Various Artists: Ambient Zone 2 (Just Music)
The second instalment in the Ambient Zone series complied by Just Music sees such heavyweights as Jon Hopkins, Marconi Union, and Chris Coco contribute. Simon Tucker reviews.
Winter is most certainly here. Crisp breathe exhales, cheeks highlight beauty and the dark encroaches on our day at an ever earlier time.
Into this enters Ambient Zone 2, described as “winter music” it certainly has a frosty charm that sprinkles its colours throughout but instead of making the listener draw in on themselves it forces you into a state of snug serenity as uplifting as it is thoughtful, warm as it is cold.
Whether we are swirling through Afterhere’s On Wings, or guided forward by the propulsive Sentinel by Digitonal, Ambient Zone 2 shows that you can have many preconceived ideas about what is deemed “ambient” music but they will in the large part be wrong.
There is a vast array of textural delights and nuances on display throughout which are constantly wrongfooting you. The minute you think you have a grasp of what you are hearing, a sudden switch or introduction of more instrumentation makes you foolish for even beginning to feel like you know what “it’s” all about.
Chris Coco’s New Age Sunrise is the first example of a human presence on the album and it is used to devastating effect as it plays like a strobing beam of sunlight breaking through tree branches, whilst Jon Hopkins invites us to waltz through the brown and crunching leaves with family members on Autumn Hill, a truly beautiful piece of piano music that shows Hopkins is still one of the finest purveyors of emotional music out there.
Sam Thomas’s Seeing or Agreeing (which is an exclusive) first displays a heavy percussive element before we are led into the gentle strum and pluck of Neu! – type atmospherics and Sigur Ros soar. Every now and then, the machines make their presence known with more and more layers before they disappear from view before appearing again. A remarkable song.
Loner’s contribution, My Kingdom, Your Sunset is the first song where lyrics are decipherable and it plays out like a grand tale from Greek times, full of Gods and monsters and the noble art of self sacrifice. A love story that uses a subtle electronic drive and encroaching synths that tickle the ears and give this tale a gut-wrenching punch.
Caeleste by Echaskech is a fine example of how to build a song as we start in a quiet corner before being led out into the night – dark but full of promise and thrills whereas Xspance’s The Last Sunrise covers us in static and encourages you to walk forward but carefully, full of moments that are sometimes reassuring yet slightly twisted. What lurks behind these shadows?
Piano Monody by Opdot uses stunning piano playing that again feels comforting but as the song progresses things take a turn for the alien. Dread is slowly layered on as synths are introduced and the odd, queasy, bass stab rolls out seemingly whenever it feels, not conforming to any kind of standard practice or rule of songwriting. Piano Monody is when you discover the person you thought you knew is in fact synthetic, a voltage not a heartbeat.
We then land at the door of the acclaimed producer Marconi Union and boy is there no disappointment. Transient plays like a lost jazz standard, with swing and sway. One of only two examples where you can envisage people dancing, albeit up close and personal. A seductive number that oozes sexual tension, play this whenever you’re wanting to set a “mood”.
That mood is lightened by the gentle flutter of Laki Mera’s Talk To Me, a light and dreamy affair, a daydream, or a trip through old photographs of those you have loved. We reach the finish line with Dan Arborise and Paths, a pluck and strum number that uses the wood of the guitar to convey the sense that winter has left us and spring has raised its beautiful head.
Ambient Zone 2 is essential listening. A true example of the myriad forms of ambient music. No song sounds the same yet the mood and quality remain consistent. Put on the heating, grab a cup of tea, and dive into its loving arms.