Last week André 3000, one of the world’s most famous rappers, released an album that could be described as ambient. The music pioneered by Brian Eno has seen a resurgence in recent years, perhaps helped along, as suggested by one of my RNZ colleagues, by people seeking calm during global times of hardship.
An ambient album by a Los Angeles duo came out last month, and falls into that category, the musical equivalent of gentle encouragement. In fact one song is called ‘Everything is Okay’.
Green-House began as the solo project of Olive Ardizoni, who learned to use music software and synthesisers specifically to realise this vision. Their first EP was called Six Songs For Invisible Gardens, a title which, along with the project’s name, hints at an interest in botany.
On their first full-length, Music For Living Spaces, Ardizoni said “the intention of this project is to facilitate the connection between humans and nature. You don't need to have access to the great outdoors to feel connected to the environment.”
It’s a very specific mission statement, and the theme continues on the new album, which sees Michael Flanagan, who contributed design and keyboards to past releases, added as an official member of the now-duo.
In 1976, Canadian composer Mort Garson released an album called Plantasia, which gained cult fandom over the years, before finally getting reissued in 2019. Initially it was given to people buying houseplants from a specific LA plant store, or who bought a Simmons mattress from a Sears outlet.
The record was composed entirely on Moog synthesiser, and while the mattress makes sense for such relaxed compositions, the plant requires explanation: Garson had made the album specifically for plants to listen to.
It’s maybe the association of hearing similar sounds in the nearly fifty years since then, but Plantasia seems like a clear reference point for Green-House. This music sounds like plant life.
‘Luna Clipper’ has a field recording of bird song underneath it to help the reference, but it’s not too much of a reach to say those sinewy synths evoke stems reaching up to the sun, or a branching root system. There’s a dappling keyboard that reminds me of dew drops.
This aside, what keeps me coming back to A Host For All Kinds of Life, is that these are songs, with progressions and hooks. Ambient music can stay on one chord and evolve sonically, but these do harmonically as well.
Speaking with friends who listened to that André 3000 album, and perhaps lacked reference points for ambient sounds, they said it would be nice to put on in the background. By and large this is a common response. I’ve been to ambient shows where mattresses were provided, and I can also attest that falling asleep to this Green-House record is a very pleasant experience.
But there’s plenty in it that deserves the foreground, from its carefully constructed melodies, to thematically curated sounds. Give it your full attention, and you may find it sticks.