Best Ambient Albums of March 2024
Olof Dreijer

Ambient Matters: The 15 Best Ambient Albums of March 2024

This month’s best ambient/experimental releases yielded enough sublime music to send you drifting into transcendence for many moons to come.

One of the odd predicaments of our time is that there’s so much great music being cranked out at any given moment that it’s virtually impossible to keep up. But PopMatters is here for you, doing our best to try at least to sift through it all. This month, we debut our new Ambient Matters column, which showcases the latest ambient/experimental releases we highly recommend. From cutting-edge artists like MIZU, øjeRum, and Kane Pour to established acts like Clint Mansell, Prefuse 73, and AIR, this month’s bumper crop yielded enough sublime music to send you drifting into transcendence for many moons to come.

Note that we prefer to adhere to a loose definition of what “ambient” can mean. For one, plenty of artists are toying at the edges of the genre and creating exciting new fusions. Also, we love any excuse to turn you on to new music. Lastly, check out the playlist mix accompanying this month’s entries. (For any albums on this list that aren’t on Spotify, we chose recent tracks by the same artist. You might even want to listen as you read along.) Enjoy!

MIZU — Forest Scenes (NNA Tapes) 

Juilliard-trained cellist-turned-experimental sound deconstructionist MIZU employs “hyperreal” field recordings throughout her sophomore album Forest Scenes. But where ambient and ambient-adjacent forms of music often convey stillness, MIZU’s work nearly bursts with activity. At times, Forest Scenes mimics the clamor of nature waking up to the start of the day (or night) — birds, insects, breezes, and creaking wood all feature prominently throughout. 

At other times, though, MIZU captures the cold, mechanized grinding of modernity. She blends both modes in ingenious ways, the richness of her sonic constructions as mesmerizing as it is detailed. With Forest Scenes, MIZU stakes out bold, new ground for both the cello and electronic/electro-acoustic music. You probably haven’t heard the cello quite like this before, and MIZU’s ingenuity on the instrument is nothing less than a marvel. 

Dave Harrington, Max Jaffe, Patrick Shiroishi — Speak, Moment (AKP Recordings) 

If jazz didn’t originally form as a genre geared towards musical stillness, it has certainly evolved into one of the most powerful vehicles for getting there. As a case in point, one need look no further than Speak, Moment. This album documents the very first time that saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi, guitarist Dave Harrington, and drummer Max Jaffe ever played together. Thank goodness they were recording, as the synergy between them was immediate

Even as far as seasoned, highly sensitive improvisers go, this impromptu trio take the art of listening while playing to an unprecedented level. Their results fall into place so naturally that every musician who aspires to improvise should turn to this album as a touchstone. Drummers, in particular, could all learn from Jaffe’s example that in finesse lies the ultimate power. 

Even when delving into chaotic bursts of noise, all three players here employ an exquisitely delicate touch. If you’ve ever been captivated by the lacy details of a partially-decayed autumn leaf, it’s as if Harrington, Jaffe, and Shiroishi together embroidered hundreds of such leaves, musically speaking, and left them in a pile for us to stare at over and over. In a word: stunning. 

Kane Pour — The Last Wave (sound as language) 

The second album from Gainesville, Florida, instrumentalist and electronic producer Kane Pour opens with guitar swells that seem to suspend in the air, not unlike whale calls. Pour’s spare touch sets a haunting mood but also shines like a ray of gorgeousness into the oncoming nightfall of solitude. Pour recorded The Last Wave as a kind of final will and testament at the onset of COVID, when he — like so many of us — wondered whether the world was about to come crashing down. 

The image of Pour walking alone at night, taking solace in these finished tracks, is about as romantic as the legendary Sonny Rollins playing saxophone by himself on a New York bridge. If you lean in a little bit during the intro, though, you can almost hear the faintest echoes of songwriting, as if Pour’s guitar contains an entire Fleetwood Mac-style arrangement buried deep within its billowy folds. And when his tracks do indeed blossom into bona-fide songs, ambient New Age moods converge with soft rock, smooth jazz, and even yacht rock for a most unique and ear-pleasing take on all of the above. 

Michael A. Muller — Mirror Music (Deutsche Grammophon)

As co-founder of the group Balmorhea, Michael A. Muller has made a name for himself as an avatar of the classical-meets-avant-garde-meets-indie sensibility that gave us acts like Rachel’s and Tortoise. On his own, with his second proper solo offering, Mirror Music, Muller conjures a hugely expansive sound that is arguably even more befitting of the Texan landscape after which Balmorhea was named. 

Along with a cast of 11 international guests (including Hania Rani, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Rama Parwata, Jon Porras, Lisa McGee of Vestals, and Tortoise’s Douglas McCombs), Muller inflects the wide-open spaciousness of this music with discreet touches of jazz, classical, and experimentalism. And, though Mirror Music mostly hovers in a state of what appears to be complete stillness, repeat listens reveal the same intent and compositional awareness that has always characterized Muller’s work.

If it seems lazy to refer to an ambient artist’s sounds as “beautiful”, let’s hope Muller doesn’t see it that way: much like natural wonders induce a kind of humility that pushes us to silent reflection, Mirror Music places the listener before the kind of beauty that’s almost imposing in its scale. 

øjeRum — Everything Wounded Will Flow (Midira) 

Danish producer øjeRum is so reliably prolific that it’s hard to keep up. It’s also immensely gratifying. You’d think that album after album of vaporous, slow-moving, repetitious monotone would become indistinct after a while, but that’s simply not the case here. øjeRum’s music exudes a kind of glacial-scale magnificence, and its haunting tones speak to the most profound depths of human emotion. If you’ve never imagined that you could be moved to tears by an ambient recording, Everything Wounded Will Flow might just be the one that does the trick. 

Just like øjeRum’s visual artwork, there’s a common thread that runs through the entire catalog, but the balance of elements changes every time. In this case, øjeRum focuses on acoustic ambience, employing an antique harmonium in a rural outdoor setting. Everything Wounded Will Flow embodies mono-tone in the most creative sense of the word, with natural reverb and crackling noises playing as much of a role as øjeRum’s playing. A four-part suite, Everything Wounded charts the journey of “a wounded entity moving through various stages of introspection, dissociation, healing, and decline”. 

Llyn Y Cwn — Megaliths (Cold Spring) 

By definition, dark ambient music tends not to make for the most uplifting listening experience. But Welsh producer Ben Powell bucks against the grain with Megaliths, the latest offering under his moniker Llyn Y Cwn. Yes, a sense of solemnity pervades — at times as thick as a blanket of fog hanging low over a Welsh moor — but the album also courses with reverence and exaltation for nature. 

Powell conceived Megaliths as “an exploration of the ancient resonance embedded within stone circles.” As he points out, he doesn’t view these stones merely as historical artifacts but as portals between this world and the eternal. Each track here represents a distinct sacred site, and Powell employs various reverbs in an attempt to recreate the distinct ambience of each. Though he aimed for an ominous sound, he crafted an invigorating—and highly spirited—reminder of our connection to the physical world around us. 

Matt Piper and John von Seggern — A Thousand Miles From Nowhere EP (Vibration Institute Music) 

On their debut collaboration, Matt Piper and John von Seggern set out in search of capturing a regional essence. Both hailing from the American Midwest, Piper and von Seggern forge a haunting sound they describe as “dark Americana”. Alongside von Seggern’s acoustic bass, Piper’s banjo, resonator guitar, kalimba, and tongue drum evoke a musical legacy that feels ghostlike, even as so many modern musicians and listeners crave to reconnect with it. 

Von Seggern, who played on the late ambient jazz icon Jon Hassell’s final two albums, interweaves the acoustic elements with wispy beats that lend the organic sounds a fading quality. It may be a cliché to talk about music in terms of decaying buildings and desolated landscapes, but the fact is that Piper and von Seggern come from places that are filled with both. 

Moreover, they’re not just soundtracking the emptiness of the wreckage but trying to retrieve something of our humanity in the process. A Thousand Miles From Nowhere not only succeeds in that regard but also establishes a fresh new approach to electro-acoustic roots music. 

The Corrupting Sea — Cold Star: an homage to Vangelis (Somewherecold) 

For six years straight, ambient/soundcape artist Jason T. Lamoreaux put out multiple albums per year as The Corrupting Sea. This streak culminated in the one-two punch of Lungs Like Lead, Lamoreaux’s musical dark night of the soul, and the more uplifting palette-cleanser Float, which closed out 2022 before Lamoreaux put the Corrupting Sea on the back burner. With Cold Star, Lamoreaux brings the project back into action by returning to Vangelis’s iconic Blade Runner score, one of his most formative influences. 

Four decades after its release, Blade Runner continues to enchant viewers and listeners alike. From the press release for this album, one gets the sense that Lamoreaux could contribute his share of text to the volumes of existing commentary on the film. While that would certainly be interesting, the music on Cold Star manages to communicate Lamoreaux’s affinity for the source material quite nicely on its own. Here, resplendent synthesizer mist glows with that feeling of a nascent listener being blown away by something at a formative age. 

In so many ways, this music truly honors its subject. Lamoreaux’s abiding sense of musical first love makes Cold Star a welcome addition to the Blade Runner canon.  

Olof Dreijer — Coral EP (AD93) 

The music on Coral was primarily inspired by the steel-drum arrangements on Olof Dreijer’s 2023 Souvenir EP with Mt. Sims. That said, much of Coral is devoid of actual beats — which is not to say it lacks rhythm. Dreijer, best known as one half of the Swedish electronic duo the Knife, has a playful touch that captures the childhood pleasure of dancing freely. But don’t expect to hear any of Coral in the club anytime soon (unless the DJ has a sense of humor). Dreijer certainly straddles the line between ambient music and dance, but here, he leans decisively toward the former. And his rhythmic sense, though zany indeed, never actually intrudes on the unhurried beauty of his sounds. 

Michael Vincent Waller — Moments (Remixes) (Play Loud!)

It’s almost a disservice that this re-working of Michael Vincent Waller’s 2019 album Moments is being presented as a remix project. To be clear, there are many artists who approach remixes in highly imaginative ways — this album proves that fact several times over. It’s just that the term “remix” often connotes a very narrow approach that simply doesn’t apply here. In this case, the likes of Moor Mother, Xiu Xiu, Jlin, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, and Prefuse 73 (see below) provide wonderfully art-damaged treatments of Waller’s delicate, introspective piano compositions. 

Because of the sheer variety of imaginations that went into its making, Moments (Remixes) could have benefited from more continuity. Listeners looking for a more strictly “ambient” experience will have to skip around. That said, it’s a marvel to hear all the different forms that Waller’s stark piano-vibraphone arrangements take. 

LFZ — Raveled Veiled Known (Gnome Life) 

When working under his LFZ moniker, guitarist Sean Smith plays repetitious guitar lines through analog gear that converts his strumming into synth-like textures. A longtime student of the American Primitive school of finger-picked acoustic guitar playing, Smith has also played in Rhys Chatham’s 100 electric guitars orchestra, the folk-pop group Citay, and the psychedelic space/doom-metal outfit Twin Trilogy, among others. With LFZ, though, Smith weaves a tapestry of cell-like motifs that verges on drone. 

Even when he intensifies the attack or cranks the distortion, Smith induces a hypnotic, trance-like effect that lends itself to introspection. Raveled Veiled Known was mostly created in the wake of Smith becoming a parent. He describes the experience as a simultaneous shattering and ultimate clarifying of the self. That dichotomy both underscores and defines the album’s internal logic. 

