There's a scene
in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall
where a surf instructor (Paul Rudd) teaches Jason Segel's character how to stand up on a surf board. His advice: "Don't do anything. The less you do, the more you do."
I gave similarly frustrating direction to my friend Chuck from 2011-2014 when asking for a particular strain of electronic music. Nerds call it "minimalism." He'd send me really great stuff from Dominik Eulberg and Minilogue, and I'd say, "yeah, yeah, it's good, but there's too much." I'd be on board for the opening ambients, but once a kick drum landed and even the slightest hint of form emerged, I'd lose interest.
I'm not sure what's wrong with me. As in the movie scene, once Segel tries just lying flat facedown on the board, the instructor responds "You gotta do more than that, 'cause you're just laying right out, it looks like you're boogie boarding." In this exhausting analogy, I was searching for boogie boarding music, music very close to being nothing at all.
I found it in Thursday Afternoon
by Brian Eno in 2014. It's a one-track album from 1986 that music geeks probably love (I wouldn't know!). There's not much to it, a bunch of arhythmic piano notes and some subtle droning, but the song strikes a nice balance of nothingness and form. It was exactly what I had been after for years.
Okay, so this isn't for everybody. Some of these tunes might sound a little new-agey. "Thursday Afternoon", in particular, can feel a little like you're getting a massage in a room filled with dreamcatchers. Or like a bunch of incense started a band. Or, as the music magazine MOJO
described it, "[A] seamless 61 minutes of random piano notes falling, like raindrops from a leaf, onto a shimmering synthesizer puddle." Yuck!
Having said that, I love this stuff. Hours pass easily doing work to this music (the ten songs in this playlist top five hours total) and I don't think it's quite as gimmicky and easy to make as it may sound. If you're turned off by the near-formless tracks from Eno and Hatakeyama, give Stars of the Lid a try.
SOTL, as they like to be called, is one of the preeminent groups working in ambient music. They started in 1993 and while they've been on hiatus since '07, there's a ton of great music that's a little more active than the rest here. A little. There's still only an instrument or two per track, but there's structure beyond repetition, the chords are smart, things actually happen even if they're quiet about it. Also works well for hangovers. And sleep.
The Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, on the other hand, brings some actual solid melody to the table, albeit slow as fuck and way understated. He's also a film scorer (currently working on the score for the new Blade Runner
), and you'll be able to hear it.
Miguel Trost De Pedro, a Venezuelan electronic artist who I first discovered via his 2000 album Down With The Scene
. That album is great, but not really ambient (aside from this one
). At times, it's actually pretty hard to swallow (ear-wise), which is why I was surprised when I found his cover of one of Eno's other ambient classics, Discreet Music
Words like "understated" and "minimal" are gonna get worn out here, so I'll just say it sounds like something your toddler or cat would play by accident on the synth. Good stuff.
So if you're feeling stressed this week, whether at home, work, sweeping or not, these ten tracks might help. Or the relentless calmness might fill you with psychopathic rage. It's hard to say with these things, but I think you should roll the dice.
Best if you work in:
surf board instruction, holistic anything