Best Albums of 2020: Emerald Web ‘Valley of the Birds’

Valley of the Birds (1981, reissue by

Previously only issued on cassette on their own Stargate label in the 1980’s, Emerald Web’s reissued and remastered Valley Of The Birds is a small masterpiece of vintage synth-based ambient, a worthy artefact of California’s burgeoning DIY musical movement in the early 80’s which, for better or worse, came to be known as new age.

Featuring vintage synths such as the Minimoog, Oberheim sequencer and ARP 2600, the album is a monument to the hypnotic quality of simple arpeggios, stretched out over long distances, accompanied by either a looping chord sequence or sometimes no chord changes at all. Some cuts have an extraordinary sense of mystery, deepened with whistling Minimoog melodies soaring above. “Rain Forest” and especially the title track both layer gently rolling synth loops in between flute solos and lush underlays, stellar examples of how jaw-droppingly pretty Emerald Web’s music could be without tipping over into new age schlock. The album also explores more than just the pastoral themes suggested by the title, most memorably pointing towards deep space on the 10-minute “Photonos”. It’s built on dark, throbbing bass and a single chord with improvised melodies atop, simple yet epic, resembling a noir-ish science fiction score.

As an owner of the original cassette, I can happily report that co-founder Kat Epple’s newly remastered audio for download and streaming – taken from the original analog master tapes – provides a significant upgrade in sound quality, 4-track imperfections and all. There’s also a vinyl version, if that’s your thing.

Best Albums of 2020 Reviews Index

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