Most casual rock nerds know that before Randy Newman was Pixar’s benevolent grand-uncle, he set his old-time faux-Southern strut to some truly nasty lyrics. But what was he doing before that? His 1968 debut, Randy Newman, is one answer, and though it approaches peak Newman (on the deeply disturbing “Davy the Fat Boy” in particular), his voice is consumed by a wall of strings by master arranger Van Dyke Parks. It has almost nothing to do with rock, which is why he once quipped that if the Rolling Stones were homo sapiens, he’d be homo erectus.
After a decade defined by some of his most cryptic, sample-based work, Geir Jenssen’s Biosphere project returns to ambient-techno form. Shortwave Memories is all eerie synth pads and sharp drums, but even with such a mechanical palette, it still sounds like an organism cloning itself in a petri dish. Low-end squiggles pulse and contract, little chords fizzle and pop at the surface, and it all adds up to one of the Norwegian’s most satisfying full-length works in years.
Synth wizard Daryl Groetsch’s work as Pulse Emitter spans everything from subterranean drones to fairy-tale new age, but his two new albums created under his birth name—released on the same day, and very much twins—feature some of the lushest and most comforting ambient music he’s ever made. Home Again feels like dissolving into a cloud, while Beige World is a little more ominous and contemplative—though a far cry from bizarre early work like Pleistocene, which sounds like someone stuck a mic between two continental plates.
Shroom-loving Brooklynite Ben Bondy refines his tactile, slightly nauseous version of ambient music on his new album Camo. If you’ve ever tripped and understood how it felt to want to squirm out of your own body, you’ll relate to this music, and while last year’s Glans Intercum undergirded his squishy sounds with sharp, club-ready beats, Camo allows his music to expand and contract on its own terms. It might be the best of his dozen-plus albums so far.