When Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald hooked up for a joint album in 2013, it seemed like a weird dream, the answer to an unasked question. These two legends seemed so far apart, physically and musically, yet somehow produced low-key dub techno magic.
Now they’re back with a followup that seems to strike an even better balance of their respective styles. It’s called Transport.
I say this with no reservation: Steve Hauschildt is one of the most creatively generous artists working in electronic music today. His work is utterly timeless, unmoored from trends and familiar signposts alike. On his latest album, Strands, he seamlessly blends the entire spectrum of dreamy synthesizer music into a breathless futuristic rush.
I just keep coming back to this little three song EP and I finally realized why. So I wrote about it because more people need to get familiar with Project Pablo.
Here it is, the Optimistic Underground list of best ambient albums ever made. Inspired by all the discussion surrounding Pitchfork’s list of the genre, I decided to lay out my favorites. This is a sound that I’ve been in love with my whole life, so the only problem was narrowing it down.
Lots of people like ambient music for lots of reasons. Some love to fall asleep to it. Some are fascinated with the granular detail of slow songs. Some enjoy the way that it can dilate time, shifting perception for vast stretches of just being there.
I love it for all of these reasons, and for the way it can utterly transport my mind in a way that frees me to have breakthrough thoughts, little eurekas, the kind of ideas that spring up during a long bike ride or a mediation session. Ambient music is contemplative music, for all intents and purposes. It’s music to think about, and think to.
Update 8/18: I’m now organizing this list into chronological order based on some quality feedback from friends and readers. I think this will help give context to the music as we move through the years, giving a sense of narrative from the earliest releases to the latest. To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I chose random order when I first wrote this list – I’d like to send a message two years back to ask myself. I’ve learned even more in the time since, so I’ll likely bring future updates to this list.
In the meantime, I thank you for reading and I hope you find something new to love, maybe an entire genre. Some of these albums are definitely more canonical or officially beloved than others, but I consciously choose to ignore the popular, limiting narratives about the genre. The important thing is that these are all incredible works of music that deserve your attention, and that every piece here exemplifies a facet of ambient music, from its core to its outer fringes. Every single album here is a definitive example of the power and possibility of ambient music.
For more exploration, try the 32 Best Dub Techno Albums and Every David Bowie Album Ranked lists or see the Optimistic Underground best of the year collection for a load of gems.
On with the list. These are the best ambient albums ever made:
Pye Corner Audio is the solo project of British electronic artist Martin Jenkins, who has been amassing a wealth of adventurous, darkly weird material over the past half decade. I discovered him via the Sleep Games LP a couple years ago while searching for perfect music to listen to at work.