In 1980, David Bowie followed up the critically beloved but sales deprived Berlin trilogy of experimental rock albums with a set of tunes meant to jump-start his career again. I’m not sure what the label executives were hoping for, but the result feels like a hulking, mutated cousin of what came before it.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is one of the wildest, weirdest albums of Bowie’s career, ripping violently between hysterical pop and defiantly experimental impulses.
When I became a father this month, I decided to honor the moment by making a new mixtape. I’ve made mixes in all sorts of genres for all sorts of moods, but this time I had a new, very specific aim: to capture the feeling of being an exhausted, mildly ecstatic new dad.
To that end, I decided to make my first dad rock mixtape. But I couldn’t start with just any old stereotypical “dad” music. This had to be my vision of dad rock. So don’t expect any Springsteen or Steely Dan. This is another flavor entirely.
Wow. Just wow. This is Miles Davis at that stratospheric peak he seems to ride every few albums, the ones with mountains of praise written about them over the decades. For some reason it’s far less revered than the likes of Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, and On The Corner, but it’s just as important to his development as an artist and just as incredible of a listen for jazz fans today.
New Order is one of the few bands I’ve loved since childhood and continue to do so well into my adult years. The band’s nervy, dystopian take on synth pop was almost a template for my nascent tastes, mixing deep bass grooves, crystalline synthesizer tones, frantic guitar work, and abstract lyrics about love, loss, society, and other fun nonsense.
In my humble opinion, 1985’s Low-Life was the pinnacle of this style, mixing hard dancefloor impulses with sweeping romanticism to unbelievable perfection. The lead single, The Perfect Kiss, came with an appropriately deadpan video directed by Jonathan Demme. Behold:
Quadrant Dub is one of the most transcendent pieces of music ever recorded. It stands as perhaps the most important dub techno recording of all, the pinnacle of an entire genre and a beacon for artists to follow for decades. Created in 1994 by Basic Channel, the German due composed of Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, this 12″ has done more than stand the test of time; it charges onward, curating its own timeline outside of everyday reality.
I’m doing this. I’m ranking every David Bowie album.
This list is not ranked by historical importance or designed to guide a new listener through his vast discography. This is simply a list of every major album David Bowie released in order from worst to best. While I don’t believe he made any truly bad albums, he certainly had a range of quality to his recordings. I’m skipping the covers album, the soundtracks, and the Tin Machine stuff. This is pure Bowie, no filler.
I’ve seen other lists out there and I almost always disagree with their top picks. They’re always too safe, too obvious, compromised by committee. This list is an unvarnished look at one passionate fan’s embrace of the entire catalogue and will probably bring some surprise. If you’re curious to learn more about Bowie’s impact on my life, check out David Bowie Is Dead // This Is What He Means To Me.
I know that no two David Bowie fans are the same and that most people will disagree with my rankings. That’s part of his magic. In that spirit, I welcome all comments and suggestions, so share away. I had fun making this, and I hope you have fun reading it.
Let’s get on with the list:
Here it is, the Optimistic Underground list of best ambient albums ever made. Inspired by all the discussion surrounding Pitchfork’s list of the genre, I decided to lay out my favorites. This is a sound that I’ve been in love with my whole life, so the only problem was narrowing it down.
Lots of people like ambient music for lots of reasons. Some love to fall asleep to it. Some are fascinated with the granular detail of slow songs. Some enjoy the way that it can dilate time, shifting perception for vast stretches.
I love it for all of these reasons, and for the way it can utterly transport my mind in a way that frees me to have all sorts of thoughts, the kind of ideas that spring up during a long bike ride or a mediation session. Ambient music is contemplative music, for all intents and purposes. It’s music to think about, and think to.
As of right now, I can’t imagine setting a strict order for these albums. So they’re not numbered. Some are definitely more beloved than others, but the important thing is that these are all incredible works of music that deserve your attention. Every single album here is a defining example of the power and possibility of ambient music.
These are the best ambient albums ever made: