As I begin the dreaded yearly ritual of preparing and posting a “Best of the Year” listing, I’m once again confronted by the usual dilemma, i.e. is it fair to lump a whole slew of very dissimilar ambient subgenres together under one genre, pitting them against one another in order to come up with one “master” list? I don’t like that idea one bit. I prefer the “Golden Globes” as opposed to the “Academy Awards” approach. Oscar does not differentiate between comedies and dramas and, as a result, a comedy has to be more or less flawless in order to be named Best Picture (or even get nominated), unless it is a dark one, e.g. Fargo. The Golden Globes make a distinction between best drama and best comedy, in effect making for a much more level playing field.
At the very least, I’m likely going to subdivide into two ambient subgenres: rhythmic and floating (maybe not use those terms, but you get my point). I actually think further delineation may be necessary. Can you really pit glitch against Berlin school EM? How about chill-out? Is the hated classification “electronica” okay for all rhythmic electronic music…and what about the forgotten sub-genre spacemusic? Then there’s beatless ambient. Does one distinguish between abstract textural music versus minimalism (a la Budd and Eno) and where does drone fit in?
This may not seem like a big deal. After all, it’s just my opinion. And I’ve even considered instead of posting a list, just singling out specific albums and coming up with a very specific “award” for each one and then listing one or two honorable mentions instead of a broad spectrum list of 10 or 20.
Finally, on an unrelated aspect of this topic (i.e. Best of the Year lists), I want to add that I didn’t get a chance to hear a LOT of prominent ambient releases this year because they weren’t sent to me for review. Now, before you think I never buy music and only listen to music sent to me, please allow me to explain that it’s much less a matter of my not spending the money and more a matter of lack of time. I barely have the time to review what is sent to me so if I start buying music (to review) it just means less time for all the other recordings. So, when I do post my list, in whatever shape or form it takes, don’t think to yourself, “What an idiot, he didn’t list Arc of Passion or Fever Dreams III or Atlas Dei or Eleven Questions” (and I don’t mean to pick on Steve Roach or Robert Rich, they just spring to my mind - sorry guys!) remember that there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, etc. If I omitted what you think is an obvious masterpiece, it may mean I never heard it. On the other hand, maybe my taste is just better than yours!
I’d welcome any feedback, opinions, or rantings on the above topic, so here’s your chance to clue me in. Don’t waste it!