Top 10 Ambient and Electroacoustic Releases
Tim Hecker - Konoyo (Kranky)
Brian Eno with Kevin Shields - Weight Of History (Opal)
Daniel Bachman - The Morning Star (Three Lobed Recordings)
Alessandro Cortini & Lawrence English - Immediate Horizon (Important)
James Murray - Falling Backwards (Home Normal)
Sarah Davachi - Gave in Rest (Ba Da Bing!)
William Basinski / Lawrence English - Selva Obscura (Temorary Residence)
Jon Hassell - Listening to Pictures (Ndeya)
Witxes - Orients (ConSouling)
Lucy Railton - Paradise 94 (Modern Love)
If you follow weird music, you'll see a lot of familiar names on this list. The top 7 are all artists whose work I've been familiar with for some time, and three of them are collaborations between two artists who I would definitely always put in the same room. People who enjoy sound over form should always work together and see what happens, since it's all a matter of finding interesting and unique combinations of gear and software, probably.
Tim Hecker's Konoyo is a major comeback for him and possibly his best since Ravedeath. He successfully combines his more recent loves of electroacoustic improvisation with his older sense of structure. As a result, it's very familiar and sort of new, using more complex instrumentation to wrangle sound than his previous loves of guitar and organ. Brian Eno and Kevin Shields working together makes The Weight of History basically a music nerd's dream even though it's just a weird little single sided RSD release. Daniel Bachman made the jump to abstract improvisational music with Morning Star, which sounds kind of like John Fahey trying to play Christian Fennesz, or maybe the other way around.
This list has a lot of improvised, live-feeling moments, but the only live album on the list is Alessandro Cortini & Lawrence English's Immediate Horizon, which is a beautiful performance from the Berlin Atonal festival series. James Murray and Sarah Davachi are regular contributors to my drone life and both came through with strong releases this year, the latter actually having another album that nearly made the list as well. She also put on a great live performance that I got to take in that helped me appreciate her recorded work even more, which is not always the result of EAI performances in my experience. Rounding out the very familiar to me part of the list is another Lawrence English collab, this time with the great William Basinski. This is the only 20 min A, 20 min B style record on the list, a format that I often have trouble digesting. These are actually broken up into smaller movements in this case and are engaging in their own subtle way.
The bottom of the list, which is still amazing, happens to feature newcomers to my life. Jon Hassell is a trumpet player who worked with Brian Eno right around the time that Eno "invited ambient", and he may be thought of as the progenitor of "tribal ambient," a genre and genre name that I usually dislike. Here, though, it feels really good - like, in addition to garage rock, this is what brass instruments are for. Witxes is Maxime Vavasseur, a contemporary of mine who is busy impersonating early Tim Hecker to great success. Similarly young, European, and promising is Lucy Railton, whose first major release is one of the only interesting releases this year on Modern Love.