Inspired by ‘90s series and labels, such as ‘Excursions In Ambience’ and Instinct Ambient, and their 2000s successors, like Kompakt’s ‘Pop Ambient’, James Healy’s Air Texture brings a contemporary twist to this long lineage of ambient comps. With each release compiled by a pair of co-curators, the label’s eighth edition is an all-Brooklyn affair. Anthony Naples and DJ Python compare notes to join a cannon that has previously welcomed Spacetime Continuum and Juju & Jordash, Bvdub and Andrew Thomas, Loscil and Rafael Anton Irisarri, and Deadbeat and DJ Olive.
Both Python and Naples released wonderfully deep, richly textured albums of their own last year, and their two collaborative tracks here are undoubtedly a highlight. ‘Entoure’ is lush ambient house with a rhythmic club flex, shimmering synths breaking into a musical ripple. ‘Final Speaking’, meanwhile, says plenty without words or beats, interplaying melodies conversing in a language that’s beautiful, mysterious and moving.
In a similar way to how Music From Memory’s ‘Virtual Dreams’ retrospective explored ambient’s collision with house and techno, here various modern club styles are encouraged to explore their own softer forms. Parris’ excellent ‘Springtime Flows In Three Ways’ sounds like a super-stoned Sandoz, but the added bass weight and a floating vocal hook stamp it firmly as his own. Meitei’s ‘Sankai (Meitei Remix)’ swims in degraded Burial-esque ambience, yet slowed to a crawl, its hazy, woozy melodies are filled with more light than dark. At a pounding 165 bpm, Dina’s ‘Skin Shed’ recalls Djrum’s ‘ambient gabber’ descriptor, the pulsing kick juxtaposing the ghostly, gated layers that flutter around it.
In places, then, the dancefloor echoes, but it’s in the extreme ends of the night — early doors starting off to just bouncers and bar staff, or swaying, hypnotised broken dawns. Bitter Babe & Nick León’s ‘Ecotone’ has proper soundystem weight behind its pulsing subs, as does the dubby, rhythmic ‘Per Ounce’ by James Bangura. Aurora Halal and DJ G’s ‘Off The Top’ is creepy and acidic, exuding squelchy menace before dropping back into a drug chug. And the dancehall-inspired rhythm of Mr. Curtain’s ‘Hop’ can’t help but bounce beneath its sedimentary layers of ambience.
Other tracks though, like Huerco S’s glitchy, droney ‘Latautii’ and DJ Trystero’s gloriously hissy ‘Palisade’, are deep sofa-sinkers, cradling your consciousness and gently rocking it into a state of bliss. Trip-hop, that most quintessential ‘90s sound, infuses downstairs J’s mellow ‘1000 Dumplings’. Closer, ‘Years’ by 5AM, comes on like outsider synth-pop, slightly wonky and weird, but warm and ingratiating in even greater measure as he delivers the line, “Curious, it was a very good year.”
It’s a sentiment that encapsulates the vintage on offer. Air Texture’s debt to the past is explicit. But Naples and DJ Python connect this to their current landscape, where clubs such as Nowadays, Knockdown Center, Elsewhere and Bossa Nova Civic Club have been a breeding ground for fresh talent and sounds. Throw in the confined years that Covid forced on everyone, pushing much of electronic music into a deep introspection, and ‘Air Texture VIII’ redefines its heritage for a whole new generation.