Ex-yu ambient/ ambient-electronic & drone – best LP’s/ EP’s of 2017

It’s the aural remembrance of 2017 in which ex-yu region exploded in terms of quality and quantity, variety and freshness of releases…and an ode to the most exquisite year in ambient soundscaping and dreamscaping, cinematic thrills and chills, sonic postcards and discovering new sound worlds.

Compiled and reviewed by Popscotch radio & zine crew. We’ve enjoyed every bit of it, hope you will too!

LP

1. Post Global Trio – Minus Seven (Shimmering Moods)

Fourth release by this ambient superstar trio from Macedonia (Toni Dimitrov – field recordings, Dimitar Dodovski – electronics, and Martin Georgievski – electric guitar and synth) on dutch label Shimmering Moods highlights one of their most consistent and fully realized visions yet ; high on synergy, otherworldly tribal isolationism, overall aura of mysticism. Oscillating between the electroacoustic ambient escapades, in the vein of Steve Roden and particularly his In Be Tween Noise records and ambient/ dub techno concoctions, akin to Gas, on Minus Seven they’re also playfully toying with the Fourth World themes, as coined by the ethno/tribal ambient fusion pioneer, trumpet player John Hassell.

Four minimalist meditations slowly unfold, leaving us bewildered in the paradisiac mist of warm synths, mountain field recs, indian percussion, ceremonial chanting and hypnotic dubby rhythms. This aesthetic is injected both with the new age sensibilities of ambient music of the 80s and PGT influences from the 2k ; micro, glitchy, millenial sound of labels such as 12k and Chain Reaction, ending up with quite an unexpected take on the dreamily forlorn and (never) forgotten tribal ambient genre. Out of the blue and the far reaches of ex-yu leftfield !

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2. Subsided – Music from Inconvenience (LI$)

It’s at once heartening and cheerful to have a release like Music from Inconvenience on this list ; a rare bird in the sea of dreary, menacing, dark ambient which is becoming far too convenient these days ; could this “inconvenience” be a subversive force of some kind or another case of reversed psychology, the producer calls this casette “an anxiety beating tape”, afterall.

Nemanja Vlahović is a young producer and DJ from Belgrade under this (his first) release’s moniker on Low Income Squad, a deliciously lo-fi-quirky-and-murky label from Croatia. Fluctuating between his long-term relationship with more modern bass-related music and almost sounding like a ambient-conjured carbon copy of those tracks, it captures the atmosphere of pastorale naivety and urban melancholy all at once. Reference points could be early Eluvium, easygoing japanese ambient from the 80’s and the 2000’s (from Ryuichi Sakamoto and Hiroshi Yoshimura to Susumu Yokota), processed guitar melodies and folktronic sounds from Bibio and the likes. Only Esme sounds a bit more funereal, somber and disconnected in the midst of this epiphanic (and very varied) melancholy tape, as if the the anxiety and mortal fears were coming back and dream has been interrupted.

A damn fine premiere !

 

3. Draeil – Untitled (Perfect Aesthetics)

Another sleeper release  arrived on the heels of the recent re-awakening of  the (already intriguing) electronic scene in Subotica ; a supergroup of vinyl junkies, electronica luminaries and all-around stellar conjuction of Attila Ábrahám (wb41) , Denis Glavčić (Alg0rh1tm) and Krisztian Vasas (Graphplan) have recorded their first cassette for Russian label Perfect Aesthetics. It was quite a refreshing echo of 80’s industrial and ambient cassette culture and a analog electronic wonder to behold (no poseur hardware music to be found here).

Drawing from different influences, such as early electronics, experimental tape music, IDM and (scandinavian) dark ambient, they have pieced together a compilation of their slightly edited recording sessions, with Attila being in charge of the melodic parts and ambient soundscaping, Denis taking care of the subliminal rhythms and Krisztian adding more noisy textures and samples. Most tight cuts are V, quite an unexpected exploration of sampled brass melody in the midst of looped synthscaping, I , as a ominous, high-tension ambient venture, while the rest of this release has traces of WB41’s dabbling with progressive electronics and Berlin School sound (III) and the more experimental action emerges during noisier and more surreal action with cinematic sampling (VI).

