The Top Ten Albums to Write To (2017)

As a new year approaches, resolutions are drafted and Selectrics and word processors are pulled off the shelf and made ready. Here are Girl Friday’s annual picks for the best music to accompany you on your journey toward a completed manuscript.

10. Mondkopf – They Fall But You Don’t
Let’s be clear from the start—this isn’t a cheerful record. Parisian Paul Régimbeau combines elements of industrial, metal, and electronica to create a swirling, ominous journey for the listener. What’s most remarkable about They Fall, though, is how varied its palette is and yet how cohesive an aesthetic statement it makes. Yes, it can be harrowing, but following the breathtaking centerpiece, “Vivere, Parte IV,” the record begins to wax triumphant, and I promise you it’s worth the ride. Anyway, sometimes it’s necessary to drag yourself through hell in order to write your characters out of—or into—their deepest lows.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

9. Kangding Ray – Hyper Opal Mantis
I don’t typically go for beat-driven electronic music; I’d rather be lulled to sleep than exhorted to dance. But there’s something deeply meditative about David Lettelier’s pulsing rhythms. For anyone who struggles to get a sentence out without a good strong cuppa, Hyper provides an instant caffeine-like kick, and keeps it coming for over an hour. It’s a cold record, pervaded by the sounds of machines and no human involvement, but this is Lettelier’s goal. Tracks like “Dune” and “Suadade” lend some welcome melody, and “Laniakea” stretches out and breathes a bit, providing a relatively tender denouement.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

8. Eerie Gaits – Bridge Music
Unlike most everything else on this list, Bridge Music is above all an uplifting record. With as much slide guitar, accordion, and banjo present as ambient wash, there’s a heavy sense of nostalgia, but the nostalgia feels earned rather than emulous—there’s nothing “retro” or dishonest here. “Lore” goes stringless and whooshes lazily along; standout “Eau Gallie” will have you reaching for the phone to call Mom. It’s a record that almost shouldn’t exist in today’s world, in that it’s got nothing to sell you. Instead, its only aim seems to be to warm your heart.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

7. Nadia Sirota – Tessellatum
The fun stops here, though. Performed by a viola and a viola da gamba, Tessellatum evokes wagon trains plodding through frost-seared plains toward an uncertain future. Though split into thirteen tracks, the transitions act more like quick rests than space between new ideas. Leitmotifs are circled around and alluded to throughout; this is a single composition meant to be experienced as a whole. And yes, the experience is haunting. Strings swirl endlessly and at times frantically with no reprieve and, really, no resolution. It’s an immersive and visceral experience, and one that’s sure to silence the outside world for a cool forty minutes.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

6. x.y.r. – Labyrinth
The project of Saint Petersburgian Vladimir Karpov, x.y.r. achieves an effortless balance of chill and upbeat. Washy synths are supplemented with just enough bounce to keep you awake, making for the perfect writer’s companion. Fans of Stranger Things will find much to like here, but Karpov has enough tricks up his sleeve to keep Labyrinth from ever feeling samey. Found sound, field recordings, and subdued human chanting all plot a course for the spectacular closer, “Febribus,” an eleven-minute distillation of the record as a whole.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

5. William Basinski – A Shadow in Time
Through terror and grief, global strife and political unrest, there is always William Basinski. Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, released in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, is a defining moment in early twenty-first-century ambient music, and as such it’s difficult not to compare everything else he does against his masterpiece. While Shadow does explore familiar territory, it’s his most intriguing work since Loops. Its title track is striking for its nod to more traditional composition, though it slowly submits to Basinski’s classic themes of loss and decay, finally leaving the listener alone in a cavernous, empty room. Hurrah!
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

4. Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind
Named after two characters in a 463-word Amy Hempel story, Bing & Ruth is the project of pianist David Moore and a rotating ensemble of musicians. Moore is inspired by minimalist writers like Hempel, and though he is keenly aware of the power of negative space, his arrangements are warm, lush, and immersive. These songs are clearly in no hurry, but an ever-present piano provides a welcome sense of purpose. No Home is more distilled than Moore’s fantastic 2014 breakthrough, Tomorrow Was the Golden Age, making it an inviting introduction not only to Moore’s work but also to ambient music in general.
Listen on Apple Music

3. Benoît Pioulard – Lignin Poise
Listening to the music of self-proclaimed “proud Cascadian” Thomas Meluch, a.k.a. Benoît Pioulard, is like waking up on a cold Saturday morning, eyes still heavy with sleep, colors becoming forms becoming objects. With Lignin Poise, however, those forms never quite congeal. A marked departure from 2015’s Sonnet, a diverse and overall quite moving record, Poise remains steadfastly in the realm of the dream, offering few dynamics and little concrete material to grasp on to. Which is frustrating only until you stop grasping and allow the sound to wash over you like a reverie.
Listen on Bandcamp

2. Brian Eno – Reflection
Ah, Brian Eno. The godfather of ambient music and the man responsible, if indirectly, for just about everything else on this list. Which is especially remarkable considering his original aim was to create music “as ignorable as it is interesting.” Eno defined a genre in 1978 with Ambient 1: Music for Airports, an album literally designed to be played in airports. Reflection is classic Eno—a single fifty-four-minute track confined to a limited (though interesting!) sonic palette—and its title suggests it aims to be as utilitarian as Ambient 1. Call it Music for Writers if you like. 
Listen on Apple Music

1. GAS – Narkopop
All of Wolfgang Voigt’s work as GAS is instantly identifiable as such, and it feels tailor made for writers in want of musical accompaniment. While seventeen years separate Narkopop from its predecessor, Pop, little has changed in the interim. Beats surface occasionally but are always subverted by washy drone; danger lurks in the shadows but never really materializes. In other words, Voigt has no need for melodrama. Impeccably crafted, patient, confident, meditative, and timeless, Narkopop is ultimately a record that reflects back to the listener whatever they bring to it. Some may see it as unsettling, others as calming. But like anything in the ambient realm, it’s a wonderful way to lose yourself, even if only for a minute.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp