Celebrating Headphone Commute’s many years of content, I am highlighting albums that I covered 15, 10, and 5 years ago. I do this by going back through my archives and selecting a favourite for the current month. But I’m not just copying and pasting the words here; I’m also refreshing these write-ups a bit to bring them up to date, and, of course, I’m listening to all this music! And so should you!
Ott‘s second album begins with an ambient interlude saturated with somewhat ethnic sounds [a particular aesthetic explored by “world-music” influenced electronic sounds back in those days]. But at about a third into this 12-minute track, the bass drops into a pleasant reggae-infused dub that always gets me bopping my head. But who is this Ott, with only one other solo release on Twisted Records? Why, he’s the producer behind Hallucinogen‘s In Dub, of course. He also worked with Shpongle, The Orb and Brian Eno. With a huge list of collaborations and studio work, Ott is at the top when it comes to quality production. And Skylon is no exception. Dropping the above-mentioned names should give you an idea of the psychedelic ambient sound that dominates the album. And so my dry and nostalgic longing for psychill is instantly rejuvenated. Skylon prominently stands among my all-time favourites by Simon Postford and Ron Rothfield (Raja Ram, 1200 Mics), downtempo tracks by Infected Mushroom, as well as earlier works by Shulman. And you too, without a doubt, will recognize the staple pitch-shifted vocal manipulation, time-stretched flanged beats, and lead arpeggios fed through low-pass filters. All of the above works very well within the super dubbed-out, delay-heavy, world-music-infused tracks. Worth celebrating on these pages!
2023 UPDATE: In the last decade, I stopped following the psytrance genre. It has been completely watered down, further diluted, and finally drained. Even the older dance floor bangers feel a lot dated. That being said, Ott’s music continues to withstand the test of time. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have featured this album in this column. In 2011, Ott launched his own Ottsonic Music imprint, on which he continued to put out new releases, the most recent of which came out only last year, in May of 2022, titled Heads, and which, may I say, I thoroughly enjoyed. I recommend that you check all of his music out directly via his Bandcamp. Better yet, pick up all four double LPs.
Willits + Sakamoto
This is not the first time that San Francisco-based multimedia artist Christopher Willits and the late Japanese award-winning film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto have collaborated together on a project. In 2007, the duo released a record, Ocean Fire, which appeared on the beloved 12k. This time, Ancient Future is released on Ann Arbor-based Ghostly International. On the album, I hear the dearly-missed Sakamoto-san behind the keyboard, sparsely filling the silence with his abstract melodies and chords. There’s a resonating presence in the mid-range, at times skydiving into deep and rumbling bass. The atmosphere is filled with the ambience of Willits’ reverberated guitar. And the two instruments take turns plucking at the notes between the slowly thumping heartbeat. The recordings appear to sound like an improvisational performance, but at the same time well orchestrated and produced. The music on the album is “built around a series of piano pieces that Sakamoto sent to Willits after the release of the duo’s first record together.” Fans of intricate textures, slightly jazzy keys, and gratuitous atmospherics will appreciate the environment produced by Ancient Future. It is a meditative state in which, without thoughts, one can become aware of awareness. It is a daytime dream in which the major tones radiate in soft sunlight. It is a tranquil place where one becomes the one with the one and only. And the thumping pulse beats on…
2023 UPDATE: Christopher Willits continues to produce and release his wide-spanning gorgeous ambience on Ghostly International. I recommend that you check out his 2014 release, OPENING and the most recent album, Gravity, which made it onto my Best of 2022 list. You can find most of his discography on his Bandcamp. I still have difficulties writing about Ryuichi Sakamoto. It is incredibly sad to acknowledge the passing of the great maestro in March of 2023 after nearly a decade of battling cancer. His contribution to the world of music is beyond all grasping and unmeasurable with just these words. One of his poignant pieces to this day, “Fullmoon”, which appears on his 2017 release Async, directly asks us, “How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty, and yet it all seems limitless.” I have been honoured to release a “Piece for Illia” on For Ukraine (Volume 2), which Sakamoto has contributed to the benefit compilation. I’ve met him only a few times, but I will never forget his overall presence.
It’s difficult to prepare for the latest release from a favourite artist based purely on one’s expectations. Which way will this album go? You know that you’ve been plenty disappointed with that one single time when your beloved has made that slight, awkward turn. But Jon Hopkins exceeds and delivers one of the best albums of the year, released on the celebrated Domino. The tight punctuated rhythms effortlessly carry the background atmospherics with the forefront tweaked bass and distorted leads, quickly establishing a signature Hopkins sound which has been emulated but never fully cloned. I want to give this album a genre, but Hopkins defies any grouping, dropping the beats into a beautifully played piano piece, showcasing his love of the instrument. “Exploring the connectivity of the mind, sonics and the natural world, Singularity reflects the different psychological states Hopkins experienced while writing and recording.” Stay with each track, like the endlessly evolving “Everything Connected”, and see if you can continue being surprised by the twists and the turns that he takes to stay ahead of the scene at the cusp of electronic music development. This is a beautiful album from start to finish, working through your mind as a brain candy or a chill pill (and sometimes both), clearly destined for the dance floor, the studio, or your headphone commute.
2023 UPDATE: Since the release of Singularity, Hopkins put out Music For Psychedelic Therapy for Domino in 2021. This is an ambient record exploring meditative states of mind, perhaps with just a drop of hallucinogenic amplification, the highlight of which, for me, is the last track, titled “Sit Around The Fire”, where Hopkins, in collaboration with East Forest features one of the talks by the one and only Ram Dass [you can hear the full lecture given at the Unitarian Church in Rowe, MA, on 5/25/1975]. I highly recommend you check out both of these albums, as well as his monumental Insides (2009) and the wonderful Immunity (2013).