More Draeil gigs are set to happen during 2018 ; quite a reason to be excited, don’t miss the opportunity to hear them live.

 

4. Y/6543 – TYR (Lett)

Igor Kačavenda has to be one of the most unsung (anti-)heroes of murkily abstract, loner-atmospheric, (head)trippy music to ever haunt our netherregions. Take, for instance, his great early track, Scan Life Forms, which intermingles some seriously out-of-order “scanner” music with somber organ-alike sustained tones, or Enslavement comp’s darkly dejected (and even Badalamenti-an) tune Years of Dissent (I can hear some electricity crackling there!) and you’ll be half-prepared for the cinematic thrills and chills of his (also trippy) visual artistry translated into auditory realm.

After a batch of EP’s he has released for foreign labels, his first LP and CD for french “Lett” finds me somewhat distraught. It feels like a transitional release, not quite holding up like his previous industrial ambient (techno) extravaganza Muur, (also for Lett), quietly celebrated by luminaries like Hydrangea and Luigi Tozzi. It introduces some of his fresher , and more naturalistic sounds, while retaining a matrix of more mechanical (wrong)doings from the past. While its first and fourth track entrancingly roam in these Steve Roach-ian & Berlin school arpeggiated ambients, we can also decode this Y-turn with a visual metaphor ; if it’s the sight of slowly zooming in (on) a pixelated butterfly in a dark forest, or hearing a birdsong caught in a loop vortex,  it’s a testament to all of the beautiful and lush slowly and shyly emerging from the alienated, mechanical and cold. A great visual representation of this tune by Stravarija – if there’s ever been  a (hit) single on this very murky list – no doubt, it’s this one!

Rest of the release can feel a bit convoluted or tiring, to a certain extent. Industrial “rave” of II instantly kicks in like a music for damaged factory and its emergency buttons replaying themselves over a suffocating jam. After several of these machine muzak’s partycrashers (proper hommage to the notoriously polluted industrial town of Pančevo in which he’s residing), an eerie remix by Alex Kanthor for III (even though it sounds more like VI?) wraps this release with one of the finer atmospheric tech tracks of the year – it’s like a marriage of Skirt and Vatican Shadow’s more ghostlier cuts – and the ghost haunts this machine very knowingly.

Slight inconsistencies(s) and ambiguities turn out to be part of TYR’s charm. Which path Y/6543 is destined to take in 2018 is yet to be unveiled…

 

Y/6543 on Facebook

5. Ponton + Manja Ristić – Iza kapije

Most active and productive serbian sound artist Manja Ristić is truly a force to behold ; not only a very versatile improviser, she’s also a restless explorer of more quieter and nuanced qualities of sound, with a keen ear sound ecologist has for her natural surroundings and heartbeats of partners in crime. While it’s not the first time to hear her play with ambient artists (you can check out her great release “Gleam archives” in duo with Marko Paunović), on Iza kapije (“Behind the gate”) she’s teamed up with her long-time collaborators Ponton, in a live setting (recorded at KCCK) to produce another slowly enveloping and synaesthetic sound vision. It’s like diving and bathing in escapistic sound surroundings in the midst of depression of urban neurotic dystopia – a forever lost cause in its futile (self-)battles and arguments, failing to hear, listen, concentrate and captivate.

Ponton, a veteran duo of guitarist Marko Jevtić and electronic musician Igor Stangliczky are also at their most revered here, extending their trademark reverb sound with more guitar plucking, scratched turntables, reversed loops, drones and hums to accompany Manja’s rarefied violin playing and ghostly bow action over field recordings of birds and crickets chirping ; it’s not just being behind the gate or on treshold of consciousness or slipping into a new dream state, it’s a scenery of a highly consistent, lush new sound world they’re transporting us to, and a soundtrack of their private movie.

