Agustin Mena has spent the latter half of this decade making some of the most physically pleasurable ambient music ever made.
Agustin Mena has spent the latter half of this decade making some of the most physically pleasurable ambient music ever made. The Spanish producer debuted as Warmth in 2015 with a straight-ahead dub techno album, Ash. On his ensuing releases—2016’s Essay, 2017’s Home, 2018’s Parallel and last year’s Wildlife, not to mention an album and an EP as SVLBRD—he’s stripped away all aspects of the dub techno sound except those distant, mile-wide chords that sound like you’re sinking your head into a nebula. According to Spotify, Parallel is the album I’ve listened to the most this last decade. Would I call it the best ambient album of the 2010s? No. But it might be the one that, on a purely animal level akin to a lizard sinking its belly into a rock, I enjoy the most.
Even considering all this, “The Creek,” the second track from his newest album Wildlife Addendum, might be one of the most purely pleasurable ambient compositions ever recorded. There’s something about wah, filters, flangers and phasers that gets to something primal in the brain, and the treated electric piano that flickers out of the distance on “The Creek” is the kind of thing you want to melt into for the rest of your life—especially when it emerges from a field of static as thick and all-encompassing as the one Mena employs on almost all his tracks to give them extra plush. Some ambient tracks want to be sad, happy, scared, mysterious. This one feels like submerging into a pool of warm water for five and a half minutes.
Wildlife Addendum is, indeed, an addendum to Wildlife. That was Mena’s most complex album as Warmth, eschewing the wall-of-sound approach to incorporate synth melodies, field recordings, even pianos. This richness carries over to the four new tracks here (plus a rework of Wildlife’s “The Bear” and three edits credited to SVLBRD). But while Wildlife lost something in its desire to combine sounds rather than smear them all over the canvas, Addendum is more balanced and is thus arguably the stronger of the two releases. There’s more going on than is usually the case on a Warmth album, not least natural sounds like wind and water and what might be the cracking of branches, but it still feels like a monolith rather than a mishmash.
That Wildlife Addendum complements another album doesn’t make it any less substantial within the arc of his career. Another lesson Mena learned as a dub techno producer was that re-edits and re-works need not stand in the shadow of the originals but can expand on them and take them to new places. SVLBRD’s Stratus Remodels is at least as good as the actual thing, stripping the tracks from the album Stratus down into gusts of cold wind that more closely approximate the Arctic environs the project seeks to conjure. And Wildlife Addendum doesn’t feel like a stopgap before whatever Mena does next with Warmth but a substantial pillar of an ambient catalog that’s shaping up to be among the most impressive of last decade.