32 Best Ambient Albums Ever Made

The Orb – Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld
1991

the-orb-adventures-beyond-the-ultraworld

The Orb’s monumental debut is a gigantic, messy sprawl over two hours of jazzy beats, atmospheric sampling, and immaculate deep space drift. It’s that final point that earns it a place on this list. This vast journey – and it is a journey, the most purposeful of narratives on this entire list – takes the listener through dub techno and deep house passages, but these detailed points of interest are separated by vast stretches of galactic real estate. Near the middle of the album, a pair of tracks run back to back, soaring far outside the realm of any recognizable beats or structure for more than a half hour of ambient bliss. It may end in a frenzy, but the moments spent in the drift feel most alive.


•  •  •

Manuel Göttsching  – Inventions for Electric Guitar
1975

manuel-gottsching-inventions-for-electric-guitar

Inventions For Electric Guitar is the perfect bridge between first wave German kosmische music and the early techno it eventually inspired. With a pair of twenty minute epics and a smaller tune between, Göttsching wastes no time stretching the outer edges of rock far beyond what anyone was doing at the time, or for years to come. His guitar here often sounds like an arpeggiated synth or a warm drone wave, rarely revealing itself as the traditional six stringed instrument we all think we know. From his early days in Ash Ra Tempel to the proto-prog of Ashra, this man was always at the vanguard of new sounds; here he simply hit a sweet spot for ambient groove music that was never quite found again.


•  •  •

Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
2010

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.


•  •  •

John Foxx – Cathedral Oceans
1997

john-foxx-cathedral-oceans

Foxx was the frontman for Ultravox, but managed a surprising turn by becoming one of the most prominent ambient composers in the decades since. This album is perhaps his defining work, a work of astonishing clarity and beauty that uses an orchestra of synthesizers and effects to turn Gregorian chants into aural landscapes. Time is stretched beyond recognition here, with single notes drifting for minutes and vocals warped into tidal waves of sound. There are few tangible landmarks in this Ocean, but the utterly complete sense of drift is unmatched anywhere else.


•  •  •

Deepchord Presents Echospace – Liumin
2010

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.


•  •  •

Virginia Astley – From Gardens Where We Feel Secure
1983

virginia-astley-from-gardens-where-we-feel-secure

I’ve always been infatuated with this sound. Seriously, it feels like a childhood dream manifested in an album. Using only piano, soft woodwinds, and a few fleeting echoes of her own voice, she crafted a holistic little fantasy world of an ambient album. This is music to be absorbed into, an album that can radically elevate your sense of oneness with the world if you let it. The song below is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces I’ve ever listened to. I’ll never tire of it, and you won’t either. This album is super rare to find, but incredibly worth a listen.

A Summer Long Since Passed is a fine introduction. Its mournful atmosphere was perfect enough to earn a place on my Dust mixtape, an ode to fallen pets.


•  •  •

Steve Roach – Dreamtime Return
1988

steve-roach-dreamtime-return

This is a massive, two hour ambient epic set to the Aboriginal concept of dreamtime, a layer of existence that stands outside of time itself. Its songs range from three to thirty minutes, with every variation between conjuring different levels of depth and space. As a cohesive whole, the album folds in both electronic and natural sounds, from didgeridoos to huge synth pads to field recordings from the Australian outback. Like Stars of the Lid, Steve Roach approaches the genre with spartan ideals, stripping the music down to its central essence and then amplifying that elemental spark into a massive conflagration. Dreamtime Return is a lot to take in one sitting, but it’s beyond essential.


•  •  •

Miles Davis – In A Silent Way
1969

miles-davis-in-a-silent-way

Yes, it’s technically jazz. But In A Silent Way is perhaps the very birthplace of ambient music. There’s a holistic sense of tone and texture that wraps the entire production from end to end, creating a dreamlike atmosphere for the laid-back band to play around in. It’s impossible to overstate how important of a development this was in 1969. The album played a huge role in influencing Brian Eno’s early ambient work, introducing the idea that music could feel calm, otherworldly, and self contained while still offering room for its tangible elements to move and interact. It’s an important outlier in Miles Davis‘ catalogue, a quiet explosion of new sound that was quickly abandoned in favor of the burgeoning, brash fusion sound of the 1970s.

Pieces of this album help glue my Luminous Path mixtape together.


I know that I missed some important albums. In fact, I had more to begin with, but I wanted to cut it down to a succinct number, with each album representing a different facet of ambient music. 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.

Previous Page (17-24)

32 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

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