32 Best Ambient Albums Ever Made

2814 – 新しい日の誕生 (Birth of a New Day)
2015

2814 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:


•  •  •

KWJAZ – KWJAZ
2011

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.


•  •  •

Pete Namlook – Air
1993

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.


•  •  •

White Rainbow – New Clouds
2010

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.


•  •  •

Global Communication – 76:14
1994

global-communication-7614

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.


•  •  •

Black to Comm –  Alphabet 1968
2009

blacktocomm-alphabet1968

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.


•  •  •

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
1992

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.


•  •  •

Loscil  – Submers
2002

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.


Previous Page (9-16)Next Page (25-32)

33 thoughts on “32 Best Ambient Albums Ever Made

    • Thank you! I really struggled with Chill Out to be honest – it was on my original pile of 50 or so albums – but at some point it ended up on the chopping block. >_< I already thought of another 10 albums I wish I'd included!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I love Chill Out but I am kinda glad he used something else in lieu of it – it’s such a well-known ambient record that I’m sure most ambient fans are at least aware of. Dang, now I kinda want to listen to it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I listened again just a couple days ago. Kinda perfect for just drifting off, the way the samples enter and exit haphazardly feels like slipping in and out of sleep.

        Still, it’ll probably be on my “stuff I missed” list or whatever I end up calling it :D

        Like

  1. This is an exciting list that contains enough of my own favorites (The Orb, Seefeel, Stars Of The Lid, Alva Noto, Slowdive, etc) to assure me that we’re on the same wavelength … but a whole pile of other albums I’ve never heard but should clearly check out.

    I’m starting at the top, with “Rainbow Dome Musick”, which is fabulous. From my perspective it’s an obvious progenitor of “The Orb’s Adventures…” — of course I already know of Hillage’s involvement in that group, but I’d never heard his own music to compare with it.

    I should make my own list. There are a lot of stone classics you’ve inexcusably overlooked ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent comment, I’m glad to see someone else who’s familiar with a pretty wide swath of this stuff!

      As for the overlooked things: I’d love to hear suggestions! I’m actually putting together a second “oops I forget these” list that will include some I forgot, some that have been suggested since I published, and some that I simply had to cut to make the list more succinct. I’m eager for things I’ve never heard :)

      Like

      • Just in case I never end up writing that post, some quick picks for my list:

        Robert Rich “Trances/Drones” (Massively deep soundworlds from 1982)
        Stars Of The Lid “Avec Laudenum” (I love all their albums, but this for me is their pinnacle)
        Eluder “Drift” (This sounds exactly like being asleep)
        How To Disappear Completely “Arterial” (The best by this mysterious but very prolific Eastern European improv-ambient group)
        Biosphere “Autour de la Lune” (Don’t make me choose between this and “Substrata”. They’re so different they might as well be by separate artists!)
        Expo 70 “Center Of The Earth” (Exactly what it says on the tin. 45 minutes of deeply cthonic guitar noise, then 5 minutes of palate cleanser.)
        Windy & Carl “A Dream Of Blue” (None of their full albums really do it for me, but they have some killer EPs. See also: “Antarctica”.)
        Loscil “Submers” (Ambient dub perfected.)
        Aloof Proof “Piano Text” (Ambient piano music perfected. Or you could call this a reverb album featuring a piano.)
        Krill.Minima “Radiodub EP” (Ambient dub made out of static, hisses, crackles. It’s like if you recorded distant music off a shortwave radio and then subtracted out the music.)
        Zoviet*France “Shouting At The Ground” (Only a few of their many albums appeal to me, but this one is amazing. It has the same quality as early SoTL, where you have no idea what kinds of instruments the sounds are being made by, or even if they’re forwards or reversed.)

        Damn, looks like I have enough material here for at least a Part One post; just need to add links to some audio…

        Like

        • These are excellent choices! I included Submers but the rest slipped my mind. Well, to be fair I was considering Windy & Carl’s Antarctica, but it just didn’t make the cut. Howevever, the rest of your choices are very interesting. I LOVE Avec Laudenum, but Ballasted Orchestra is loved just a little bit more. It’s probably the Twin Peaks fan in me…

          I’m definitely doing to check out the Robert Rich, Eluder, Aloof Proof, Krill.Minima albums, since those are all new to me. Also, it’s been years since I’ve listened to Zoviet*France, so I should go back to that :) If you do publish your post, let me know! I’d love to see it all.

          Like

  2. Pingback: 32 Best Ambient Albums Ever Made – imho

  3. I’d like to add a vote for Biosphere’s “Substrata” here. The combination of cold but warm, dreamlike and trance-inducing elements is still unmatched. Music for astral projection.

