Robert Hood is back with a new album that fires directly at his Detroit techno roots, serving as an evolved sequel to his iconic 1994 groundbreaker, Minimal Nation.
Unlike most examples of a “back to basics” album, this one hits just as hard as its inspiration, textured with two decades of stylistic evolution. Far beyond a throwback album, Paradygm Shift is a deep genre exploration, coloring the darkest corners of pure techno, highlighting the fresh pleasures this genre still has to offer.
In an interview with Pitchfork last week, Oneohtrix Point Never explained how he needs weird breakages and colliding contrasts to happen for music to feel truthful, and how this also applies to all good film scores. After listening to his soundtrack for Good Time, a new film by the Safdie brothers, reading this passage felt like a tiny lightbulb flickering on.
It’s the rough, distinctive patina surrounding everything he’s ever recorded, the philosophy underpinning the very reason his music is so often astonishing. It’s something he’s expressing most clearly on this, a movie score that basically functions as a proper new album.
Chuck Johnson’s latest album Balsams was the first music I heard after my son was born. In its own low-key way, it was the perfect introduction to the world for a newborn baby. This is some of the most sumptuous, warmly crafted, undeniably human ambient music I’ve heard in years.
I can’t believe it, but it’s real. Twin Peaks is really, actually, totally back.
This is one of the weirdest moments in my art life, witnessing the full resurrection of a long-dead favorite narrative. It’s something I honestly never expected to happen, and was never sure I actually would welcome. I’m so thankful to be wrong.
Serendipity: I found Gaussian Curve thanks to Dam-Funk’s DJ-Kicks set, a sprawling mixture of funk, psychedelia, and groovy, ambient bliss. This project fit that last descriptor perfectly, laying out an enticing breadcrumb trail to the far edges of hazy consciousness; I could never resist. It’s since become one of my favorite ambient acts ever.
I’ll tell you a very short story about how quickly Oren Ambarchi’s latest album became one of my favorites of 2016. My first listen to Hubris resulted in the below note, found scribbled on a note pad at my desk the next morning:
“Giant stupid grin inducing fusion of New Music minimalism and krautrock groove.”
That jumbled run-on was all that I could muster after having my mind blown by surprise, early one December evening. What follows is my attempt at organizing that electric feeling into something more digestible.
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: