What’s on Your iPod?

Maybe it’s music making month that has me exploring more new music out there. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been rather introspective lately, looking at various sound design ideas, and needing to take a break from tutorial writing (don’t worry, I’ll be back with more tutorials soon). But right now I’m looking more at what other people are doing out there. Instead of writing a tutorial this week, I decided to present a few things that are inspiring me. My tastes lately have gone more ambient and less dubstep, drum n bass, and whatever other new “step” is the new vogue.

Maybe it’s music making month that has me exploring more new music out there. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been rather introspective lately, looking at various sound design ideas, and needing to take a break from tutorial writing (don’t worry, I’ll be back with more tutorials soon). But right now I’m looking more at what other people are doing out there. Instead of writing a tutorial this week, I decided to present a few things that are inspiring me. My tastes lately have gone more ambient and less dubstep, drum n bass, and whatever other new “step” is the new vogue.

So here are some of the things that are playing on rotation in my iPod, and some new material that has me going “wow, now that’s cool.” I’d be interested to hear what you all think of these artists and tracks. So feel free to comment and tell me what your opinions are. And let me know what you have on rotation in your iPod. Any ambient, drone, or glitch suggestions would also be welcome.

Seefeel: Seefeel (2011: Warp Records)

Seefeel - Seefeel

First and foremost is a CD that I recently purchased which at first listen didn’t catch me. The second time I listened to the whole CD front to back and it instantly connected for me. Now it’s the one CD I play from start to finish continually. It’s the number one CD on my iPod, and if you like your ambient served to you in a crunchy, distorted, and feedbacked guitar-based way, then this will certainly hit the mark. It’s Seefeel’s self-titled CD from this year, and I would definitely recommend it for some blissed-out mystical journey with a big kick.

What I really love about it is the lush layers, distortion, feedback, and the power that each track brings. After a 15-year hiatus, and a line-up change, they seem to still have what it takes to inspire me. And it’s nice to hear their sound get more gritty, and I think their choice to bring guitars back into the mix is spot on.

A note about the CD cover: This music feels exactly like the picture IMHO. Of course that’s why they’re called Seefeel.

Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972 (2011: Kranky)

Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972

Perhaps it’s the fact that Tim is from my hometown (Montreal, Canada) that has me curious about his music. Or perhaps it’s the CD cover image of the first “Piano Drop” at MIT in my current location in Boston that has me intrigued. No, wait. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s done most of the recording sessions for this CD on a church pipe organ in Iceland. Well, now there’s just so many reasons to listen to this, that I couldn’t pass it up.

Interestingly, the music comes across very sparse, but very dense and all-encompassing. It’s broody and almost apocalyptic in nature. There’s elements of Eno here. There’s the spaciousness of emptiness. There’s the beautiful emmersive experience that just cries out “Ambient” in my head. This is what ambient can possibly be in the right hands. I can’t wait to get this CD and give it a full and thorough listen from start to finish. It’s the kind of music that forces you to lie in bed, close your eyes and just lose yourself in it.

Esselfortium: Seventeen More Times (2011: Esselfortium)

Esselfortium - Seventeen More Times

The moment I listened to this artist, I was hooked. The sampling is awesome and the sound is extraordinary. As one of the soundcloud reviewers said on his channel, he deserves more attention. And it’s true. I have Ed from EditEd4TV fame to thank for introducing me to this artist’s work. So have a listen. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. That is, if you like ambient breakbeat. The one thing that struck me about Esselfortium is the connection it placed in my mind with older progressive bands such as Tangerine Dream. The feel is definitely there. But the sound is just as clean and melodies are more traditional.

Introjection by esselfortium

It’s worth a listen if you have a keen interest in quality musicianship, and still enjoy the founders of progressive ambient from the 70’s — Kind of like prog rock takes an ambient U-Turn, then came out to a complete stop in 2011. Nice work here.

School of Seven Bells (SVIIB): Disconnect from Desire (2010: Vagrant Records)

School of Seven Bells - Disconnect from Desire

I know this is more main stream, but I can’t seem to shake this off my iPod for anything. The vocals from twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and the guitar and production work of Benjamin Curtis are really well put together. Cohesively shoegazish and very ethereal. The band seem to take off where My Bloody Valentine left off. Though this is their second CD, they still hold everything together well. Though, I still tend to like the first CD Alpinisms better, as I think it’s more raw. But there’s nothing wrong with this CD as well, and both get a lot of air time when I’m on the road.

I think I also have an affinity to them because they maintain their own blog. Something a lot of musicians don’t do, but should. Note to all you bedroom musicians out there: start a blog, get a website, and get your name out there!

The Orb: Metallic Spheres (2010: Columbia)

The Orb - Metallic Spheres

What list would be complete without something from The Orb. At least my list that is. Well, I can’t knock the Orb. They were pioneers of Ambient Dub, and broke out a whole generation of chilled out rave youths. So this purchase for me was a no-brainer. And the fact that they teamed up with David Gilmour (finally doing something Pink-Floyd-esque) is a bit of a treat.

I have to make a confession: I love long drawn out ambient tracks that progress and move over time. So to get a single track in two 20-minute parts was really nice. A clean break from the everyday 3-5 minute soundscape that everyone is used to. The tracks have a chance to breathe and develop. And that’s a very integral part to ambient as a genre.

So does this CD hold up. Yes and no. It’s a great CD overall, but it’s not what I would consider the best from either artist: The Orb nor Gilmour. For the most part, Gilmour voices a few words and does his guitar thing. And the Orb seem a bit tried, tested, and tired. It’s not that the CD is bad. It’s had a lot of listens from me already. It’s just that with the wealth of everything else out there, and with their track record for breaking boundaries, I guess I expected more from them. It’s still a very solid CD and the music production is really wonderful. But it also falls a little flat for me in places. I’m still a die-hard fan, but next to all their other ground-breaking work over the past 25+ years, it kinda made me go “eh. ok. so what?”

