An article by Jordan Volz

20. Japancakes | Belmondo
United States

Website | Darla

As Japancakes' first release on Darla (and part of the Blissed Out series), Belmondo is a slower, more atmospheric affair than its predecessors. The band holds onto its signature sound on the CD, but also strays more into the ambient territory than on other releases. "And Begun" and "Handguns and Firearms" start things off with the smallest amount of momentum -- the former being almost a pure ambient treat and the latter taking its sweet time to progress into some post-rock tunes over its seventeen minute span. Japancakes are one of the only bands I know who can play for seventeen minutes, offer no real climax or catalyst in the music, and still have the listener on the edge of his seat the entire time. The last four tracks offer no shortage of quality as well, with "Theme for a Film" catching the band at its gloomiest, "Another" its most experimental, and the rest a endlessly intriguing combination of country twang, shoegaze bliss, and psychedelic improv. It's hard to resist once it gets going.

Key Tracks:And Begun; Handguns and Firearms; Theme for a Film.

19. Yume Bitsu | The Golden Vessyl of Sound
United States

Website | K

Portland's Yume Bitsu never did make what any sane person would consider "conventional music." The history books will probably mark it down as some sort of "psychedelic space rock meets experimental electronic" hybrid, but it's almost impossible to pin down the trio from one track to the next. Having ceased activity after 2002, The Golden Vessyl of Sound is the band's last album (Philadelphia's Burnt Toast Vinyl later released a lost session from the band in 2006) and was created in a improvised, free form nature. The untitled tracks mimic this lack of structure and go to great lengths to push the music out and beyond all normal boundaries and limitations. What results is a blissful, spontaneous album that should be of interest to all music fans. A fitting record to go out on.

Key Tracks: One; Six; Seven.

18. Below the Sea | Les Arbres Dépayseront Davantage


Website | Where Are My Records

Although not the creative epiphany that is the Below the Sea's third album (Blame it on the Past, 2005), Les Arbres Dépayseront Davantage is still a thoroughly spectacular album. On the trio's sophomore outing, the name of the game is shoegaze, and it sure doesn't hold anything back. Tracks ebb and flow like the most worthy of pedal worshippers, and the guitars occasionally tip the meters into the red (though Below the Sea never get as rowdy as neighbors Destroyalldreamers). What really makes the album is the experimentally leaning tracks, which venture into some heavy ambient territory and are often manipulated with electronic sounds. The album is awash in digital sounds, be it from pedals or the keyboard, yet Below the Sea still finds time to spend a minute or two tinkering around on the old piano. It's a stunningly diverse album within a very unifed sound, and paves the way for modern shoegazers everywhere.

Key Tracks: Unsailed Customers; Et Pourtrant La Nuit; Le Pointe De Vue Couleur.

17. Monopot | Optipess

Website | Smalltown Supersound

Lying somewhere between the works of lo-fi rock stars Low and dream pop stars Mercury Rev, Monopot is an unlikely development in the Nordish landscape, bringing a healthy dose of ambient post-rock into the mix. Optipess follows up the band's debut album, Something is Like Nothing Was, which rose to such acclaim in Norway that it was nominated for a national Grammy. Although the band owes much to the work of 90's U.S. shoegaze/pop acts in its simplistic, minimal approach to post-rock, its music has a natural organicism and calmness that can only be described as a "Scandinavian thing." The smattering of vocals on the disc really bring some substance to many of the tracks, with instrumentation that is completely free to float off into the outer depths of space. "Diamant" immediately gets the listener lost in Monopot's oceanic sound, and for forty minutes, there's no turning back.

Key Tracks: Diamant; Bomb of Bliss; The Arc and the Beagle.

16. Godspeed You! Black Emperor | Yanqui U.X.O.

Website | Constellation Records

The last release from the seminal act known as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Yanqui U.X.O. is a fitting summation of the collective's career. For those looking for brooding, post-apocalyptic post-rock, there's not much better of a choice than GYBE, who had a monopoly on the genre for a good half a decade. Yanqui U.X.O. is typical of the band's music, which is highly emotional, dangerously dynamic, and performed with a technical adroitness surpassed by few. The only noticeable drawback is that it merely retreads ground previously explored by the band instead of pushing the project to the next level. Perhaps GBYE had exhausted its possibilities as a musical force, or perhaps it had finally hit that creative ceiling, but there's a feeling of déjŕ vu to be found here. Otherwise it's business as usual for GYBE, who never fail to captivate an audience. Whether this will be the project's final release or not is pure conjecture; but if it is so, then things ended while on top.

