AmethystiumA couple weeks ago, in my Best of 2006 column, I plugged the beautiful ethereal CD from Sleepthief, which paired up soothing electronic compositions with heavenly female vocalists for an amazing collection.

Recently, I received a few other discs from that band's label, Neurodisc, which are well worth checking out if you're a fan of ambient synthesizer-based soundscape music. The label offers a collection from Amethystium, and new discs from Blue Stone and Bella Sonus. While these discs are all less focused on heavenly vocals than Sleepthief and more on creating “soundtrack” like backgrounds, they all set a warm, otherworldly mood.

My favorite of the three is “ Emblem (Selected Pieces) ,” a retrospective of the ambient, exotic, ethereal soundscapes of Amethystium – (aka Øystein Ramfjord). These are inspired, gentle electronic compositions that build and grow and warm the mind in the tradition of the quieter aspects of Enigma and Delerium. You could get lost inside these songs!

Blue Stone 's “Breathe” works in the same mode, with lots of sleepy piano cascades and building rushes of strings and electronic washes of synthesizer walls-of-sound. Some of the tracks do include some exotic female vocals, though the lyrics are dreamy and short. For example, in “Confession,” the lyric “When I'm alone/you revivie me/I'm alone, revive me” accounts for half of the words in the song! The best track comes in the angelically voiced “Falling,” which could have appeared as a slower track from an album by Delerium or Conjure One.

Finally, Neurodisc also offers Bella Sonus' “Enamoured,” probably the most ambient disc of the trio mentioned here. “Enamoured” still includes layers of dreamy female harmonies here and there, but focuses more on the light Spanish guitar leads that accent the gentle techno rhythm beds. It's a great disc for background or nighttime listening.

For sound samples and more information about these and other releases, check the Neurodisc website at


Raul Malo Raul Malo
You're Only Lonely

The former frontman of The Mavericks returned last year with his second solo album, and it's one tailormade for Valentine's season (which somehow is already just around the corner!)

“You're Only Lonely” is a disc featuring Malo's velvet pipes tackling a list of romantic standards, and his soulful, slightly country-tinged delivery offers the perfect color to re-sell classics like JD Souther 's “You're Only Lonely,” Willie Nelson 's “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and The Bee Gees ' soaring harmony and string-rich “Run To Me.”

He also tackles Randy Newman 's heartache-producing “Feels Like Home,” not once, but twice. Malo offers both in a solo version and as a moving duet with Martina McBride . Malo's orchestral-backed arrangement comes close to matching the power of Chantal Kreviazuk's tear-jerking cover of the song (from a “Dawson's Creek” soundtrack).

Malo also offers a slow, sad pedal-steel take on the Everly Brothers ' “So Sad,” a subdued 2 a.m. piano bar version of Etta James ' classic “At Last” and the disc's most upbeat track in the galloping percussion of his own Latin original in “For You.”

This is the best disc for romantic fireside-sitting and champagne-sipping I've heard in years. This is the kind of “crooning” album that nobody makes anymore. Cupids everywhere will thank Malo for remembering how to set the mood.