The best psyambient remains apart from both the fickle commercialism of chilled house and the cold digital glitch aesthetics of much post-90's ambient techno...Aleph Zero's debut compilation Natural Born Chillers captures with utter perfection the richness of psychedelic downbeat music post-2000.
Aleph Zero Records
country of origin:
Psy-ambient, ethno ambient, exotic dub, environmental, ambient trance
- Natural Born Chillers (2004, Aleph Zero)
- Midnight Soul Dive (2007, Aleph Zero)
Reviewed by Mike G
It was acts like Shpongle and compilations like the Global Psychedelic Chill Out series that gave ambient and exotic downtempo a cherished place in the psy-trance scene from the late 1990's onward. Now, in the new century, it's young labels like Israel's Aleph Zero Records that have discovered the extraordinary wealth of fresh talent who wander the universe that those pioneers helped open up. The best psyambient remains apart from both the fickle commercialism of chilled house and the cold digital glitch aesthetics of much post-90's ambient techno. Its euphoric music with cred, pretty music with innovation.
In this light, two of Aleph Zero's compilations rate a special mention.
Not forgetting some fine artist albums by artist Shulman and Bluetech, Aleph Zero's debut compilation Natural Born Chillers (2004) captures with utter perfection the richness of psychedelic downbeat music post-2000. Zen Mechanic's track "New Philosophy" best captures the three things that make this album such a great comp: soul, beauty and unpredictability. This track's opening passages morph into a smooth psy dub groove and at this point you might expect the track to play out to a pleasant if predictable conclusion. But it doesn't. Without any warning a two-note pulse rises and swoops slow-motion over the mix like a passing spacecraft, followed by a spoken sample about how astronauts come back from space as different people, "as philosophers with clear understanding of many things". From here the track slides into a series of sweet, futuristic melodies. It's a profoundly euphoric piece of music.
Other highlights abound on the album. UK composer Ishq contributes a track that's like a walk through Zen garden, all slow-motion tones and irregular vocal phrases. It's pure ambient. At the other end of the intensity scale is Jirah's "Connect", a 130bpm trancey breakbeat number with sci-fi undertones and an abrasive high voltage snarl that cuts through the mix like a buzz saw. Probably the weirdest thing here is "Monochrome Rainbow Pixie". I never expected to hear a jolly Anglo-Irish folk melody on a credible chill comp but here it is, with the main tune swapped back and forth between a flute and a squelchy synth as if the two were dueling banjos.
Natural Born Chillers makes a definitive statement with its deft blend of the genre's more traditional sources - trance, Arabic and dub music. On the other hand, Midnight Soul Dive (2007) is an altogether different release and moves into some new and strange territories. Whereas its predecessor is genre-defining, Midnight Soul Dive is genre-busting; an essential album of progressive, beautiful psyambient.
While demanding more of your time and patience than the usual psyambient fare, the album crucially stops just short of the line between listener engagement and alienation. There's still melody and tonal sounds everywhere, but compositionally much of the music is less obvious and arranged very differently. German act Krill Minima develops a slow, crackly click-groove over which electric piano figures are scattered like pebbles skimming over the surface of a pond. The surreal "Prana" by Anahata suggests what the more meditative strains of Indian music might sound like if practitioners swapped their traditional instruments for synths and samples. More familiar but just as creative is Ishq, once again showing his special way with sparkling, pristine sound paintings that evoke natural beauty without any cheesiness.