The first release on the Canadian Altar Records is the compilation Air, which is the first in a series of five elements planned for release over the coming year or so. The compilation was compiled by DJ Zen, who is also the label founder, and comes in an eco-friendly package. Skimming over the artist roster here, there are some impressive names. Some notables include Ultimae’s Aes Dana, Asura and Solar Fields; Ra, who’s made an impressive comeback with the release 9th and some tracks on compilations here and there; Zymosis, who recently released a rather enjoyable album on Sunline; and naturally DJ Zen himself.
What we have here is introspective, deep, story-telling music, and with this kind of music, it can go two ways: either it’s a hit and it takes you on a journey you won’t forget, or it’s a miss, and it ends up being pretentious, preachy and mostly uninspired. This compilation falls firmly under the first category.
Most of the tracks here are excellent. The opening notes of Zymosis’ Zeta Bieng immediately build a vortex which spirals into a hypnotic piece of psychill that is a lovely opening. Aquascape & Skydan’s Voice of the Universe is for me one of the standout here. It’s airy, but with substance, playful without getting unfocused, telling a story without getting preachy. Seriously one of the best ambient/psychill soundscapes released this year. Asura’s Dust and Daffodils (T7) is a gem. I am a great fan of Asura’s previous output, and this again is nothing short of stunning. Simple in its outset, this is a lovely example of how simplicity can be mesmerizingly beautiful. Aes Dana takes over with a track that starts as a deep, brooding piece of ambient with some distinct eastern influences, which further on transforms into a 4/4 introspective lullaby. Some lovely, subtle sound manipulation going on here. If this is a prelude of what we can expect from Aes Dana’s upcoming album then we’re in for a treat. Ra delivers a stunner as well (T9), however the mastering feels a bit off with this one. It lacks punch and substance, which is a shame, because this is again a track which is easily among the best on the compilation. And to end it there’s the remix to Air Song, a track with perhaps one of the most distinctive basslines in ambient history; one which manages to make me smile every single time I hear it. First featured on Solar Fields’ Leaving Home and Extended, this track was one of the stand-outs. Here it gets a rework which is a bit less to my liking. The sort of vocal manipulation seems out of place, and distracts from the beauty of the rest of the track.