There was hundreds and hundreds of ambient music albums released this year, but there’s only one released by an elite rapper with a 13-times platinum record under his overalls. In the 16 years since tectonic shift Outkast went on hiatus, fans of the duo André 3000 have been clamoring for the superstar to deliver something more than the occasional killer guest verse. Instead, he follows his arrow like a bohemian, nomadic troubadour playing the flute in airports, cafes, sidewalks and yoga classes. His debut album, New Blue Sun it’s the full flowering of his middle-aged glide into smooth drones and minimalist reedwork. Fans have been justifiably wary of an album that bears a “Warning: No Bars” sticker and song titles like “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album, But That’s Literally How the Wind Blew Me this time”. Fortunately, André 3000’s 87-minute ambient music odyssey is a gorgeous, deeply contemporary, prismatic breath of fresh incense.
New Blue Sun it also marks a peak in the crescendo of a decade-long revival of the new hipsterati era. In the early 2010s, reissued labels such as Numero Group, Light in the Attic and Rvng Intl. began reissuing American new age music for the private press, freeing a once-derided genre from a reputation for being uncool with crystals and wind chimes and repositioning it as an American folk tradition brimming with DIY energy. Labels like Empire of Signs and Switzerland’s WRWTFWW have turned their attention to re-energizing Japan’s gassier, more electronic ambient music, which you can hear at New Blue SunThese are more synthetic moments. Alanis Morrisette, Moby, 6lack, Sufjan Stevens, and even actor Jeff Bridges have all had varying degrees of success with healing music in recent years.
In turn, New Blue Sun is primarily a play on the prolific Los Angeles cassette label Leaving Records, an imprint that also exists at the intersection of ambient, new age, jazz, improvisation, and experimental electronic music. Much of the Leaving roster—Matthewdavid, Carlos Niño, Deantoni Parks, VCR—is on hand to assist and compliment André’s melodies, expanding his cycling digital flute arabesques into a communal bouillabaisse of swollen cymbals and alien shimmer.
Although the press materials link New Blue Sun to the organic minimalism of Laraaji and the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane, in practice it is more like the dreamy, semi-organic “fourth world” music of composers like Jon Hassell and Steve Roach: imagined landscapes where cosmic electronics euphorically entangle with various shakers , reeds and rain sticks. André’s “digital reed instrument” evokes the mysterious late 80s sound worlds of Japanese composers like Yoshio Ojima – not quite real, not quite fake, entirely mesmerizing. New Blue Sun It is in no way patient or minimal. Andre’s team, instead, works together as a dynamic live band that deals in soft tones and gentle moods, whether in rhythm (That Night in Hawaii…”), building to waterfalls of blissful chaos (“BuyPoloDisorder’s Daughter…” ) or creating tropical forests of sound (“Ants for you…”). Our bandleader has a roving meander who dances in percussive bursts while his fellow musicians babble, seethe, and shine. All these moving parts mean it’s not exactly the most immersive environment for those seeking “calming” or “healing” music. However, when approached as the product of a tape recorder’s basement jazz group or an underground electronic ensemble, New Blue Sun It’s an absolute joy.
No Blue Sun isn’t the best ambient record you can hear in 2023. It’s light when placed alongside Tim Hecker’s confrontational gushing No highsthe delicate vulnerability of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s body 12the pastoral areas of Takashi Kokubo and Andrea Esperti Music for a Cosmic Garden or the enveloping warmth of Loscil/Lawrence English’s work Colors of the Air. However, No Blue Sun will probably be the just environmental record many people to do listen in 2023, and it’s great that such a lively and sumptuous album is getting the spotlight. As with his revolutionary rap group, André 3000 is once again playing Pied Piper, and a world of sound awaits those who follow him with open ears and minds.