Listening recommendations from the past, present, Portland and the periphery.
Hugh Small made a minor splash in Glasgow in the ’80s with his band Vazz and dipped out for a quarter-century. Now in his 60s, he’s making the best music of his life. His two volumes of Piano Music (2014-2016) represent some of the best single-instrument ambient music of recent years, placid and dusky at once, continually inhabiting a late-afternoon moment when the sun is still out but the shadows are growing long. Stay tuned for his collaboration with saxophonist Anenon, which comes out on Melody as Truth next month.
Burial’s Chemz/Dolphinz EP is a return to steamy, urban Blade Runner blues from a producer whose recent work focused on rave nostalgia at the expense of sound design. The 12-minute first side is one of his most satisfying long-form experiments yet, at once an epic pop song and an environment made of creaking metal and acid rain. “Dolphinz,” meanwhile, situates the cries of the titular cetaceans within a sound world that seems too polluted for them to survive for much longer.
We loved Body San’s split with Dorosoto earlier this year, and now the local producer’s back with a new full-length, Reborn While Shopping, whose dense chords and aqueous drums recall how lo-fi house sounded when it was still the provenance of labels like 1080p and not yet the internet. Imagine a fountain with blue tiles and vaguely fake-looking plants around it and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the vibe he’s going for: aesthetically New Age, but far from reassuring.
The title of Haji K.’s Black Against an Orange Line implies the sort of stately, arty minimalism the great ambient pioneers like Brian Eno and Harold Budd tried to capture through sound. But this is no wallpaper music: It’s grand, billowing dub techno based on the faintest ghost of a beat and seemingly designed to replicate the feeling of entering a dense cloud of steam. Don’t miss Haji K.’s contributions to this year’s Picnic, which serves as an international summit for super-fogged ambient music.