2015: A Year of Ambience

The musical landscape of 2015 has been one of the most complex in recent years, in the UK we have seen a huge number of exciting breakouts from Wolf Alice to Kwabs to Rae Morris to Years & Years. With an overall variety of performer making a name for themselves it has been difficult to pinpoint the musical landscape of this mid-point in the decade. A growing trend noticed earlier on is the rise in ambient and downtempo. This inventive alternative to conventional pop and indie offers further emphasis on production and takes direct influence from the Lounge era of the 70s and 80s.

Newcomers

This influx of interest within lounge and new wave has seen emerging artists picked up by the likes of Radio 1 and 6Music and championed by trendsetters including Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamaq and Annie Mac. London outfit Honne are an obvious standout with two immaculate EPs demonstrating mature approach to songwriting and creation of self contained sonar spaces that perfectly balance emotion and groove. Meanwhile Anglo-Russian singer/songwriter Shura has left a visible imprint on the genre of pop music in 2015 as she faces the influence of Mariah Carey and Portishead up against each other to create a neo-new wave sound similar to a time travelling 80s power balladeer. Meanwhile Rhodes is setting the blogosphere alight with his ethereal take on folk collaborating with the likes of Birdy as he readies himself to release a debut album ‘Wishes’ next week in the UK.

Lancashire duo Aquilo have once again mastered the space between heart wrenching devastation and ambient alt-dance music, showcasing their promise in an uncompromising EP titled ‘Calling Me’ which succinctly continues where its predecessor ‘Human’ left things last year. Stepping further into the territory of dance music as they follow the disco drenched 80s into the garage heavy 90s is Real Lies with a still avidly ambient electronica sound pairing off against Jarvis Cocker like vocals. The power within this group is bringing together otherwise disjointed musical influence and creating something with fluidity that alludes to one of the most variable and overtly interested upcoming debut albums of 2015. London songstress Delaire has also impressed with a track entitled ‘Belief’ earlier this week as she steps starry eyed onto a dance floor of despair to empty her emotions all within the guarded spectrum of flashing lights and a disco ball.

Returns

There has been a number of critically acclaimed returns from British artists in 2015 offering lavish production, sultry smooth vocal and an interesting approach to the genres of dance, electro, pop and more. A favourite for a Mercury Prize nod is Norwegian-Pakistani descendant singer/songwriter Nadine Shah who created a sophomore album that intelligently combined her cultural heritage, sophisticated vocal tone and brilliant lyricism into a pure ambient work of art. Another welcome return came from ex-Moloko vocalist Róisín Murphy denouncing her hiatus and releasing ‘Hairless Toys’, an immaculate LP of downtempo electro goodness with an icy chill running throughout best personified in latest single ‘Evil Eyes’. Meanwhile the Mancunican masters of melancholy Hurts have teased a selection from their upcoming album ‘Surrender’ and the most ambient thus far is an incredible downplayed disco number entitled ‘Lights’ which sees Theo allowing his vocal to glide over the tinging percussion and bass whilst the cinematic video adds further to the retro aesthetic.

Ambience Through the Ages

Although the likes of James Blake, La Roux, Woman’s Hour and Banks symbolise the new force of ambient and downtempo there have been artists changing the face of new wave and pop since the late 80s. Pet Shop Boys acknowledged the importance of atmosphere and production in the world of dance music meanwhile at a similar time in a different part of the world Icelandic innovator Björk Guðmundsdóttir was experimenting with new ambient ways to translate through pop and dance music proving an obsession that continues over a nine album career with the likes of ‘It’s Not Up to You’ and the recent ‘Lion Song’ proving she is ambience of the highest order. Jon Hopkins and Caribou have also been adding ambient, spanning production values throughout their fifteen year respective careers after emerging in a time of synth heavy disco throwback. 2015 could mark the new emerging of ambience and should the quality follow suit to the artists of this year, we are in for many more years of extraordinary music.

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