Ten Lovely Ambient Albums of 2017, For When You Want to Get Mellow

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, January 2, 2018 04:31pm | Post a Comment

10 Ambient Albums of 2017

By Michael Henning

Everybody needs to unwind at some point, whether it's at the end of a long week of work, a stressful day where things feel like they are getting out of control, or even just hearing about another frustrating development on the political front. When you start to feel the need to mellow out, these ten lovely ambient albums released in 2017 will help you to calm down and really relax. Or, if you're already pretty chill, they will help you to achieve ice cold status, like a polar bear eating an ice cream sandwich on top of a glacier.

Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society

10.  Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society - Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society (Six Degrees)

Lovely languid clouds of synthesizer melodies from this duo, which includes Bombay Dub Orchestra main man Garry Hughes. Where that project focuses on global fusion beats with eastern-influenced orchestral arrangements, this is simply two guys making simple ambient music with a large collection of synths. The mellow works on this CD are very nice for nighttime listening, or a pleasant way to start your day in a quiet introspective mode.
Secret Pyramid

9.  Secret Pyramid - Two Shadows Collide (Ba Da Bing)

Billowing atmospheric clouds of sound coalesce to create a cool cocoon of melancholy synthesizer work that has just enough light to keep the dark at bay. Parts of this album sound like a beatless Boards of Canada album might sound, so if you always wanted to hear what that would be like, here's your chance.
Benoit Pioulard

8.  Benoit Pioulard - Lignin Poise (Beacon Sound)

Another grainy ambient masterpiece from this Seattle musician who continues to unleash a stream of high-quality releases on a number of labels. His older work on Kranky is probably the easiest to track down, but his most recent stuff is where it's at for me... lush, warm, blissed-out synth epics that unfold slowly and allow you to really sink into their beauty over time. Listening to this LP is the sonic equivalent of watching a rainstorm splash against a beautiful stained glass window.
The Microcosm

7.  Various Artists - The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe, 1970-1986 (Light in the Attic)

Following on the heels of the excellent 2013 compilation of private press New Age music in America entitled I Am The Center, this new collection focuses on European ambient and New Age music during a slightly shorter time period. There are some names that you may recognize (Vangelis, Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel, Roedelius), but also several that will probably be new to all but the most astute scholars of the genre, making this a wonderful journey for both neophytes and devotees alike. Great liner notes and fantastic packaging on both the 2-CD version and also the deluxe 3-LP set. Very nice!
Gregg Kowalsky

6.  Gregg Kowalsky - L'Orange, L'Orange (Mexican Summer)

After years of making ambient music under his own name for labels such as Kranky and Root Strata, and on Thrill Jockey as part of the the short lived but spectacular local Date Palms, Kowalsky returns with this excellent solo album of warm, deep ambient drones. It's easy to get lost in the narcotic haze that emanates from these tracks, and if you find yourself immersed in them, you'll definitely be glad you ended up there. Available on LP, CD, and cassette!


Guenter Schlienz

5.  Guenter Schlienz - Sterne Über Der Stadt (Pantheophania)

One of ambient music's best kept secrets, this German modular synth builder and performer is one of my favorite modern musicians in the genre. He's released well over a dozen tapes and CDs over the past seven years, and all of them feature high-quality work with numerous variations on his trademark sound. This is his latest and it's a good a place as any to dig in... let the cool tones envelop you and drift away into the atmosphere above.
Brian Eno, Refection

4.  Brian Eno - Reflection (Warp)

Another sublime long-form work from Eno that is probably most similar in sound to his lovely Thursday Afternoon or the more recent Lux from 2012. As with most of his work in this vein, one finds multiple possibilities for utilization and enjoyment here, from the causal "sounds nice in the background while I'm doing other stuff" to the the rather more intense "wow, this is really great music to think and get lost inside my own mind," or something to that effect. I've done both with this one a number of times and it certainly works quite well either way. I don't know that it will replace Thursday Afternoon or On Land as my favorite ambient Eno work, but it is already a very solid top five in that category for me, and I expect it will continue to get lots of play in the years ahead. We all need to slow down a bit and do some reflecting at times, and this is the perfect music to accompany that (rather inactive) activity.
Pauline Anna Strom

3.  Pauline Anna Strom - Trans-Millenia Music (Rvng Intl)

A blind woman from San Francisco who made some beautiful cosmic new age synth music in the 1980's finally gets the proper reissue treatment here, courtesy of the always reliable RVNG. Culling tracks from all seven of her very rare privately-released albums, this CD / double LP does a great job of spotlighting her unique style and making this truly remarkable music available to the world. Lush and immersive, like a fantasy world that draws you in before you know what's happened.

2.  Channelers - Slow Leaf Spell (Inner Islands)

Slow, simple, meditative works for dulcimer and subtle synthesizer ambience. Beautiful music that calms the mind and opens the heart. One of my go-to records for when I really want to chill, I've played this a ton and it still sounds fresh to my ears. A local gem that might still be in stock on cassette at our Berkeley store, or you can find it online via the Inner Islands Bandcamp page.
Chuck Johnson, Balsams

1.  Chuck Johnson - Balsams (Vin du Select Qualitite)

Wonderful new album from this local Oakland guitarist. Here, he abandons his usual deft fingerstyle playing and gives us an album full of gorgeous, transcendent ambient drift made solely with pedal steel guitar. Truly luxurious sounds, and it's so easy to relax once this LP hits the turntable or gets cued up on your playlist. Highly recommended!


Relevant Tags

Michael Henning (9), Best Of 2017 (19), Ambient (4), Ambient Music (2), Electronic Music (62), Brian Eno (20), Chuck Johnson (1), Channelers (1), Pauline Anna Strom (1), Gregg Kowalsky (1), Guenter Schlienz (1), Benoit Pioulard (1), Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society (1), Secret Pyramid (1), New Age (8)