    Robert Rich has been mentioned as well – I love “Fissures”, together with Alio Die (another artist with an insane catalog of releases). Very earthy, haunting.

    Matt Hillier aka Ishq, Elve, Ishvara etc. etc. has produced a lot of albums that really wonderful from beginning to end (“Infinite Garden” as Elve for example).

    Hecq – “Night Falls”, highly cinematic, touching, incredible sound wizardry. An absolute stand-out album from his diverse catalog.

    Sleep Research Facility – “Deep Frieze”, perhaps the best of his works.

    Thomas Köner’s “Nuuk” always electrifies me from the very first moment. Super intense.

    Something from the “new German ambient” school of the early to mid-nineties, the Recycle or Die label. Baked Beans “Bean Me Up, Scotty” or Stevie Be Zet’s “Archaic Modulation” – both well bordering into New Age perhaps.

    Like

    • Wonderful suggestions, thank you! I really do regret not including Substrata, to be honest. Maybe I’d just seen it on too many other lists, but it’s there for a reason – it’s a true classic.

      The only one of your other suggestions I’ve heard is the Sleep Research Facility, so I’m excited to explore some new tunes. I’m familiar with Köner but not Nuuk,, and the rest are just completely new. As for some sounding like New Age… I have a deep affinity for that sound too. Are you familiar with the Wolf Müller & Cass release from earlier this year, The Sound of Glades? I shared it a few months ago, and even considered it for my big list, but decided that it was too new in the end. ( https://optimisticunderground.com/2016/07/20/wolf-muller-and-cass-the-sound-of-glades/ if you’re curious)

      Again, thank you! I’ve got so much new material to hear.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Happy to hear that you like my suggestions. I completely understand the impulse to omit Substrata – but, I’ve just listened to it again, and I think it does deserve to be mentioned that often. ;-)

        Also, I share your hesitation about naming things “best of” prematurely. I too think that music needs to “ripen” or perhaps grow, and pass the test of time before being awarded a “best of”. :-)

        Anyway, thanks again for sharing your list, I enjoyed it a lot – and I just got notice that my copy of “Returnal” is on the way to me. I’m going to check out the Wolf Müller & Cass album now. Thanks for the recommendation!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, the music needs to ripen, good way to say it. Even the albums I love right away end up better after some time. And wow, that’s great you got Returnal! OPN is one of my favorite artists and that is a gem of an album. I really hope you love it too!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Great list! I like that you included Birth of a New Day. I bounce off most vaporwave, even the original Eccojams, but this one pulled me right in.

    Also really love Alva Noto. When I heard he was involved in The Revenant’s soundtrack, I immediately ran out to go watch it, ha ha. Leonardo winning an Oscar? I’ll catch it on DVD. Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto on the soundtrack? Better go watch it on the big screen.

    A recommendation: Steve Roach – Possible Planet. An entire album made on a modular analog system almost 10 years before the modular analog resurgence, no MIDI, no keyboards, no computers. The stirrings of life on an alien planet; nothing else sounds like this. I don’t see it mentioned much, but it is one of my all time favorites. Turn up the subwoofer for this one, trust me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great recommendation – I’ve heard a lot of Steve Roach but not that album! I’ll listen asap.

      Also, I felt the same way about The Revenant when I saw who was scoring it. Fantastic aesthetics. Also, I honestly am the same way with a lot of vaporwave. The genre is flush with embryonic sounds that have only recently been fleshed out into more ambitious creations like the 2814 album. Have you heard their newer album? I like it a lot, but it’s not as unique sounding.. feels like classic 90s minimal techno in a big way.

      Like

  5. Pingback: Steve Hauschildt – Strands | Optimistic Underground

    • Thanks! As I mentioned in the intro, I was inspired by all the talk about that list, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the list itself. They included a lot of great albums, but missed some really interesting ones.

      Of course, I missed a couple essential things too (I wish I’d included Biosphere – Substrata!) so I’m making a second list soon with a handful of albums I forgot + some great suggestions from readers.

      Like

  6. Pingback: Lunaria – All Is Dream | Optimistic Underground

  7. Pingback: From around the web | Shop Projekt: Darkwave

  8. Late to the party but, wow… thank you so much for this. I’m diving into Ambient music for the first time and this is bar none the best list I have found. I have sampled about 4 albums so far and really dig them all. Much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome to hear! Thank you for letting me know – I love knowing that I’ve helped someone get into new music. Which albums did you try so far? If you want to hear more recommendations, I’m happy to share!

      Like

  9. Pingback: Miles Davis – Miles Smiles | Optimistic Underground

  10. Pingback: Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time Soundtrack | Optimistic Underground

  11. Pingback: Replicant [mixtape] | Optimistic Underground

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s