Best Compilations of 2019
2. 無印良品 BGM 24 Finland
Every year Muji (stylized as MUJI, meaning unbranded), a Japanese home goods and clothing store (think Japanese IKEA), releases a compilation of their store background music (often abbreviated in Japanese as BGM), and for the last 20 years or so they have sourced each compilation from a different country’s folk music recorded and performed by native contemporary artists. This year’s country is Finland, so here we have 40-minutes worth of catchy Finnish folk that I found impressionable enough to buy on CD, but which I did not find compelling enough to rank above the other compilation I bought this year. It is interesting to mentally compare this type of folk music to say Irish or Scottish folk, with which I am generally more familiar, but I couldn’t tell you how they differ significantly in terms of instrumentation or composition. Ultimately a nice set of songs if you’re interested in Finland or in listening to incidental shopping music, as I apparently am.
Choice Tracks: “Jos Sä Olet Minun Hellunani,” “Pääskyläinen,” “Kouon Frouva,” “Paimensoitto”
You can buy the CD at MUJI or from the Japanese online store (which is currently down for maintenance). I think it’s also on certain streaming services that I don’t use and refuse to link to on my website.
1. Portraits of the Past Vol. I
Past Inside the Present is an up-and-coming, independent, Indianapolis, Indiana-based (my home town!) Ambient label that I have followed closely since early last year when their Boards-of-Canada-referencing name caught my eye. They’ve been releasing excellent, globally diverse Ambient music since late 2018 (in fact I’ve already reviewed one of their releases). Given the diversity of their roster and the range of music they release, I felt very compelled to get this compilation when it came out, and I have to say I feel that it lived up to my high expectations. It moves through many different moods and styles, from comforting synthetic bliss to peaceful bucolic sample-textures to unnerving soft-core noise. And yet the compilation is sequenced with excellent taste with each transition occurring naturally and fluidly. That said, as with most label compilations, not every track is incredible, and while some may leave the kind of lasting impression only expert producers can create, others pass by forgettably. Furthermore, though different styles of Ambient music are represented here, I will say the compilation leans more on the Dron-ier side of the genre. The compilation is almost completely beatless and only rarely incorporates acoustic instruments. That’s not a bad thing, but I think generally PITP’s roster includes a broader (and more experimental) spectrum of ambient artists. Still, overall, this compilation still holds its own as a nice taster of a refreshing young label.
Choice Tracks: “In Him, I Saw Me,” “Parallel [rework],” “In This Perfect Dream,” “A Burning Down,” “Heather”
By Isak McCune