

Since this album was released, Xerxes has begun to receive attention from some record labels and has released a couple of tracks on various artist compilations which can be purchased from the iTunes store and elsewhere. This album, however, is absolutely free from the Xerxes's webpage, which features a large selection of excellent tracks available for free download.

Well, that's it for my all time favorite netlabel releases. I hope you've found this list informative and have maybe been introduced to some great music you didn't know about before. I would also like, at some point, to do a list of my favorite netlabel compilations but I don't know when I'll get to that. I'll also try, when I have the time and energy (my constant mantra) to post on other music I find interesting and worthwhile, and to inform readers about good deals and cool finds that I make. Peace.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Good find of the week: Vidna Obmana's rare "Trilogy" for download from Emusic

One thing I want to do with this blog, is make listeners aware of good albums that have gone out of print or are hard to find, but that become available again, especially in a downloadable format.

For those who care, Emusic has just made Vidna Obmana's "Trilogy" available for download. Obmana makes what I would call deep ambient music much in the vein of Steve Roach or Robert Rich. The "Trilogy" is a box set featuring three of Obmana's earliest recordings; "Passage in Beauty," "Ending Mirage," and "Shadowing in Sorrow." Hard copies are pretty rare. A used one goes for about $100 on, and a new one there is selling for about $250. I was lucky enough to score a cheap copy of "Ending Mirage" a few years ago, when I was first discovering Obmana's music, but have never been able to get my hands on the other two discs. "Ending Mirage" is a wonderful disc, filled with haunting, melodic, ambient soundscapes, and I understand the other two discs are in a similar vein, though I have not had the chance to listen to them yet (I just downloaded them this evening). All three albums together comprise about 21 tracks and an Emusic membership with 30 downloads is only about $10 a month. It's a great deal, even if you've never heard Obmana's music before but are a fan of serious ambient music.

P.S. When you go to Emusic, you will have to find and download each disc individually by name. They are not listed collectively under the "Trilogy" heading.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Favorite Netlabel Releases

Here is a list of my favorite netlabel releases of all time. All of these albums can be legally downloaded for free (or nearly free) from the netlabel's web page, the artist's web page, or sites like (the place where the album should be available is given in parenthesis). As far as I know they are all still available. The listing is in no particular order. See the player for samples of most of the albums as well as some other stuff I've been digging lately.

Artist - Album (Label)

Esem - Scataren (Kahvi) - If I were asked to pick one netlabel album as my favorite, this would probably be it. This is melodic IDM music par excellence, with a warm spacious feel, beautiful melodies, skittering rhythms, and an air of wistfulness. The production is also excellent. I have all three of Esem's albums and like this one better than the other two, which I paid for. In general, I'd say this album is far better than a great deal of what can be paid for. I have about 40 GB of music on my iPod and this one gets played with a fair amount of regularity. If you like electronic music, especially melodic IDM, then do yourself a favor and go download this right now. Perfect music for an overcast or rainy day. (Unfortunately, it seems the album is no longer availabel in MP3 format, but only in OGG. OGG files can be played and burned to disc using the Winamp player.)

Sinq - Passage (Monotonik) - I'd say this one ranks pretty close to the Esem album in terms of my absolute favorite netlabel releases and might even give it a run for its money. Like the Esem album, this is an excellently written and produced melodic IDM record which often conjures up wistful feelings. This one differs, however, in having a more soulful feel on a number of the tracks, including some well done vocals on the track "Be Brave." Sometimes the music has an almost ominous feel to it, though never in a way that is oppressive or scary. Whereas the Esem album seems more like a trek through some exotic jungle landscape, this album gives the feel of being far more rooted in an everyday urban/suburban landscape, though still giving a sense of the mysterious and beautiful that lurks within and behind those everyday realities. Excellent stuff.

Stockfinster - All Becomes Music (Sutemos) - Mixing elements of electronic and ambient music with more conventional instrumentation and vocals, Stockfinster offers up a lovely, melodic album of what could probably be accurately called post-rock music. One of the things that really distinguishes this album for me is the excellent use of sampled dialogue. Whereas the use of sampled dialogue can often feel stale, too clever, or simply banal and overdone, tracks like "Dismantled" and "Duel" use long passages of movie dialogue in conjunction with the music to create a strong emotional impact on the listener. Other tracks, like the closer, "In Transit," use a single line of well timed dialogue to powerful, almost heartbreaking, emotional effect. "A Crack in Time" is another melodic track that features an excellent chorus with actual vocals, though for this listener it is somewhat marred by the long sample of some New Age guru expounding his views. A couple of other tracks also have vocals, the best of which is "Verge," which is very reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins, though with a more electronic edge to it. Beautiful and moving music. (P.S. - There is an excellent alternate version of the title track to this album available from the Sutemos compilation album "Red, Green, Blue and Other Summer Feelings," which features some great music largely in the shoegaze/post-rock vein from a number of excellent artists. I actually prefer it to the one on the album.)

Colin Everingham - Skies of Error (Enpeg)
Xerxes - The Mirror Formula (Xerxes webpage)
(Val)liam - Early Reflections (

Somehow, it feels as if I'm forgetting one or two things that ought to be included here, but, then again, perhaps my forgetting them is a sign they don't really belong here. Sometime soon, I hope to do another list featuring my favorite netlabel compilations. I'd also like to do a list of albums that didn't quite make it to this list but that I still think are pretty super. That's it for now. (I'll add comments for the other three albums listed here as I have time and energy.)