Key Tracks: 9-15-00; Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls.

15.God is an Astronaut | The End of the Beginning


Website | Revive Records

Once an electronica project, God is an Astronaut quickly cut its teeth as a live band and The End of the Beginning had much of the world under its dizzying spell shortly thereafter. GIAA's electronic roots help make the album's transitions smoothly. Torsten and Neil Kinsella focus much of their attention on the interweaving synth and guitar, calling upon everything from ambient drone textures to more melodic residues, but all in all, it's the programmed beats that anchor the album. The synth heavy tracks would have difficulty grounding themselves in light of the band's winning formula, which is is to sandblast the listener with waves of searing digital sounds. Altogether, the band's promise is immediately followed fifty minutes later with a statement of the band's dominance. If God is an Astronaut, then I think we're all applying to the space academy.

Key Tracks: Coda; From Dust to the Beyond; Lost Symphony.

14. Jóhann Jóhannsson | Englabörn


Website | Touch

Jóhann Jóhannsson's debut is a slow, sad collection of tracks that pulls at melodies like a child with a vivid imagination and far too much Silly Putty. In the true spirit of modern composition, Englabörn presents a combination of classical, percussive, and electrical elements. Although each maintains a distinct identity over the course of the album, each also contributes to the overall mood of the piece, convincingly furthering the dialogue with sparse, yet powerful movements. The strings in particular are quite versatile, from the anxious vibrations that mark the tenser moments to the soaring notes that give the music a lofty disposition. When paired with the dull sounds of an organ or piano, there's little the listener can do but sit back and enjoy the show.

Key Tracks: Sálfrćthingur; Eg Átti Gráa Ćsku"; "Ef Ég Hefđi Aldrei..."

13. Taylor Deupree | Stil.

United States

Website | 12k

Stil. sees Taylor Deupree's first full step into the ambient world. A long time pioneer of the experimental trade, Duepree is no stranger to risk, and he's never been caught making the same album twice. The album comprises four tracks, each pushing the ten minute marker and three vaulting over fifteen minutes -- quite a turn of events for a musician who was previously comfortable working around the five minute range . Yet, Stil. is a clear success; Deupree adds his own stamp onto the ambient genre, forging ahead with unprecedented insight and alarming creativity. His work here would later fuel the more potent January and Northern releases, but there's something about the eclectic nature of this album that makes it stick out amongst the rest of his work. It's either a landmark in an otherwise impressive discography, or the essential piece of his career. Either way, it's essential listening.

Key Tracks: Snow/Sand; Temper.

12. Tim Story & Hans-Joachim Roedelius | Lunz

United States/Germany

Website | Narada

Ambient piano music? Sign me up, please. American composer Tim Story and German musician extraordinaire Hans-Joachim Roedelius team up for their second collaboration on Lunz, with spectacular results. Story's piano playing is quite endearing, lifting itself out of the general neo-classical motifs and allowing it to have more of a substantive voice on Lunz. Roedelius, by contrast, provides the subtle electronic/ambient touches that highlight and mold the pieces. He contours the shapes and forms of the music, and Story brings the content; thus Lunz is born. The mood is quite ethereal and calming, fit for a soundtrack but also engaging enough to provide for a fabulous standalone listening experience. Even though both musicians have rather prolific and acclaimed solo careers, together they are a force to be reckoned with.

Key Tracks:Something Happened Here; Lunz; Cloud Pull.

11. Múm | Finally We Are No One


Website | Fat Cat

Imagination has always been the buzzword around Múm's music. The band has consistently captured the whimsical and innocent spirit of youth, wrapping it into a delicate and playful package for our ears. Finally We Are No One is less dependent upon electronics than the band's debut, but any lack of complexity is surely not noticeably missed. Múm tantalizes the senses with its combination of vocals and various forms of instrumentation, always reaching further into the toy box to present something unexpected and totally loveable. Additionally, the music contained here is greatly more focused and energized with an older, more mature band at the helm. Múm has arguably learned much from the initial outing and Finally We Are No One is the rewards of its labor. Although Iceland has certainly churned out the hits of late, there's always room for one more when Múm is sounding this good.

Key Tracks: Green Grass of Tunnel; We Have a Map of the Piano; Don't be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed.