This time of the year can be a strain, to say the least — between finding last-minute presents, the ensuing financial headaches, most likely traveling out of wherever you are to wherever it is you’re from, and dealing with your family when you get there, the festive season can feel less festive than stressful as fuck. But wait, we’re here to help! This has been a fine year for music that’s designed to relax you and soothe a troubled soul, so we thought we’d put together a playlist of the finest such records of 2012 for your tranquility-inducing enjoyment. Click through to listen, and by all means thank us later. If you like. No pressure. No stress. We promise.
Brian Eno — Lux
The father of ambient music continued his exploration of the genre with Lux, a single composition in four movements that recalls the sound of some of his earliest ambient experiments on Music for Airports. Like all the best ambient records, Lux is gentle enough that it doesn’t demand your attention, but also interesting and engaging enough to reward your concentration should you choose to direct it toward the music that’s washing over you.
Heathered Pearls — Loyal
Fun fact: this has been your correspondent’s most-played album of the last six months (according to Last.fm’s always-dicey algorithms, anyway), and even after many, many listens, there are still depths and subtleties to be discovered in its nine beautiful compositions. As we noted last time we wrote about this album, its genesis lies in the idea of producer Jakub Alexander making music that he himself found calming and soothing, and then sharing those sounds with the world. We’re very, very glad he did.
Julia Holter — Ekstasis
Idiosyncratic, immersive and consistently fascinating, this is a rabbit hole of a record — its title refers to the concept of moving outside oneself, and if you need somewhere to escape over Christmas, you could do a lot worse than the strangely beautiful world of Holter’s music. Like Loyal, we’re still discovering new parts of Ekstasis, and very much enjoying doing so.
Children of the Wave — The Electric Sounds of Faraway Choirs
This Australian duo made one of our favorite records of 2008 with their debut Carapace, and it’s great to see them back four years later with a follow-up that’s just as good, if not better. The music on The Electric Sounds of Faraway Choirs is as evocative as the album’s name suggests, drawing you into a world that’s all gentle acoustic guitars, barely heard field recordings, and vocal melodies that sound like the memories of some half-forgotten dream. The production is intricate and multi-layered without ever sounding anything else but organic and natural, and the abiding impression is like a walk in a dark forest at night, one that’s not scary in the slightest.
Mirrorring — Mirrorring
We can’t wait for Grouper’s new album — as we reported last week, it’s out in February — but this collaboration between Liz Harris and Tiny Vipers’ Jesy Fortino meant that we weren’t entirely without Harris in 2012. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with the contrast between Fortino’s decidedly pretty vocals and Harris’s signature darkly atmospheric textures making for a record both immersive and entrancing.
Motion Sickness of Time Travel — Motion Sickness of Time Travel
As far as we’re concerned, Rachel Evans can’t really put a foot wrong at the moment, and this album — her third fantastic full-length release in barely two years — is one of our favorite records of the year. It’s interesting how her music has become increasingly structured over the course of those records, and this is certainly less straight-out ambient than Seeping Through the Veil of the Unconscious or Luminaries and Synastry, encompassing some moments that are decidedly dark and abrasive. But nevertheless, it’s a fine place to escape if escape is what you need.
Billow Observatory — Billow Observatory
One of the first releases on felte, a label that we profiled in our recent feature on up-and-coming NYC culture makers, this record brings together producer Jonas Munk and guitarist Jason Kolb for a project that apparently took the best part of a decade to finish. The album is more guitar-based than anything else on this list, and the wealth of textures that Kolb conjures from his instrument makes for involving, evocative listening.
Emeralds — Just to Feel Anything
On a more electronic note, this record found Emeralds embracing distinct song structures and more focused compositions, with results that fell somewhere in between Tangerine Dream and Blade Runner. The shift in Emeralds’ sound drew decidedly mixed reviews — the high priests of “vaporwave” over at Tiny Mix Tapes, for instance, didn’t like this album at all, and while we agree it wasn’t as strong as 2010’s standout Does It Look Like I’m Here, we still reckon it’s worth a listen.
Ulrich Schnauss and Mark Peters — Underrated Silence
We’re generally fans of Schnauss’s work, and while this does veer a bit close to day spa/Ibiza Chillout Vol. 2342562 territory at times, that’ll be exactly what you need once your pissed-up uncle’s managed to spill eggnog all over the turkey. Again.
Various Artists — Tranquility Tapes Tabs Out Sampler
The clue to NYC label Tranquility Tapes’ sound is in its name, and it’s home to a variety of fascinating artists whose work explores various colors on the ambient spectrum. This sampler, which is available for free via excellent tape podcast Tabs Out, is a fine introduction to Tranquility Tapes roster. (We’d probably have also included the label’s Duets tape (above), except that sadly we never got a hold of it before it sold out. Curses. (It did look pretty great, though.) If you’re in NYC, the label’s upcoming series at The Stone in the first two weeks of February should definitely be worth attending. If you make it through the festive season, that is. Come on. You’re almost there.