VARIOUS ARTISTS: Ambient Not Not Ambient (Audio Dregs)


Posted on Apr 29th 2008 09:40 pm

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Various Artists: Ambient Not Ambient

Ambient Not Not Ambient
Audio Dregs 2008
17 Tracks. 74mins55secs

In The Ambient Century, writer Mark Prendergast finds elements of ambient music in artists and groups as diverse as The Byrds, Madonna, and (unsurprisingly) Brian Eno. While the most common aural association with the term “ambient” involves gentle synthesizers and reverb, the musical concept reaches a far wider scope. Ambient music can be with or without beats, vocals, traditional instruments, tones, or repetitive structure; all it really requires is a depth that can either be ignored or focused upon, without a clear detriment to the listening experience.

The myriad possibilities inherent in ambient music are smattered across the diverse, engaging contributions to Ambient Not Not Ambient. Eschewing the lo-fi glitch-dance sound most often associated with Audio Dregs, this newest offering features contributions from artists within and without its stable. It’s a gamble to put acts as different as Baltimore psych-noise makers WZT Hearts and Skam favorite Freeform together on the same compilation, but the result is a richly rewarding mosaic of cerebral sounds.

The first track is perhaps the most challenging piece in the collection, as E*Vax, taking a break from electro-rockers Ratatat, presents Awl, a two-minute piece of what sounds like ringing sine wave drones, gracefully going nowhere in particular. As with most ambient music, however, it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts. A few tracks later is Less Of Everything, by Bird Show, one of the release’s many highlights. After a softly disorienting introduction incorporating high-pitched horn samples, Less morphs into a gentle progression of warm chimes supporting a resigned vocal performance. This section, joined by a heavily delayed guitar line, closes out the track, and demonstrates the crossroads between repetitive indie-folk and ambient musics.

It’s obvious that a good deal of thought went into the sequencing on Ambient. Such a long-running compilation of ambient music could easily turn into dismissive wallpaper, but here, every new track brings a different attribute to the fold, such that the listener is constantly reevaluating the music. Nudge’s Dayrise plays like a more concise and fleeting Windy and Carl drone, laden with ascending guitar riffs and flat, airy bass. Following this is Even As We Here, by AM/PM, anchored in a quarter-note bass beat, and gradually developing into an ambient techno epic reminiscent of Detroit second-wavers Kenny Larkin and Carl Craig. Likewise, the dense percussion and menacing wall of sound on WZT Hearts’ Discuss Winter is followed by a break with Sawako’s Nst, built out of distant music box chimes.

Ambient successfully captures both the settling and unsettling possibilities of such minimally progressing music. E*Rock’s Exexpat is an unnerving meditation of hollow synths and tenderly pained shouts, while the rapid audio dicing on Lucky Dragons’ Sayles Street Ok Ok sounds oddly celebratory. Contrary to some ambient music, Ambient Not Not Ambient refuses to be ignored, but in the best possible way: excellent contributions and flawless (and definitely not seamless) sequencing grab the listener at each track. It only figures that it’s taken years to put together Ambient, as it’s an exercise in perfection down to the last minute detail.


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