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.
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:
Looking at the startling cover art, I knew I had to hear Mark Pritchard‘s new album, Under The Sun. Beyond his decades-long pedigree across many galaxies of the electronic music universe, this image seemed to portend an idea of something truly groundbreaking. While it might not shake up an industry, it’s certainly one of the most interesting releases from a man with several genre landmarks under his belt.
The impossible is now possible.
Radiohead have come back from a well-deserved but decade-long victory lap, making truly fascinating music again. This is vital stuff, the kind of work that will actually justify the coming weeks of breathless dissection. It’s more deserving of the clichéd descriptors that critics have reflexively thrown at the band – haunting, gorgeous, unnerving, innovative – than anything they’ve ever recorded.