20 Best Ambient Albums of 2019

Hi. Welcome to the Optimistic Underground list of the best ambient albums of 2019. Of course, I’m just one person so this is the list of music I personally heard – and I know I missed a LOT. But I also heard an incredible amount of brilliant music. Far too much to fit on the 50 best albums of 2019, in fact. Because the two genres I listen to most, ambient and techno, composed a great deal of the albums I had saved over the year, I decided it would be a good idea to give them each their own list. So here we are.

Although some of these albums were on the main list and some were not, consider them all equally and highly recommended for any ambient music fans. From pure dreamy drone workouts to more knotty, experimental stuff, there’s a broad range of experiences here. Even still, it’s only a glimpse at the vast expanse of what this genre is capable of producing. Many fans and artists have different definitions of what, exactly, ambient music is. To me, it’s an open idea, encompassing a whole ecosystem of sounds that can be placid, nervous, swooning, sad, beautiful, even triumphant. I made a list of the 32 best ambient albums ever made a few years ago and, while I could probably swap any of them out for another beloved record, I stand by  every choice completely. Similarly, I can’t recommend the below albums enough.

[Techno fans: don’t miss the 25 best techno albums of 2019.]

When there simply wasn’t enough room to include everything I loved in the year, I made a new list. A specific list. Here we go, in alphabetical order:

• • •

Andrew Chalk – One Long Year

“Consummate, quietly heart-rending new tape from northern England’s master of edgeless ambience / pastoral drone-poetry and released on his private Faraway Press. Home-dubbed by the artist, impeccable artwork as always.” – Low Company

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Andrew Tasselmyer & Patrick Spatz – Interior Currents

“Acoustic instruments including piano, pump organ, guitar, glockenspiel, and the human voice were recorded live to tape, and then manipulated further in the studio to form extended, flowing versions of their former selves.” – Constellation Tatsu

• • •

ASC – 1138

As usual, ASC dropped a number of releases in 2019. This one struck me deepest, with its dark sci-fi atmosphere and superb use of film samples.

“ASC presents a concept project based around George Lucas’ seminal masterpiece, THX-1138. Sedation recommended.” – Auxiliary Music

• • •

The Caretaker – Everywhere, an empty bliss

A free gift from The Caretaker as he completed his years-long Everywhere At The End of Time series (which I’m not counting for 2019 because reasons, but the entire lengthy project is beyond recommended). Shorter tracks, a bit more accessible and open, perhaps the best entry point into his time disintegrating work ever.

• • •

Celer – Xièxie

“Everything moves faster than we can control. Days are just flashes, moments are mixed up but burned on film, and all of the places and times are out of order. If it could only be us, only ours. If it was ours, if it was us. Sometimes everything goes faster than you can control and you can’t stop, much less understand where you are. I bought a dictionary and phrasebook, but “xièxie” was the only word I ever got to use.” – Will Long aka Celer

• • •

Daniel Guillén – Inner Vision

This is pure cosmic love from the depths of the sound universe, enveloping the listener in a sense of oneness and calm, acceptance and balance, the very essence of aural pleasure. It needs to be heard to be believed.

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

H. Takahashi – Sonne und Wasser

“I wanted to express the plant that was slow, quiet, powerful, and full of vitality. In an attempt to express the world of one plant, the four songs that make up this album are all based on the first one, ‘Nymphaea’… The melody, chord and tone throughout become familiar, and each change of scene is expressed by subtly changing the arrangement and development of sounds. This is intended for when you want to feel like a plant, or as an indoor soundtrack – I want the music to be played so that it decorates the plants within a room.” – H. Takahashi

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Tracing Back the Radiance

“A slow, delicate meditation – open space punctuated by the restrained harmonics of vibraphone, processing, flute, pedal steel, synthesizer, piano, organ, and voice, Tracing Back The Radiance grew from a few simple piano lines, a need for change, and an evolving process which fell somewhere between conversation, singular vision, and a wild game of exquisite corpse – Cantu-Ledesma acting as contributor, servant, and guiding force to the emerging album’s all-star cast of voices – John Also Bennett, Marilu Donavan, Chuck Johnson, Gregg Kowalsky, Mary Lattimore, David Moore, Meara O’Reilly, Jonathan Sielaff, Roger Tellier Craig, and Christopher Tignor, each responding and intervening from various corners of North America.” – Mexican Summer

• • •

Jonny Nash – Make a Wilderness

“This album was created over the course of 2017-2018 and is heavily influenced by descriptions of landscape and environment in the work of authors Shusaku Endo, J.G. Ballard and Cormac McCarthy. Fragments from a land that is a largely silent place. An ancient place. A non-place. A wilderness.” – Jonny Nash

• • •

K. Leimer – Irrational Overcast

“Emerging in opposition to the sunless days & countless distresses of current US politics, each track is imbued with a refreshing sense of equanimity – in Kerry’s own words, he “does not profess that music – especially an experimental, lyric-free music – can change or influence such circumstances. But this is the context in which we now live, and this has shaped the music of Irrational Overcast — a coping mechanism for living under clouds of baseless beliefs and simplistic ideologies that disfigure and stifle what is an admittedly difficult though really quite lovely world.” – First Terrace Records

• • •

Kyle Bobby Dunn – From Here To Eternity

At any given second, it’ll find you in snowblind, melancholic bliss, lost and unaware of the passage of time; but it keeps moving, sliding toward oblivion or transcendence or both. Like all the best ambient music, it works fine at lower volumes for reading, relaxing, or just staring out the window on a grey day. But turning up the volume allows all the myriad pieces to become visible – guitars, organs, pianos, synthesizers, a small army of processing, sampling, and sound treatments – and renders this seemingly vaporous ascendance in staggering tactility.”

