Sustain Series, Volume 3 by Various Artists (Review)

With the Sustain series, ambient artists repurpose old and unused material, with uniformly excellent results.
Sustain Series, Volume 3 - Various Artists

Ambientologist’s Sustain series gives ambient musicians an opportunity to repurpose, recycle, and release old or unused material that might not otherwise make it to audiences. Based on that description, you’d be forgiven for suspecting that these 27 songs — which add up to nearly two-and-a-half hours of music — are dregs, cast-offs, and second-rate material, that they represent a clearinghouse of sorts for the artists involved.

Such is not the case. Put simply, the third Sustain volume contains some of the loveliest ambient music I’ve heard so far this year. As an added bonus, much of it’s by artists that were previously unknown to me.

Sustain Series, Volume 3 is filled with the sort of the ambient music that I really like: soft and contemplative, supremely ethereal, and also, suffused with both a gentle melancholy and hints of shadow and darkness. (Think vidnaObmana, Poemme, and oliviaway.) Case in point: Lauge’s “Reflection of Self” is replete with radiant textures, sparse piano and plucked strings, and Vangelis-like flares — all of which evoke the most beautiful sunrise to ever dawn over Blade Runner’s Los Angeles.

IKSRE and anthéne contribute two of the compilation’s finest tracks: “And the Wind Stopped” and “Sunlight on the Tundra.” With their haunting vocals and dreamy-yet-somber atmospherics, both songs evoke that vintage 4AD sound (e.g., This Mortal Coil, early Dead Can Dance). The same could be said of Powlos and HOLT’s “Our Shimmering Breath” and especially of “All Heart,” a collaboration between Jupi/ter and Karen Vogt (Heligoland) that juxtaposes Vogt’s lovely sighs against grey, rain-soaked drones.

All India Radio and Fionnlagh’s “Natured State” combines shoegaze-y drones with deep bass pulses that rattle the insides of your head (especially if, like me, you happen to be listening to the song via earbuds). As befitting their monikers, Akkad the Orphic Priest and City of Dawn’s “Sacred Solar” is trippy and meditative, with moments of disquiet that make the song all the more interesting.

Earlier this year, Antarctic Wastelands released the excellent Mysteries, so I was excited to hear his contributions. “Enshrouded” and “Vast” (both with Marine Eyes) are two of the compilation’s most serene and pensive songs, thanks to the former’s piano notes reverberating against a gently blurred sonic backdrop and the latter’s shimmering guitars. “Their Future Wildernesses” (with Fionnlagh), on the other hand, is one of its most ominous and foreboding, with rumbling drones and harrowing drifts of sound à la Desiderii Marginis. All three are excellent.

The problem, of course, with a compilation like this is that I want to write a little something about every single song on here — which would make this already too-long review even more unwieldy. Put simply, Sustain Series, Volume 3 is a veritable treasure trove of indie/underground/lesser-known ambient music that will be rewarding for many listeners. And it’s given me a list of several new artists that I’ll be tracking down and checking out in the coming days.

Sustain Series, Volume 3 is currently available as “name your price” release, but any and all proceeds will be donated to Eden Reforestation Projects.

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