32 Best Ambient Albums Ever Made

32ambient2

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 of just being there.

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 breakthrough thoughts, little eurekas, 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.

Update 8/18: I’m now organizing this list into chronological order based on some quality feedback from friends and readers. I think this will help give context to the music as we move through the years, giving a sense of narrative from the earliest releases to the latest. To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I chose random order when I first wrote this list – I’d like to send a message two years back to ask myself. I’ve learned even more in the time since, so I’ll likely bring future updates to this list.

In the meantime, I thank you for reading and I hope you find something new to love, maybe an entire genre. Some of these albums are definitely more canonical or officially beloved than others, but I consciously choose to ignore the popular, limiting narratives about the genre. The important thing is that these are all incredible works of music that deserve your attention, and that every piece here exemplifies a facet of ambient music, from its core to its outer fringes. Every single album here is a definitive example of the power and possibility of ambient music.

For more exploration, try the 32 Best Dub Techno Albums and Every David Bowie Album Ranked lists or see the Optimistic Underground best of the year collection for a load of gems.

On with the list. These are the best ambient albums ever made:

Continue reading

Qluster – Echtzeit

Qluster Echtzeit Cover

Qluster is the current incarnation of one of the longest-running acts on the planet, continually vibrant and productive from 1971 onward. In this possibly final form, the band once known as Cluster has mellowed some of the rough edges and grown subtly complex, losing none of that original alien magic they’ve conjured for 45 years running.

Swapping a C for a Q seems relatively minor, but the twist it signifies has been significant. Since 2011, the band has been incredibly prolific, dropping more than one album per year. The latest, Echtzeit, is the most vibrant yet.

Continue reading

What I’m Into This Week (4/3 – 4/9)

Nausicaa - Toxic Jungle

Remember how I mentioned springtime last week? Just kidding! It’s winter again here in Michigan, and I’m pretty broke, so I ended up staying home and listening to warm tunes most of the time. I discovered some real surprises by going out and simply looking for anything that felt new, an activity that I should do more often.

There’s nothing much more rewarding than setting out to surprise yourself and then doing exactly that.

Continue reading