As alluded to in my 2015 Round-up, my greatest listening pleasures this year were found in the ambient domain, or to be more precise: the ambient, not ambient domain. For example, when you add singing to ambient music, of course, it's not strictly ambient any longer. And when an unexpected 4x4 beat breaks out on an otherwise dreamy synth track? You get the picture... not ambient, but still hella chilled. In support of this, take Elaenia by Floating Points, seven tracks of blissfully chilled out jazzy music that used live instrumentation alongside cutting edge electronics. And in a similar vein, ex-Hip-Hop producer Lee Bannon's beautiful reinvention album Pattern of Excel, used all sorts of field recordings, vocal snippets, even guitars, yet left an ambient impression. With Night of Visions, Liam Blackburn's Ancestral Voices, gave us an hour of haunting music that slowly transmogrified, truly epitomising the listening experience as a dark, ambient journey. And electronica pioneers B12 returned with Bokide 325, a sublime, slow-moving four tracker that captured and transported you to an otherworldly place.
However, 2015 wasn't just about this evolved ambient music, I also got rather excited about the DJ Kicks effort from Actress, which presented a memorable onslaught of electronic music styles. Danny Wolfers (aka Legowelt) was as prolific as ever, and may have produced some immersive ambient long players, like The Occult Orientated Crime Album and the Calimex Mental Implant Corp. album El Saber Del Arpavor, but his more upbeat EPs like Anaconda Flow, Tondalayo and Vaporware Tracks Vol. 1 (Creme 12-80) were a nice antidote. There was extremely high quality, leftfield pop from Emika (DREI), Ghost Culture (eponymous debut) and Brassica (Man Is Deaf). Julia Holter continued her colourful transformation from curious composer to fully-fledged songwriter on her universally well-received fourth album Have You in My Wilderness. Levon Vincent gave away his self-titled debut album, which buoyed my boat as well as the alternative dance floor. Dutch label Viewlexx released Test Pilot Vol. 2, an EP with four cutting edge Italo-disco tracks, while Polish producer Mooryc produced the emotion-packed Take 'Em All EP. Donnacha Costello released two truly ambient albums (Stay Perfectly Still and Love From Dust), both well worth investigating. And finally, just missing out on a top ten place is Romare's Projections, an album of varied tempos that mixed up samples representing black African culture with very catchy beats to great effect.
Onto the official top ten, in reverse order:
Talbot Fade - November Versions
Yamaneko by any other name, Talbot Fade trades in ghostly photographs and faded memories evoking a deep melancholy. Fans of The Caretaker and Leyland Kirby will revel in the downtempo tone of November Versions. Through orchestral passages, ambient textures and field recordings, the eerie music transports the listener into the past.
Heathered Pearls - Body Complex
Body Complex the sophomore effort from Jakub Alexander, an ambient album I often fell asleep to, despite the beats.
William Basinski - The Deluge
Another production with parallels to Leyland Kirby; this time a looped piano motif, drawn out, manipulated and drenched in murk.
Joker - The Mainframe
A blockbusting effort from the British producer Liam McLean, The Mainframe is packed with sweet moments of orchestral pop, reverberating bass and satisfying dubstep-style hooks.
DJ Richard - Grind
The perfect balance of ambient and murky tones of Techno. Richly textured and surprisingly relaxing.
King Midas Sound & Fennesz - Edition 1
Very tasteful ambient songs. Great collaboration work between Kevin Martin and Christian Fennesz with superb vocal contributions from Kiki Hitomi and dub poet Roger Robinson.
IPMAN - Depatterning
Self confessed tech nerd Jack Gibbons consolidates his influences, experimenting with modular synths and souped-up drum machines along the way, and produces a very classy debut album. Sports the best opening track of any album in 2015... NO ARGUMENTS!
DJ-Kicks: DJ Koze
Highly regarded as a fun and inventive (re)mixer, German producer DJ Koze never fails to stamp his own unique mark on everything he touches. So it's fitting that his brilliant and entertaining contribution to the long-running DJ Kicks series coincides with their 50th milestone. This one's been stuck on repeat since it came out.
CW/A - Words Unspoken, Acts Undone
Inspired by 90s drum-n-bass and tougher Warp-style electronica, two distinct forces combined efforts to become greater than their sum. Italian producers Clockwork and Avatism, previously purveyors of smooth Tech house, together make tough melodic Techno. With eleven individual tracks (and note: there's no filler whatsoever) that easily stand on their own yet work effortlessly together as a whole, Words Unspoken, Acts Undone is a resounding success.
Dasha Rush - Sleepstep
The bewitching beauty, exquisite variety of sounds and styles and extremely high production values of this album make it my number one. Sleepstep is beyond beautiful. I can't recommend it enough.