 

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6. The Monk by the Sea – Dreamscapes

There’s hardly been a shortage of inspiration for The Monk by the Sea. His music is like a living, breathing canvas of perpetual love relationship with warm, sustained guitar tones and drones saturated with fx. Another very productive year for croatian musician Ivan Ujević – there’s more releases than we could possibly count, and some of his most impressionistic soundscapes and dreamscapes.

There’s a lot of beauty hidden under the surface or simultaneously right in front of our eyes – if we could only keep them wide open, this music seem to prove in its zen-like accepetance, tranquility and harmonic escapades.  Under The Surface turns out to be one of his most beautiful and almost tear-inducing tracks, with its organ alike drone opening and not unlike the most elegiac Eluvium out-there, without the crashing crescendos Sigur Ros might have employed. Elsewhere, on his other release “And then there was light” there’s another one of his immersive and emotional peaks, Sunset  , a gloaming on the isolationist shore of sea twilight, propelled by reverbed guitar tones and engulfed in processed bell-like sounds in the second half of the track.

If you haven’t had the chance to be a part of Monk’s lyrical ambient odyssey, now would be the right time to humbly surrender to his always growing, impressive oeuvre. Refresh, regenerate and rejuvenate…

7. Sava Marinković – Through the Air

Sava Marinković is one guitarist to have fully realized the potential of improvised ambient guitar soundscapes married with rich drones and endless creative possibilities electronic music has to offer – in 2017 he has returned with his calmest and most soothing album yet. His endless DIY spirit and great continuity in releasing new works is nothing but to be admired, spanning from classic promotions for releases and great deal of postproduction work he’s involved with. It’s been a few years since the release of his sophomore album “Evocation” for italian label “Depths of Field”, a more murkier and glitchier affair occasionally pummeled with electronic beats and enriched with ethnic-tinged vocalizing. While that release captured the spirit of more cavernous dark and deep ambient sound from the school of Robert Rich and Steve Roach, Through the air attunes to his more airy and mellower side.

Silent Forest opens the release with a slow meditation which unfolds like a harmonic flow of sounds from the depths of the forest, while To The Stars And Above ends up to be a Carpenter-ian mystery accompanied by distorted guitar-scapes. Tian Shan slows the tempo and stretches sustained tones to the point of making the guitar sound like human voice. Night Sky From Our City is a subtle return to his dark ambient past, employing noctural bell-like sounds processed with effects.

It’s quite a relaxed and nuanced journey which should be best experienced with your headphones on.

 

8. Opium Curtains – The Burden of Feeling

“Computer sounds against entropy” – … turns out to be the bandcamp description of this project, and maybe all info we (need to) know about Opium Curtains. A mysterious producer from Croatia has earlier in 2017 released his first EP “Dreams of youthful innocence”, already establishing a mood of romantic bedazzlement and breezy, ethereal synth warmth. His following LP “The Burden of Feeling” abandons that promise in favor of more foggy, stoic and static drone exercises on first three tracks, but eventually returns to his humble and gentler ways ; through crashing of waves and tides, and introducing repetative ghostly tones over a mourful organ-like drone to maximum hypno-effect on the haunting “Sine waves crash on the shores of Kamchatka”.

More digital sadness and paradisical loneliness await us at the castle which is “Pale skin dispersing neon lights”. By sampling voices of lovers from canadian director Anne Emond’s drama focusing on one night stand dialogues and romantic despair this narrative unfurls like a great metaphor for album’s themes ; the burden of being caught in the (not expressed or inexpressible) feeling,  or ambient’s music perpetual longing for the eternal and timeless in almost abject relationship with melancholy of transience.

