Fennesz – Endless Summer
This is the sound of digital atoms splitting, storms of static wielded like guitars, and guitars turned into waves via granular synthesis. It’s a miracle of contradictions, magically turning harsh noise into lush soundscapes, feeling as natural as a sunrise over the ocean. Endless Summer is the sound of saving yourself from oblivion, a wave of relief as a light finally appears at the end of the tunnel. It’s the perfect noisy ambient album.
Caecilia is the warm little melodic heart at the center of this masterpiece, a fine entry point as any.
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Brock Van Wey – White Clouds Drift On and On
I needed this album more than I knew, when I first bought it. Icy yet sharply emotional, the album feels slow in the moment but devours time like a monster. It came as a two-cd set with a full deconstruction on the second disc, courtesy of Stephen Hitchell, fostering a vast sense of scale. The album is pure heartache rendered as a widescreen ambient adventure.
I wrote about White Clouds Drift On and On way back in the early days of this site. Rough but enthusiastic.
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Stars of the Lid – Tired Sounds Of
This album is the purest expression of the romantic ideal of ambient music, using only tone and texture to evoke giant landscapes, deep narratives, and deeply felt emotion. It feels almost still at first blush, and spread over two hours, it seems excessive. But listen closely. Sit in a dark room or alone at the park. Play it loud and realize that these slow motion tidal waves of sound are crafted from dozens of tangible pieces, admiring the intricacy of it all. Or just let it bowl you over with feeling. It can be really cathartic at the right time.
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Steve Hauschildt – Where All Is Fled
Hauschildt was part of Emeralds, the biggest band of the late 00s synth explosion, but his solo work has now eclipsed everything his former band did. This album is a polyphonic labyrinth of dreamy genre explorations. From pure ambient passages through dub workouts, twinkling cosmic jams, and motorik tidal waves, Where All Is Fled maintains a consistent mood, an image of gleaming loneliness punctuated by romantic flights of fancy. I listen often, feeling transported, like the last human on Mars, commuting to work on a train full of robots in the year 2259. It’s wonderful.
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Terry Riley – A Rainbow In Curved Air
I feel like I said it pretty well back in 2009: “This recording is analogous to a profound dream: deeply affecting, nuanced, beautiful, yet devoid of concrete meaning. The feelings evoked are an end unto themselves. These sounds are subconscious and natural. This composition is eternal.”
On this record, Riley laid the foundation for his pattern improvisation technique, twisting sumptuous timbre shifts on synthesizers and organs, contrasting order and seeming chaos, erupting in little moments of bliss and long stretches of dizzying, dissonant melody. It’s as timeless as music gets.
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Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Motion Sickness of Time Travel
This music feels like the most epic 8-bit adventure stretched into timeless, formless oblivion. It’s The Legend of Zelda as a billowing storm cloud. It’s the most literal expression of the artist’s name, a slow motion explosion of romantic synth drone melody. Four tracks sprawl over 80 minutes, leaping right outside of time and surrounding all senses; it’s a psychedelic epic in every sense of the term. This is a trip to get utterly lost in.
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Susumu Yokota – Sakura
This is the most lyrical, natural album on the entire list. At least, it seems that way. Shaped by Japanese classical music as much as by fellow electronic pioneers, Yokota’s work often veers into radical style shifts, but on this album, he struck a perfect, placid balance between traditional melodic construction and psychedelic electronic dreamscapes. This album literally never fails to improve my outlook for the day.
The below song, Tobiume, appears on my Luminous Path mixtape.
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Slowdive – Pygmalion
This is the logical conclusion of shoegaze: ambient bliss. Most people think of Slowdive as the band that released the “second best shoegaze album” behind My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, pointing to Souvlaki as a premier example of the genre. They’re not wrong; that album contains some of the finest shoegaze ever made. But Pygmalion is where Slowdive truly blossomed into an utterly unique form of ambient avant garde dreampop. The album unfolds over glistening, icy landscapes carved out of blurred-beyond-recognition guitars, with vocals winding by like frigid wind through a canyon. There’s a lot of heart and heartache in this obtuse record, waiting to be unearthed.