Still worth a listen though.

Mum: Yesterday was Dramatic — Today is OK (2000: TMT Entertainment)

Mum - Yesterday was Dramatic - Today is OK

Still one of the best musical glitchy debut CDs of the decade, and gets a lot of airplay from me. I have most of their CDs, and I have to say this one is the best of the bunch. My favorite track is “Asleep on a Train” which just sounds like perfect music to fit the title. This group is from Iceland, and I would say this is one of the best “mood CDs” which fits my personality perfectly. It’s quirky, upbeat and downbeat from track to track and it weaves in and out of a really nice journey which makes the listener focus very deeply on what’s being played. Perhaps because I like to create music myself, I tend to listen harder than others. But I think this could have appeal for everyone who is willing to listen to some of the outer edges of our tiny little pop culture.

Most of their newer CDs since this one go down a very folksy path, and that’s not a bad thing. But it’s not necessarily MY thing either. This CD is much more electronic and glitch, and holds it’s head up high above a lot of others that were produced 10 years later.

Jonsi: Go (2010: XL Recording)

Jonsi - Go

This is the guy from Sigur Ros (I must have a weird affinity to Iceland this year). His first solo project was taken from lots of recordings that didn’t quite fit the Sigur Ros style. The CD is an interesting musical journey that is somewhat akin to Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Sommerville vocals, and modern day acoustic ambient. The cross-breading is superb. The best song on the CD by far is “Grow Till Tall,” the second to last track.

His vocals are haunting high pitch yearnings for what? I have no clue. But it all just works. And even cooler is that I heard a rumor that all the music on this CD is from acoustic instruments. No digital instruments. Which is refreshing in this day and age, and for this genre especially. Have a listen for yourself.

So that’s just some of the stuff loitering around my iPod or waiting to be purchased. Any suggestions based on these tastes? What do you think of these artists? I’d love to get your feedback. As always, never forget to stop and take a minute to listen to the music of others. It can be its own reward, and it will help tune you into sounds and ideas for music-making of your own.

10 thoughts on “What’s on Your iPod?”

  1. I suppose you have to give Iceland some love anytime the “ambient”genre pops up. They are such a hotbed (get it?hot?ice?ehh) for inspiring new music, and it’s great to see someone besides Bjork get attention – although she IS amazing. I haven’t heard that before about Jonsi not using soft synths, that’s interesting. I have read that Sigur Ros get alot of their dreamy, chimey percussive sounds – like the one’s on Takk – by sampling various bells and found sounds into a dodgy old yamaha keyboard sampler. Perhaps it was a vss 30? Anyway, great list. Already love most of it, and I’ll be sure to check out SoSB and Esselfortium.

    1. @HavaH,
      I agree that Iceland is now a huge hotbed of activity. It’s nice to see given that there’s a lot of talent there, especially for such a small country. Glad you like the list. Tim Hecker is a new find of mine that seems to inspire me a lot lately. But all those groups have a favorite spot on my iPod. Especially when I’m on the road. If you have any other suggestions don’t hesitate to let me know. Cheers!

  2. I have the 26 masterpieces by Jimi Hendrix loaded these days for study purposes (I deleted the 15 filler/crap songs). If he were around these days (he’d be 69 in november) he’d be a serious electronic composer. What he did with tape machines, wah, reverb, tape sampling, vibrato bar, phaser, fuzz, delay, harmonics, etc., was amazing. Jimi with Reason/Record: dangerous!

    1. @John Richards,
      Hendrix was one helluva great guitar player. Musically, he’s in a league all his own, along with Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a handful of others. Great music from some great geniuses. It would be crazy to think what he could do if he were alive today and using Reason. 😉

  3. Some great choices on here Rob! I love SVIIB and Mum – need to check out the new Seefeel and Tim Hecker, the clips sound great. The new Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto record “Summus” and 13 & God’s “Own Your Ghost” are getting a lot of play on my ipod as of late. And I somehow just found out about Isan, why no one told me how fantastic they are is beyond me ;-).

    1. Thanks Lewis,
      Tim Hecker is someone I just found out about. He’s got some very interesting and haunting ambient music, and it’s mostly cathedral in space and tone. Something that always inspires me about his stuff is the way he uses the space as a major part of the music he creates. Definitely on my most listened to list. I’ll have to check out the others you suggested here. Thanks for providing some new inspiration.

  4. Great topic and a fun list, Rob! To mirror Lewis’ suggestion, I would highly recommend another collaboration done by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christopher Willits called “Ocean Fire.” Its a few years old, but an album I absolutely love. I’d also recommend Saine, who uses Renoise. His sound was kind of downtempo, but lately seems to be drifting more and more into jazz. Some older minimal netlabel releases I’ve downloaded have been getting a lot of play, especially at work, so check out Adverb and Doyeq (both artists) for some intriguing sound design. Summer seems like the best season for pop, so I have been listening (ashamedly) to a lot of Robyn lately. That admission just blows any cred I once held, but its well done and fun, so it works for me.

    1. Robb,
      Thanks for the comment. I tried to keep the list interesting, and showcase a few people that folks may not have heard about. It’s always hard to reign it in, because there’s just so much great music out there. Sure you have to weed through the trash too. But it’s worth it to find that nugget of gold.

      I haven’t heard about most of those artists you mentioned, and I’ll have to investigate those. So thanks! That’s the kind of feedback I love to get for these kinds of posts. It always opens up some new doors and gives me something new to check out. 🙂

      All my best for now.

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