Best Albums of 2019: Neotantra

AUTUMN OF COMMUNION
Folk Etymology (Neotantra)
BALSAM
Soul Offerings (Neotantra)
DARREN McCLURE
On Opposites (Neotantra)

The Neotantra label is another creation of respected Brit electronic producer/composer Lee Norris who has been making and championing electronica of many different hues since the 90’s. Neotantra is the gentler, mostly beatless cousin of his recently resurrected IDM techno label Neo Ouija. The high quality and frequent album releases makes choosing this year’s favourites a little difficult, but here I go.

Folk Etymology is fantastical, spectral drone-based ambient by Lee’s own Autumn of Communion, his ongoing collaboration with ambient maestro Mick Chillage. The pair are every bit as good working in this style as they are in downtempo tech and dub (check the epic tribal space tech of 2016’s Polydeuces album) and this new album’s three long tracks contain some of AOC’s trippiest moments, particularly the layers of quasi-classical drones on “Ayurveda”. The spirit of Pete Namlook (1960-2012) remains ever-present in their music, yet I think he would smile to see these two adepts never being trapped by his influence, carving out their own space on ambient electronica’s leading edge.

Anthony Asher-Yates aka Balsam is American but lives in Columbia, and looking at his back catalogue its clear he’s inspired by nature – South America in particular – in a big way. His super new album Soul Offerings is a collection of dreamy environmental tone poems that are blurry and lucid all at once. It’s not really background music, yet it doesn’t demand your attention either. Plenty of musicians blend field recordings and music; far fewer are able to dissolve the lines between the two like Balsam does here. It’s the aural equivalent of a subtle but complex aroma, one that you can’t quite pin down, yet it’s all around you.

Experimental music by its very nature is sometimes unlistenable, but many artists making it release mountains of unedited work regardless. Whatever, but I prefer those who bin the failures and work to distil the best ideas into something that sounds genuinely musical no matter how weird it gets. Behold, Darren McClure’s brilliant album On Opposites. Wherever it’s sitting on the scale between tonality and noise during its 67 minutes, it works. The weightless, bubbling melody of “Strange Slip In Time” is hypnotically beautiful; “Reflection” with its alien drone and filtered choral sounds is compelling and deeply strange. At different times you’ll hear echoes of Biosphere’s austere landscapes, Eno’s warmer synth pieces or the ambient freestyle of Emit Records’ more experimental fare. This is a marvellous release, and the way it opens up new layers on repeated listens is a wonder to behold.

Also outstanding this year from Neotantra is Signals by Motionfield (reviewed separately).


Best Albums of 2019 Reviews Index

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