One thing that I love about music is that you can dip your toe in the water sometimes and get a glimpse or a snapshot of songs, albums, or genres that other people are extremely passionate about.
In my decade as general manager of Lander University’s on-campus radio station (XLR), I got to experience this on many occasions. College radio is one of the last bastions of creative musical freedom, so, by proxy I participated in this process time and time again as students shared the sounds they loved, from Scandanavian Death Metal to K-Pop to Yacht Rock and everything in between.
This sparse exposure can also be applied to the way I have listened to music in the ambient genre. I know and appreciate who Brian Eno is, but, honestly, I’ve never had a desire to listen to his Ambient1/Music for Airports much. Ambient music has been reserved for rare moments in my life. Like, when a complete stranger is rubbing heated oil on my back after being gifted a swanky massage at an Uptown day spa. That’s a fitting time for ambience.
But, since the great pandemic of 2020 began, I have found myself drifting toward the ambient genre and what I might call ambient infused folk/pop to help provide a calm place to land. That’s important now more than ever.
For the past several weeks I have been working to put together a single album — 10 tracks of a quasi-ambient mix tape that I can listen to when I am writing, grading college essays, or just need to take some deep breaths in and out and de-stress. I would like to share it with you.
1. Sun At 5 in 4161 — Andrew Tuttle
Released in May of this year off the album Alexandria (named for Tuttle’s Australian hometown), this track immerses the listener in a lush audio landscape. Mojo magazine writes of Tuttle’s music, “Joyful and full of subtle vigor, it’s the perfect headphone walking companion when you don’t want lyrics crowding out your thoughts.
2. Meadow Song — S. Carey
This track builds line upon line with rising harmony to paint a vivid picture of longing and possibility. You could put this on repeat the next time you are watching a beautiful sunset at your favorite vacation spot.
3. Superhiro — Cassowary
I removed several songs from this mix tape due to syncopated rhythms or other production elements that pull away from the ambient genre. While there is a syncopated rhythm to this song, it comes in the form of a 5/4 time signature and I’m a sucker for 5/4.
4. 20:17 — Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm
I know nothing about this song, but it sure is a peaceful piano.
5. Held Down — Laura Marling
The stacked harmonies are delightful and there is a conviction in Marling’s voice that makes you believe every single word.
6. Visit Croatia — Alabaster DePlume
Released in July of this year; the string arrangement will take your breath away.
7. Two of Us on the Run — Lucius
Vocal bliss from start to finish.
8. Dolphin Dance — Ahmad Jamal Trio
This Herbie Hancock-written track was recorded by Jamal for the Impulse label in 1970. It adds flavor to the overall feel of the mix.
9. The Light — The Album Leaf
The Album Leaf is San Diego solo artist Jimmy LaValle. This song was released in 2008 on the “Into The Blue Again” album and was used on the ABC television series, “Scandal.”
10. Give Up the Ghost — Radiohead
Gather up the lost and their souls, in your arms.
Gather up the pitiful, in your arms.