Airborne Lagoon is a spiritual trip into equatorial mystery zones, through the healing waters of some deep forest pool, finally reaching a place of transcendence and acceptance. Reaching a save point in the depths of a long journey and feeling your whole being revived on a warm updraft into the clouds. Japanese fourth world jazz explorations, cosmic arpeggiated synth bliss, hazy dust floating in a sunbeam, chamber whispers, the sounds of birds, insects, and water, water always.
Track list appears as the songs play, and at the bottom of this post.
This year, emerging from the pandemic, from exile at home, from the deep malaise that’s engulfed the world… has felt weird to say the least. I got vaccinated a couple months ago and I finally went into a store without a mask on for the first time in well over a year and still nothing feels normal yet. That’s fine; it is what it is.
My own corner of the world has been consumed with my son’s continuing medical issues, so we’ve spent a lot of time going to doctor appointments, scans, scopes, and more to sort out his eosinophilic esophagitis. It’s a condition that causes him to choke and cough while eating, thanks to inflammation in his throat, and it took months to even find out what was happening, and months since then trying to find a long-term solution. So far, we’re still searching, but we will be going to a clinic in Cincinnati specializing in this disorder soon, so we’ve got some real hope for the near future. In the meantime, he’s been on a temporary drug that’s stabilized him so he can eat without all the choking. Sometimes being a dad feels like having my heart outside my body, vulnerable as can be, and it’s all so scary and wonderful at the same time.
All of this is to say that I’ve been busier than normal, and couldn’t keep up the same mixtape pace I had last year when staying home and not getting covid was the only priority. But I’ve been slowly piecing this together over the last few months and it honestly might be the most cohesive, personal set of tunes I’ve stacked together yet. I had no mission, no guiding principle other than the mood I was seeking – a kind of seeking, rising warmth, restorative and revelatory. I guess that’s nothing new for the kind of music shared on this site, but the specifics help: I was finally pushed into movement after watching the 1995 Japanese film August in the Water. It’s about a teenage girl, an Olympic hopeful high diver, who seemingly gains supernatural powers after an accident and comes to understand her place in the universe.
It’s a deeply personal, low key story of transcendence and acceptance, universal in its scope while almost insular in its rural town setting and small cast of characters. Most of all, it looks and feels like the best kind of ambient music, paced slowly and rippling with texture and emotion, transporting the viewer in subtly inspiring ways as the main character navigates her newly illuminated world with fresh eyes and open understanding. It is all about vibe and feeling, sitting with these characters in this place and time as their languid narrative unfolds – as opposed to a more traditional film structured with bold drama and action. As the credits rolled, I wanted so badly to remain in the movie’s balmy embrace, absorbing the heightened feeling it left tingling on my neck. I felt refreshed and revived, and was struck with the idea of translating that exact feeling into a mixtape.
I could call it a complete accident that many of the tracks I’d already been gathering had elements of water in them, whether through field recordings or the liquid structures of their synth archipelagos, but the fact is that I’m drawn toward music like this for the same reason that the movie affected me so deeply. I tend toward music that I can swim in, thoughts adrift and creativity unlocked, if even just by a little bit. It doesn’t always have to be placid or droning ambient music, but there’s at least more often than not a gentle, soothing quality to the sound that syncs with the way my brain works. I wish we had a better term for music like this, often replete with rhythm, percussion, sometimes even vocals, but for now ambient is a fine umbrella term.
The artists here range from the ultra-obscure, including Blue, an unknown Japanese artist who recorded one album in 1995 (and the year is questionable), and Tiziano Popoli, an Italian synth composer who came to my attention thanks to a retrospective compilation released in January, to rising stars like Green-House, Ana Roxanne, and G.S. Schray, to folks like Joseph Shabason (featured in both year-end lists and multiple mixtapes on this site). Appearing for the first time is ambient synth pioneer Pauline Anna Strom, who sadly passed away a few months before her new album came out. The fact that they all manage to fit together like some cosmic mesh network made for perhaps the most naturalistic sounding mix I’ve made so far. Sure, I spend a lot of time finessing the tracks, lightly editing, working on transitions, and more, but it still comes down to recognizing that unifying color running through every artist and simply feeling how well they’ll play together. I’m in awe of every piece here, from the music dropped in 2021 to the songs crafted in the 1980s and 90s that somehow work seamlessly together. It reminds me of something I repeat on every best-of-the-year post: every year is a great year for music. I know, it’s a cliche at this point and redundant to say, but it’s true. The fact that songs recorded last year can have a deep conversation with music created two, three, four decades earlier is a sort of magic that I really only find in the music world. It’s why I’m here, sharing this stuff with as many people as I can, always.
Speaking of sharing, August in the Water is not available commercially anywhere as far as I know, aside wildly overpriced used DVD copies, but luckily the whole film is free on youtube right now. I actually watched a bootleg dvd, but the quality here is almost as good – and certainly adequate for enjoying its low key transcendent charms. I’m ever thankful for the kind folks who upload obscure but worthy movies like this.
About the cover art: this is a piece by François Schuiten, taken from his Obscure Cities series. I actually came upon his work thanks to a random tweet from a total stranger – the imagery immediately captured me, reminded me of one of my favorite comic artists ever, Jean Giraud aka Moebius. If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you’ve probably noticed Moebius works on the cover of mixtapes like ZONE and Until the End of the World, but his influence can be seen in the art of Josan Gonzalez and other artists featured on several other mixes. I just absolutely adore Giraud’s iconic style, so it’s no wonder I felt immediately taken by Schuiten’s fantastical, subtly psychedelic twists on futuristic cities, nature, culture, and beyond. This particular panel just struck me so deeply as I was combing through saved artwork on my computer. I felt like it was a near perfect visualization of the mood conjured by the music in the mix: technology and nature entwined, modern people with exotic flying creature-vehicles setting off for some unknown but warm space calling to them across vast open world. It’s optimistic, it’s inviting, and it portends great adventure. That’s really all I could ever hope for a mix to sound and look like.
I like to jump in blind, but if you prefer to know what’s coming, that’s cool. Each track is shown with the original year of production, linked to the release where the song was sourced, to make it easier to explore. As always, I fully recommend everything linked below. Here’s the full track list:
01. Green-House – Bird of Paradise 
02. Tiziano Popoli – Mimetico Erettile [1983-89]
03. Spirituals – Gunfire Ambient 
04. Eiki Nonaka – Phlanged Vortex 
05. Jason Kolar – Corners 
06. Pauline Anna Strom – Small Reptiles on the Forest Floor 
07. Ana Roxanne – Venus 
08. Merope – Alma 
09. Joseph Shabason – 15-19 
10. G.S. Schray – Still, Puzzled 
11. Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi – Some Surrender 
12. The Zenmenn – Topaz 
13. Blue (ブルー) – Coral Reef 
Thank you so much for listening.