 

9. Toni Dimitrov & Jared Sagar – Sapience (Lagerstaette)

It’s been a busy year for these two ambient and sound artists who share a common passion for capturing, modifying and re-assembling field recordings. British sound scavenger Jared Sagar, has, earlier in 2017, already collaborated with Dimitrov on two great releases for Sonospace, net label from Madrid ; the tenderly alluring Maieutic and space-and-climate-specific sound diary of Subboreal  (as well as two more releases for Post global and Seatle Dots). Released on Lagerstaette, Sapience is not a far cry from these two, in terms of breadth and scope of vision ; in their words,” its psychologically-charged soundscapes capture movements in time, sound and place, its theme being largely based on isolation, moments of the past, memories trapped in time and a longing for the unknown”.

I’m reminded of Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet’s collaborations while discovering the content of these aural postcards. Deconstructing the (hidden romanticism’s and glory) of the mundane, and scattering across sounds of occasional chanting, mysteriosly abandoned ships, snippets of rainy days, never-solved mysteries of passer byes conversations, it’s another exercise in lush droning and humming of sine-tone harmonies and pocket topology symphonies.

 

10. Sound_00 + Lefterna – Elementals : Collab 2 (Winter-Light)

Most recent collaboration between prolific sound artist and electronic musician Toni Dimitrov (also in Post Global Trio) and drone/industrial musician Boban Ristevski (Playing for Oblivion) is noteworthly released on a dutch label Winter-Light, which collects Rapoon’s latest works. This is a selection of their previously released and now remastered comp tracks for labels such as Fall Into Void, Post Global Recordings, HNM Recordings, AOsmosis and Crna Zemlja.  Total time may seem a bit colossal and overlong at its 77 minute mark and veering more towards the sonic universe of Zoviet France than Rapoon, but packs a punch to satisfy the most meditative dronesters and deep ambient cave-dwellers out-there. It’s an immersive and rich headphone journey interleaved with hyper-vivid field recordings and saturated with drones which ebb and flow from timid to abrasive. Full list of collabs here!

EP

1. wb41 – The Sacred Curtain

One cannot blame wb41 for his hermit tendencies ; after all, when there’s so much to explore why ever leave his dreamy and smokey living room. Is it the lush soft pads or majestic harmonies of blurry cassiopeia with cosmic overtones? Or pedalling the hell out of weird, alien textures – hear Green Bottle Charm – isn’t it the sound of a twisted extraterrestrial disco as heard inside the amniotic fluid of Space Odyssey’s embryo Starchild. It’s confirmed – no time to gloom and doom when there’s so much to record and do!

Attila Ábrahám shares with us so much thrilling hope for his future musical developments on his “The Sacred Curtain”, that I’m still awestruck witnessing what’s happening behind the curtain of this cornucopia of slow winners. Using analogue synth and improvising on it like a magician – he creates a safe haven for programming these one-take wonders. “Years after” is epic glueing of slow-shifting, contemporary-sounding Berlin School fantasy. Intoning of cosmic sounds on “Wintertime” is reminiscent of Alessandro Cortini but filtered through the coziness of bedroom ambient culled from Taylor Deupree ; visual association could be polar lights dispersing all of a sudden over cruel winter monotony ; “Tinnitus Dreams”, on the other hand, gives me goosebumps ; it’s like listening to Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi and that perfect union of (retro)futuristic mystery and nostalgia, and more importantly – a dreamy cure for any tinnitus you might have had!

 

2. EOM – Exploration Series: Isle of Faces

Two brothers from Vršac, Damir and Željko Pavkov, have a knack for exploring diverse music worlds together. It’s an adventure which started very early in their childhood, when they started making remixes of top 40 songs on their grandfather’s old cassette recorder and recording their first “radio shows”. Nowadays they are releasing all kinds of stuff as a duo under different monikers, such as Lost Tribes of CheekowaraKerkrade,  Kolizion, spanning from more rhythmical (drum’n) bass related music and future funk to more calmer end of acoustic spectres. They’re also very zany in description of some of their compositions as well – A fairytale-ish electro-ballet about friendship? Tribute to Soviet space program? Or soundtrack for detective, noir comic – enough to captivate you to embark on this sound journey with them.