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Meitei – Komachi

“I want to revive the soul of Japan that still sleeps in the darkness” – Meitei / 冥丁

“Haunting and delicate, distant and timeless, Komachi is awash with white noise, complex field recordings and the hypnotic sounds of flowing water. Though confidently contemporary, like a bucolic J-Dilla, Komachi’s lineage can be traced back to the floating worlds of Ukiyo-e and Gagaku via the prism of 80s Japanese ambient pioneers, and 90s pastoral sample-based artists such as Susumu Yokota and Nobukazu Takemura.” – Métron Records

• • •

Mount Shrine – Ghosts on Broken Pavement

Mount Shrine is one of the most promising ambient projects I’ve heard in years (debut Winter Restlessness appears on 50 best albums of 2018), and I’m so glad to consider its creator a personal friend. I’m biased, so I’ll just let the copy from the album’s Bandcamp page speak for itself. It’s pretty evocative:

“The radio transmissions led you here, a city of memories past and passed.

The streets lie silent as you watch from above the high rise. A twirling mountain casts a deafening shadow over this place. Here between the world of life and death you are but a tiny spec of dust on the shoulder of giants, a world built by the dreamers that came before you. The sleepers drift here, trapped in glitching time loops that crackle when reset.

Ghosts on Broken Pavement is an album that takes us back to the safe embrace of childhood dreams. For lovers of deep subs, airy field recordings and harmonic drones this album is as atmospheric as it is beautiful.” – Cryo Chamber

• • •

Ocean Moon – World of Light

Ocean Moon is one half of Seahawks gone fully ambient, and it’s as blissed out as you could imagine.

“The third installment in Lo Recordings’ ongoing ‘Spaciousness’ series, this deeply phased and resonant collection was recorded high on a hill in Cornwall over the last two years. Featuring eight beautifully crafted new tracks that include lead single ‘Let The Flow Begin’, new long player World Of Light resonates with the vibrations of Terry Riley, Fripp and Eno, Pauline Anna Strom and JD Emmanuel.” – Lo Recordings

• • •

Sarah Davachi – Pale Bloom

Pale Bloom finds Sarah Davachi coming full circle. After abandoning the piano studies of her youth for a series of albums utilizing everything from pipe and reed organs to analog synthesizers, this prolific Los Angeles-based composer returns to her first instrument for a radiant work of quiet minimalism and poetic rumination.” – Superior Viaduct

• • •

Shuta Yasukochi – By the Sea

Nuanced, uncanny ambient that feels handcrafted and personal in the best way.

“Whilst the tone and style of this record does change from piece to piece, it does a neat job of extracting the collection of feelings wrought by proximity to the water, and actually it is the differences and distinctions that end up making this such an accurate depiction of one of those rare days by the sea.” – HearFeel

• • •

Sonmi451 – Nachtmuziek

Astral Industries is on a roll. The label is actually always on a roll, but their releases seem to have increased in frequency and consistency lately. Last year’s Deepchord release was one of the best albums of 2018, in fact. So here we go with another somnambulant space walk, this time from a project named after one of the coolest characters in Cloud Atlas.

“Belgian artist Bernard Zwijzen, aka Sonmi451, has for over a decade now been quietly making some of the most luscious ambient we’ve heard here at AI-HQ. We are delighted to announce him as part of the Astral family with this six-track EP – Nachtmuziek – sit back, tune in and drift away.” – Astral Industries

• • •

Suso Saiz – Nothing Is Objective

There’s a song on here called “Anti-Stress For Babies And Families” and that’s all I needed to know before grabbing it. Huge release from the Spanish ambient hero.

“Nothing Is Objective was recorded in Madrid in 2018 during a period of transcendental change and creative awakening for Suso. It captures the composer as he develops a renewed relationship with his instruments and craft, channeling a dialogue between the meticulous use of technology and the outer reaches of human expression. Suso’s universe is one that remains in constant mutation and emphasizes time above all else. His radiant drones are a nest of hidden feelings; they glisten with complex emotions and textures, teasing out moods of vulnerability and hope. Nothing Is Objective is a delicate and intimate record that harnesses smalls drops of sentiment for listeners to withdraw into.” – Music From Memory

• • •

William Basinski – On Time Out of Time

“On Time Out of Time is a suite of works originally commissioned for the 2017 installations ‘ER=EPR’ and ‘Orbihedron’ by artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand (in collaboration with Jean-Marc Chomaz and LIGO) for the exhibition, ‘Limits of Knowing’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin by curator, Isabel de Sena. These works utilize, among other things, exclusive source recordings from the interferometers of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) capturing the sounds of the merging of two distant massive black holes, 1.3 billion years ago.” – Temporary Residence Ltd

• • •

Ulla Straus – Big Room

“keeping pictures on a wall left there by someone else.
day dreaming about something not real.
hearing a friend walk through the front door.
letting a plant die.
the silence of a room when the box fan is turned off.” – Ulla Straus

• • •

Thank you. Suggestions for anything I missed are welcome in the comments!

5 thoughts on “20 Best Ambient Albums of 2019

  1. Pingback: 50 Best Albums of 2019 | Optimistic Underground

  2. Today is going to be such a treat thanks to this list. Thanks for the reminder on some of the releases from earlier in the year, I completely missed the Daniel Guillén release and it’s wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: 25 Best Techno Albums of 2019 | Optimistic Underground

  4. Lot of stuff on here I need to check out. Liking the sound of that Komachi one already. I’m a bit behind with all the new releases, lately, so these lists, on the blog here, are greatly appreciated. I did come across this album from last year though:

    Similar in style to Tracing Back The Radiance, but perhaps with a more melancholic tone, if you want a rough indication ..

    Liked by 1 person

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