I feel a bit strange writing this opinion piece about an ambient album. I don’t think I’m an expert. I haven’t listened to the style for many years and I don’t know all the key performers, I’m not familiar with its’ nuances and sub-genres. I feel a bit like a politician. A bit like a former athlete or an actor, who is now sitting in a committee and developing methods of support for installing solar panels.
There was a time when for me Aphex Twin was synonymous with ambient music. That’s because a magazine had a tree of different music styles and its name was under ambient music. My friend Andres, who actually follows the genre, said that this was not entirely true, and in fact, Aphex had only ever made one ambient album, but you wouldn’t bother explaining that to a fool. I didn’t believe it. Now I am older and wiser, and when I’m working, I mostly listen to ambient music. It doesn’t distract me a lot when I’m concentrating, it covers talking noises in the room, a win-win situation. But as I mentioned, I know little about this genre.
During the past few weeks, I have repeatedly listened to the digital album Best Wishes by an Estonian project Wondering O. Also, this was almost the first time I had listened to local ambient music in the form of an album. So, I got even more excited that I’d be listening to it. As I don’t feel at home in this area, it’s difficult for me to bring out examples of who this music reminds me of, but I can talk about what it reminds me of and what thoughts the music brought out. As by now I have continuously excused myself, I will state that I childishly divide ambient music into two broad categories. Calm and tense. Personally, I prefer a more calm and peaceful style of music. You can play the so-called meditation music as background or listen to it when you need help falling asleep. You need to pay more attention to the tense ambient music. Then it will be good and will not disturb you. But when you play it as background music, it will subconsciously make you uneasy and cause discomfort.
When I started listening to the Best Wishes album my first emotion was that this is the tense ambient music type. Everything seemed to be peaceful, you heard the cello quietly sawing, but this was through a coarse distortion (the British have a beautiful word “distortion” for this effect, which is mostly used by electric guitarists).
The second song deepened the notion of tense ambient. Again, there were no anxious and sudden sounds. Quite the opposite, there’s a long and continuous sound of strings that ambient music often uses as background, and which is layered with various sounds from the environment (this is what ambient means). But this continuous sound was not mellow, and for some reason, the additional sounds made me anxious. To get ahead of myself, I can say that for me, the entire album had a very film-like feel — most of the songs could have been in a film. The second song from the album is called Eternal and that was a song for an Estonian film. Not for a contemporary one, but a classical one. Greyness, darkness, some lengthy shots. Music brings the angst of the actor closer to the people so they can feel the mist and the greyness, the dampness and desolation. Perhaps it could be from the film The Temptation of St. Tony.
But then onwards there was a quiet turn. The third song started very peacefully. Some sounds were anxious and wouldn’t let you fall asleep, but the general tone let go of the anxiety. The name of the song is Occhiolism-nakas. This song also makes the entire pattern of the album evident. One song that holds many songs. Within the song, there is a big development in another direction. If you listen to the music without knowing the number of songs you would think that an entirely new piece had started. As this album is also released as a cassette tape, I imagine that listeners might get quite confused about there are fewer number of titles on the cover than there are songs and many of the titles can end up shifting.
By the fourth song, your brain has gotten used to the level of anxiety and although the song is not for yoga, it doesn’t feel disturbing. The song is called Perceive Microcosm. This song is the most varied and is also one of my favourite songs from the Best Wishes album, especially the ending, which reminds me of a religious choir. At the same time, there’s a moment where the song has a rather deep 4/4 bass drum. It’s filtered, but it’s there. The song has been skilfully compiled.
So, you are here, Mister Sensitive. You made it, said the next song. The title of the first song of the album, Uphill, now starts to make sense as this album moves closer to something I can appreciate about ambient music. Calming and interesting patterns instead of pure experiments. My second favourite from the album is the sixth song Ghost Notes. This is also framed with continuous sounds, but the second half is filled with brief chirping melodies. I’d also bring out the song Axx without a deeper deconstruction. Maybe only that I didn’t get a film-like feeling during the song. It was only music. Without a video.
The last songs brought me back to the films. In Macrocosm you can hear a conversation and children speaking in the background. A situation too lifelike to be able to think about it as only music. In some sense, it was also a wake-up call. Just when you started to think that you could let this music pass through you, without having to put it into words, then after hearing the annoyed man talk, it inevitably brought you back to reality. The last song of the album is the title song Best Wishes. I think that musically it concludes the album very well. It has all the emotions that you heard during the album. All the anxiety and peacefulness, different styles in a tasteful compote.
Overall, I was very happy with the work. For a change, it’s good to listen to something when you don’t know anything about it, without knowing the background of the artist, being stuck in something you had listened to before. This is music for listening, not background. If you don’t do anything else during your listening then interestingly enough this music is quite different, much more understanding and enjoyable. The album has nicely been tied into a complete whole. I wish best wishes to the artist Wondering O! Great achievement!