EOM is their most ambient-related project and a vehicle for subtle and minimal explorations of atmospheres, moods and sensations. On their most recent Exploration Series: Isle of Faces they compose a soundtrack seemingly inspired by George R.R Martin’s epic fantasy novel “A Song of Ice and Fire” . This music is not what you’d expect for this type of literature – there’s no sweeping synths or menacing choirs, instead we get a more vivid recreaction of creepy atmosphere of the island ; almost as if it was a soundtrack for William Golding’s dystopian novel “Lord of the Flies”. It’s filled with anxiety and tension, while it intruduces a repetative tribal kick and its reverberations, evolving from more mysterious sonic palette towards the field recordings which capture sounds of flora and fauna of this (imaginary) island, ending with an epilogue which is drowned in lush, angellic drones.

An amazing release for contemplation, imagination and unraveling of your own hidden movie/novel taking place on a (presumably) deserted island.

3. Hwælweg– Tranquil Depths of Mirage/ Process

Hwælweg makes very atmospheric, deep, and seriously non-gimmicky soundtrack music which immediately transports us to another era, space and place. A brainchild of Belgrade-based composer Sara Nenadić, it’s a journey which started with her excellent 2016 EP “On the Strings that Bind us”a solemn mix of gothic mournfulness, elegiac neo-classical piano suites and experimental ambient pieces, creeping slowly with pace and elegance of a ghost. Her 2017 release Tranquil Depths of Mirage, and the accompanying composition Process turn out to be actually less tranquil and much noisier affairs than its predecessor was.

Droning neo-darkwave threatens to distort us in Fata Morgana and Underpass, while Lost in Between and A promise to give, a promise to hold move forward the ethereal in their somber moods, replenished with sampled female voices regurgitating mantras from the deep. Three-part suite Process sounds like dark ambient rendez-vous of Black Tape for Blue Girl and Lycia doomed to slowly disintegrate in Tim Hecker’s Radio Amor ; in this epic track we go straight to the bottom of this deep hwaelwegian sea of longing and granulated signals to find dark and hidden beauty with her once again.

 

Hwælweg on Facebook

4. Zhe Pechorin – Cold Empathy (Enslavement) 

Zhe Pechorin is on fire. 2017. turned out to be a year in which Anđelina Mićić had several important breakthroughs : as one of the most talented live electronic performers (prominently at Drugstore Belgrade and at Live Soundtrack events), furthermore, an exemplary of dramatic change in music style ;  moving from her more bass-driven days, it’s still an eclectic potpourri of her long-lasting obsessions : ritual percussions and kicks, ambient techno acquiring the shape of more liminal drones, all shaping up to form an important bulk of her upcoming tape release for Berlin’s Holy Geometry label.

However, it’s the romantic weltschmerz and literary inspirations from Ivan Vyrypaev to existentialist writers who still figure to be key protagonists looming (and blooming) over her music. Looking at the cover for Enslavement‘s Cold Empathy EP, one might be easily fooled thinking it’s a still from Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse or another contemplative arthouse movie ; in this foggy atmosphere, deliberate slow-pacing and languid long shots seem to be the only possible modus operandi. That’s what we also get in terms of sonorities explored here. Feeling for Apathy is her most droning ambient track to this date, while the title song offers something even more sparse and skeletal to devour ; “hearts of space” are chiming in with a kick that kicks in too late, only to be salvaged by a more floatingly technoid remix of this track by Inslavement Enthusiasmus.

If there’s empathy, then how can it be cold? Ask the Pechorin.

 

Zhe Pechorin on Facebook

5. Niskogradba – Perpetual Goodbye

If there’s ever been an agreement on what “hauntology” tag might encompass,  Niskogradba’s “Perpetual Goodbye”  delivers the dissertation of the year on this tantalizing topic. Self-proclaimed “ghost music” writer, Bitola’s Dimitar Dodovski,  also of the Post Global Trio “fame”, makes this goodbye seem like a soporific with his most zany conceptual release under this moniker in 2017.

