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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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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Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
I knew right away that Oneohtrix Point Never belonged on this list, and I knew it had to be his breakthrough, Returnal. The album melts cogent thought, blurring time and physical sensation; its otherworldly experience dilates far beyond its 42 minute span. The album has always felt like a straight shot across the solar system to my ears. Entering through the asteroid cocoon known as the Oort cloud, it opens with a massive hissing noise assault that gradually fades into the gentlest drone you’ve ever heard. From here, we drift past icy planets and swirling, stormy gas giants, slingshotting around the bigger ones before zooming past the warm glow of the sun on our way toward the great big galaxy out there. But never mind my silly space analogy; just listen to the song below. There’s never been a more ironic name for such a blissful track.
Returnal was named Best album of 2010.
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Deepchord Presents Echospace – Liumin
Liumin is a juggernaut of thumping dub bass, cyberpunk synths, and the most lush ambient pads ever crafted. It’s a seamless experience from end to end: opening in a warm drone pool, flowing like a river into light beat constructions, billowing into more hard-charging sequences, then gradually trickling down to end in a familiar ambient stillness. The entire thing is set into a landscape of field recordings, with the sound of Tokyo’s streets, subways, and citizens cropping up throughout the mix. It’s an ambient journey through one of the most futuristic cities on earth, a relentless ride that cocoons the listener in its world for over an hour.
Liumin was shared with a full album stream from Soundcloud just last year.
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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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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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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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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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I know that I missed some important albums. I had many more to begin with, but I wanted to cut them down to a manageable number, succinctly representing the many different facets of ambient music that I love. It’s hard to kill your darlings, but sometimes it’s necessary. Thirty two just sounded like a nice number, anyway.
Comment and let me know your favorites and anything I missed. I want to hear it all.