best ambient of 2020: harry towell [whitelabrecs]

This year my musical discoveries have covered the widest ground of any year I can remember. I’ve been into Jazz, Latin, Exotic, African, Deep House, Techno, Folk, Modern Classical and of course, Ambient! I’ve completed a full list of 25, with an accompanying mix on both my old blog Irregular Crates and the Whitelabrecs website. You can see this in the link below:

Whitelabrecs Best of 2020 List

For Wallofambient, to keep things Ambient, I have made a separate list which is a top ten. There is no mix, only a list of recommendations and links where you can explore these further. For the cover image, I’ve used a shot taken from my ‘studio’ window, out into the neighbourhood on Easter Sunday as the rain poured down.

1st: Offthesky & The Humble Bee – We Were The Hum Of Dreams [Laaps]

This record for me was the clear winner for 2020 right up until I discovered the top two in my list. It came out at around the time the lockdown kicked in here in the uk. I was doing lots of diy jobs around the house and the expert sound design from these two masters was just the perfect tonic to long, slightly strange days stuck indoors. There’s so much detail to get lost in, yet it still sits in the ambient genre which allows you to drift as you listen.

2nd: Mathieu Karsenti – Bygones [Slowcraft]

Over the years, Modern Classical ambient music has featured heavily in my favourite records of the year. Generally, I’ve relied on household names such as Arnalds, Frahm or Jóhannsson but this year, I discovered Bygones by Mathieu Karsenti as my favourite classically influenced record. The strings and arrangement of the instrument tones are as rich and lavish as you’d find in music by these household names and that’s likely due to the fact that Karsenti is a film score composer. Only gripe is that this one’s digital only… would love to own it on vinyl!”

3rd: Less Bells – Mourning Jewelry [Kranky]

Kranky have a knack for releasing some real acoustic ambient classics and some of the finest albums blending acoustic instruments into melancholy drones. Stars of the Lid are the obvious stand out. This one by Less Bells was subject to a lengthy pre-order with a sample track available to whet my appetite. I knew this would be right up there from that very first listen and this one’s been a regular in my playlist this year. It has everything – variety, strings, texture, tasteful choral vocals, echoes of other stringed instruments and swells of cathedral drone.”

4th: Roméo Poirier – Hotel Nota [Sferic]

There was a repress this year of Romeo Poirier’s excellent Plage Arriere but before this, the jazz flecked electronic sound art of Hotel Nota really impressed. An inevitable comparison to Jan Jelinek or Jon Hassell can be drawn but you’ll get past that to enjoy Poirier’s approach to composition and enjoy the enveloping detail of these works. I own it on vinyl and that really adds an extra layer of dust that gives another dimension.”

5th: Tomotsugu Nakamura – Literature [Laaps]

Laaps has quickly established itself as one of the finest ‘ambient’ labels around, following on from the success of the Eilean imprint. This one from Japanese artist Tomotsugu Nakamura has been in my car CD player for most of the year and has been a calming ‘return to the office’ record, sounding particularly nice in the sun. Acoustic sound sources, reversed notes and clicks and cuts nod nostalgically back to the mid-2000s.”

6th: Sinerider – Moonflowers [Dronarivm]

Dronarivm is a label that you tend to expect to provide high quality year-end list esque material every year. In 2020, pick of the bunch for me is this beautiful ambient album by Sinerider, a range of woozy, hazy sun-speckled guitar drones. Some of the tracks are blurry, some are more open loops but this for me has to be one of the finest ambient-leaning albums of the year, something you can easily sink into at any time, and drift away.”

7th: Gastón Arévalo – Terrain [A Strangely Isolated Place]

When I first discovered ambient music, through netlabels, I also fell across the work of Gaston Arevalo whose sound was often a mixture of field recordings and experimental, electronica influenced ambient. I must admin, I have not followed his discography for a good number of years but this mammoth collection of deep listening-drones on A Strangely Isolated Space was a big hit for me this year, particularly late at night. At an hour long, it needs plenty of time to give it your attention and is best enjoyed as a whole.”

8th: Morimoto Naoki – Dusk To Dawn [Lontano Series]

Lontano Series have emerged as a strong label in the ambient scene and this album by Morimoto Naoki is really quite something. It’s a collection of static-riddled electro-acoustic moods, full of warmth and light melancholy. It’s difficult not to think of the 12k label when listening to this and for me, it’s easily one of the finest ambient records of the year.”

9th: Domenique Dumont – People On Sunday [The Lead Label]

It happens every year; I finish agonising over my end of year list after months of shuffling my ‘chart’, casting an eye over everything I left out… then I happen to discover something wonderful in December. I’d already made my end of year mix and just had to swap in this album by Latvian artist Domenique Dumont, which had been on repeat all day. There’s a child like sense of wonder about all of these playful synth melodies and rhythms that I just can’t escape. I’ll state the obvious: a few more weeks of owning this, how high up this list might it have been?”

10th: This Valley of Old Mountains – S/T [12k]

A new name to the ambient scene emerged this year but the artists behind it are far from strangers. I’ve enjoyed the everything Federico Durand and Taylor Deupree have released individually and it was very exciting when this collaboration emerged. Beautiful, serene and playful time-eroded tapeloops. Perfection.”

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