Its sounds are traversing the Leyland Kirby/ Caretaker axis, enriched with ghostly murmurs of a haunted ballroom or a lounge bar, with its pianist slowly spiralling into the loop decay madness. Intoxicating topographies of Paulstretch dronology (con)temporarily mesh with ambient pop jukeboxes. Cafe Del Mar compilation meets its hazy vaporwave-era doppelganger in a sea resort as they struggle in a loop over a hauntologist’s cliff(hanger). Is it future – or is it past?

One thing we can be sure of – it IS post-music debris for the naughties. Haunt us, haunt us, do it again, Mr. Dodovski !

6. дримкрафт – cirkadijal (Etiketa 4)

Igor Dević has, by the end of 2016, launched one of the most intriguing regional labels in the field of electronic and electro-acoustic music ; operating from Novi Sad, Etiketa 4 was not a physical release label or just another bandcamp label ; instead of cassettes we’ve got a mix of oldschool and hypercontemporary; a QR code for downloads on the back of postcards with beautiful looking, and often hand-painted covers.

As a synth-core member of a more experimental-leaning band Hton, he’s effortlessly navigating more ambient leaning post-rock influences in his own project дримкрафт. Starting with the self-titled 2014 release, which consisted of 11 tracks exploring different takes on dreamy, 4AD-ish synth music from the 80s with cosmic underpinnings, “Cirkadijal” is the first EP to fully embark on the promise of that release. When I first heard it I had flashes of early post-rock bands in my mind – AR Kane, Disco Inferno or Papa Sprain who cross-polinated their guitars with dream pop and shoegazer textures, while savouring rhythm machines in the background.  Elsewhere, “Noću, kada mu se ugasi očni vid, čovek ipak dodiruje svetlost” is slowly leaking like a late post-dub Labradford release, while “Elementi” i “Vrt” go full ambient and pastorale, cherishing the slow hypnosis and introverted serotonine kicks.

дримкрафт is like a spacecraft soundtracking its lucid dreaming.

P.S

For more great ambient EP’s and singles on Etiketa 4 check out the more space-rocking Markolijus, or dub-infected Frikardo or the rest of its roster.

 

 

VA & COMP

VA : Remote Perspective, An Abstract Sound Compilation

Possible the greatest ever ambient music compilation to collect works from artists from Macedonia and the rest of the world, curated by Martin Georgievski (Amplidyne Effect, Post Global Trio) :

“Remote Perspective, An Abstract Sound Compilation” is the first digital download compilation released on the website (under the self-release moniker AmpEff), as a free download. As an idea, the compilation serves to promote artists from around the world, that work with the abstract spectrum of sounds – experimenting with ambient, drone, experimental and electronic music. Most prominently the compilation is filled with sounds from artists that live in Republic of Macedonia (Amplidyne Effect, Dimitar Dodovski, Toni Dimitrov, Vedis, Aleksandar Ordev, delta m45, Defect 13th, B.ATL, Holtergeist, Post Global Trio), as well as artists from Argentina (Kashmir), Germany (DeceptionsDigital), Spain (MorlitaM), Portugal (Augen), United Kingdom (Scald Process, Maps and Diagrams, KUMO, Jared Sagar), Italy (Giovanni Alibrandi), Serbia (delta m45) and Malta (Robert Farrugia).

Amplidyne Effect – 1-49

Full-blown megalomania by Martin Georgievski ; almost 29 hours of his podcasts (or oldcasts) of  improvised sounds ranging from experimental, noise, ambient, drone, post-rock, electronic, krautrock..

How to listen:

1. At shuffle. Play the album at shuffle and have the fade option turned on, you will never know where it will lead.
2. Continuous. Play it from the start! Only you have the power to listen through 29 hours of Amplidyne Effect