What Is Ambient Country?

19 February 2024 | 3:10 pm | Mary Varvaris

Ambient country has been described as the meeting point between Pink Floyd’s psychedelia and the darker moments of The Velvet Underground.

Meadows in spring

Meadows in spring (Credit: Ales Krivec on Unsplash)

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Move over, hyper-pop, there’s a new genre in town: ambient country.

The puzzling name now has an Instagram account dedicated to “our favourite artists making instrumental, ambient, folk, Americana, electronic, soundscape, jazz and psychedelic music”, a podcast hosted by Bob Holmes of SUSS, and a 50-song playlist made by Spotify. Another playlist on Spotify, “ambient country cosmic pastoral americana” contains over 600 songs and has over 1,700 likes. The question remains: what on earth is ambient country?

According to a May 2023 Bandcamp explainer, Ambient Country For Beginners, the first iterations of the genre began in the 1970s, with Bruce Langhorne working on the score for Peter Fonda’s Western cult classic, The Hired Hand.

Ambient Country made its way to the public consciousness thanks to experimental artists like Brian Eno, who released the album Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks in 1983. Bandcamp went on to cite albums by Chuck Johnson (Balsams), Emma Ruth Rundle (Electric Guitar One), Earth (Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method) and Droneroom (Whatever Truthful Understanding).

In an interview with Lancaster Farming, Holmes discussed ambient country further, describing the genre as “sustained instrumentation meant to evoke certain feelings.” Holmes believes ambient country is the meeting point between Pink Floyd’s psychedelia and the darker moments of The Velvet Underground.

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While ambient country often falls under the “New Age” category, it’s frequently darker and more industrial than that. According to indie record label Centripetal Force’s Mike Mannix, the best modern representation of the genre is William Tyler’s 2016 LP Modern Country, while Luke Schneider is another frontrunner from Nashville.

Mannix observed the increase in popularity of ambient country during (and following) the Covid-19 pandemic, telling Lancaster Farming, “People recognised they needed an outlet for their mental and emotional health. They needed an escape from the chaos of what’s happening in the world.”

Holmes added, “The genre isn’t meant to be esoteric. It’s meant to be open and all-inclusive.”

To explore the ambient country genre further, check out this thread on the ambient music corner of Reddit.