As any fellow parent can tell you, it is possible — maybe even ideal — to exist in two opposing states. Panicked stress often entwines with shrugging resignation, while profound love mingles with the mundane. Raveled Veiled Known speaks to those contrasts from a fresh, illuminating perspective.

Arthur King — UMN (The Red Turtle) (AKP Recordings) 

The latest in the Los Angeles experimental consortium Arthur King’s Unknown Movie Night series, The Red Turtle functions not just as a score but as an immersive listen on its own terms. Thanks to the use of orbinaural recording technology, even standard stereo playback recreates a quadraphonic surround effect. This, at least on paper, means that listeners have more room to get lost in the dark, pensive aura of these sounds. Like previous installments, bandleader Peter Walker guides a loose cast of musicians as they improvise a score in real-time to Michaël Dudok de Wit’s 2016 animated fantasy The Red Turtle

The catch, as always, is that the musicians (including Autolux’s Carla Azar this time) had no idea what film they were playing along to until the opening curtain. More formless and (intentionally) less majestic than Arthur King’s unforgettable Koyaanisquatsi score from 2021-22, this accompaniment to The Red Turtle falls closer to the edgy abstract style one imagines a director like Jodorowsky would have relished having at his disposal.

Clint Mansell — Love Lies Bleeding (Original Score) (A24 Music) 

If you’re familiar with Clint Mansell’s work in scoring films such as Black Swan, Pi, Moon, and The Fountain, then you already know that Mansell has a gift for creating the dramatic tension that both directors and moviegoers crave. The former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman also tends to write scores that linger with the viewer long after the credits roll. His music for Love Lies Bleeding is no exception. 

This time, Mansell eschewed the kind of recurring hook that made his Moon motif such a memorable earworm. Still, few composers manage to wring as much human emotion out of throbbing synth pulses as Mansell does. When you listen to Love Lies Bleeding, it’s impossible to avoid the sense that you’ve somehow fallen into a movie with your life at the center of some major plot. 

If you connected with the actual film, Mansell’s smoky, dread-inducing music is the perfect take-home prize. 

Prefuse 73 — New Strategies for Modern Crime Vol. 1 (Lex) 

Throughout his prolific career under a host of different monikers, electronic producer Guillermo Scott Herren has straddled the boundaries between angular electronic composition, dance energy, and hip-hop beats. He’s also always had a knack for assembling sounds into the aural equivalent of life-sized mobiles made of complex moving parts. His ability to convey a sense of the sublime with golden-tinged synth swells is second to none. 

With New Strategies for Modern Crime Vol. 1, however, Herren explicitly aimed to craft a soundtrack for the tension in New York City post-COVID. In his view, the media’s focus on rising crime statistics has been motivated by fearmongering. Hence, New Strategies reflects a more harried, claustrophobic mood than much of his other work as Prefuse 73. This time, the sun-saturated haze gives way to saxophones that recall the foreboding jazz scores from noirish 1950s TV crime dramas. 

As always, though, shades of that trademark, irresistibly beautiful Prefuse glow manage to shine through. 

Air — Moon Safari 25th Anniversary Edition (Warner Music France) 

By opening their proper debut album with the gently gurgling seven-minute instrumental “La femme d’argent”, the French duo Air established their abiding love for atmosphere once and for all. Twenty-five years later, Moon Safari hits you like a powerful gust of late 1990s nostalgia. At the time, like-minded groups like Morcheeba, Massive Attack, Orbital, and others were forging intoxicating new strands of electronic music. Air’s music, however, was redolent with nostalgia even back then, as Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel indulged their love for 1970s sounds. 

Air arguably have three other albums that flow more seamlessly. This new expanded two-CD/Blu-Ray edition exposes how choppy a front-to-back listen to Moon Safari actually is. But the real treasure here is the Rarities disc, which conversely reminds us of how engaging Air could be when they stuck to a simple musical texture and just let it ride. These unobtrusive leftovers gel so totally that Moon Safari 25th Anniversary Edition Rarities ends up being the closest thing in the Air catalog to an ambient album.