I think I first became aware of anything labelled ‘ambient’ in the late 80s or early 90s. Back then my encounter with all things blissed out consisted of the Rising High Record’s duo of Namlook and Mixmaster Morris and sheep bleating with the KLF. There was obviously much more, but I was too naïve and ignorant to go searching out Eno and the like – that stuff was old and I wanted new, new, new.
As a consequence, utter the word ambient in my environs today and I still get images, glimpsed through an unhealthy and sweet smelling fug, of lava lamps, ill-fitting ethnic clothing and dreadlocks whiffing of a damp Labrador.
Things have inevitably moved on, even if I haven’t. The following three outings might not be representative of what is going on the ambient scene (no attempts at authority here once again), and in fact some might not consider them as such, but they’re certainly interesting listens.
First up, Jónsi and Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps. I fully admit that I’d practically given up on anything to do with Sigur Rós after their album Með suð í eyrum við spilum eHowlndalaus – it left me cold and utterly bored. In fact the high church choir boy wailing of Jónsi had really begun to grate my teeth. It was with some trepidation then that I mustered the cash and courage to buy Riceboy Sleeps, but I’m so glad I did for it is a masterpiece of lush dronage and organic swells. Moreover, it manages to dispel the po-faced element that I’d sensed creeping into Sigur Rós last few recordings – there’s a sense of fun on this record, the source of which I can’t quite put my finger on.
Second, is the collaboration of Sparklehorse and Fennesz on In the Fishtank. We’ve seen the latter on these pages before, but I’m pretty ignorant of the former. What I do know is that this was recorded in a stupidly short period (two days of studio time), but doesn’t suffer for it. From the squirming opener ‘Music Box of Snakes’, the soporific yet slightly disturbing lullaby of ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ and through to the brilliant ‘NC Bongo Buddy’- which gives us the soundtrack of boilers and air-con units at the verge of breakdown in a skyscraper’s basement – this is a varied and rewarding listen.
Finally, we have White Rainbow and New Clouds. To be fair I’ve yet to give this the full in-ear treatment. Neither have I allowed it to soundtrack a late night or appreciated it in a horizontal position. Hence it seems the least successful of these outings. Yet with its improv and Harmonia-esque burblings it’s worthy of inclusion here.
So ditch images of the great apolitical unwashed preaching revolution from a squat in Leytonstone, New Age self-improvement in the Rainforest and buy something contemporarily fugged.