2814 – 新しい日の誕生 (Birth of a New Day)
I don’t even know how to talk about this album. It’s the newest thing here, but the fact is, it became my go-to ambient listen over the past year. That means something. This album has a powerful undertow. I get sucked in every time by the cyberpunk blur of nostalgic synths and nervous future beats. There’s nothing else like this out there. I wrote about Birth of a New Day last October and I only feel stronger about it now. I believe this album will be remembered for signaling another new shift in ambient music.
This album would be worth it if it only contained this one song:
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KWJAZ – KWJAZ
A fusion of so many things, I could call it noisy lo-fi witch drone beach pop and strike bullseye or land wildly off mark, according to your point of view. I feel echoes of The Avalanches, Rod Steward, Oneohtrix Point Never and hissing pink clouds of joy. I feel elated, sunken, lost… the two twenty minute slabs of kitchen-sink fusion are a ramshackle labyrinth of pleasantly distorted dream time. KWJAZ hasn’t been heard from since. The album featured in 2011’s best of the year list.
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Pete Namlook – Air
This low key masterpiece is a perfect example of how 1990s techno could swerve deep into 1970s kosmische territory. The album spins like a time machine caught in flux, forever phasing between two eras, and it works. While ambient music as a genre enjoys a healthy displacement of time, a very few albums achieve a truly timeless quality. This is one. Play it right after Steve Hillage for a sublime transition to anything modern.
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White Rainbow – New Clouds
White Rainbow has a vast and strange catalog, ranging from gentle drone to abstract beats and cheesy psychedelia, but on this album he absolutely nailed a sense of euphoric trance over four lengthy tracks. These songs manage to pile element after element, layer after layer of percussion, guitars, samples, synths, voices, and effects into towering confections. Each piece builds into a controlled frenzy, then rides it to its logical conclusion, resulting in a quartet of massive organic jams. The album is a maximal-minimalist wave of tribal percussion with cyberpunk atmosphere, sounding like nothing else around. New Clouds was reviewed in the early days of this site.
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Global Communication – 76:14
One of the most timeless electronic albums ever, as epic and sleek as it is organic and subtle. When a lot of old techno fans think of ambient techno, they picture this. Crafted by Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard, it struck the vanguard of the genre in a way that makes many other great albums of its era feel extraneous, if only for a minute. The sound design evokes an impossibly cool neon drenched future that no artist has really ever matched in the two decades since. Because it’s a seamless package, I suggest that you hear it all in one go.
A major sequence of this album appears on my Ballroom mixtape.
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Black to Comm – Alphabet 1968
Ambient music can be truly spooky, whether it’s the cheesy variety heard on horror movies or TV crime dramas or the deeply unsettling work of artists like Leyland Kirby as The Caretaker. While his albums have always struck me with their ripped-from-the-past textural brilliance, it wasn’t until I heard Alphabet 1968 that I truly fell in love with music that felt like listening to ghosts. While maintaining creeping tension and singularly dark mood, the album runs through a remarkable wordless narrative, granting fear, hope, dread, and even a hint of uplift at the end. I went a little overboard in my enthusiasm for it back in early 2010.
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Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
The genre is in the title, but this album earns its place for the impossibly brilliant music contained within. Aphex Twin’s full length debut is a monument of electronic music, its impact felt across the full spectrum of the medium even today, nearly twenty five years later. Mixing weird techno, lush ambient pads, hip-hop pacing, and an uncanny sense of melody and scale, the album pushes far past any recognizable genre signifiers. It created a precedent for all future Aphex music to stand up to, which saw every release since blasting off into new territory, never to return to familiar places. This is ambient music in its most restless, searching state.
While I feel that this album’s sequel more fully fits the strictest definition of ambient, it’s simply not as groundbreaking or lovable as the original. So here it is, in full.
This album helped shape my Ballroom mixtape.
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Loscil – Submers
On this album, Loscil recorded perhaps the most gentle yet propulsive set of techno songs I’ve ever heard. This tight, calmly aquatic set features a deeply homogeneous production that folds every muffled percussion click and synth wash into the same ever-ringing echoed envelope. It’s dance music as a muted prayer, head nodding as meditation.