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:
So it goes and so it goes, and in some bleak moments, the world seems a bit more abrasive this year. Sometimes I retreat entirely into art and fiction, absorbing as much beauty and weirdness as I can before having to emerge to responsibility. It’s inevitable, it’s cathartic. It’s where things change.
This is one of the best dub techno releases of all time. It’s a nighttime ride through the sonic world of an imagined Neo-Tokyo, on the bleeding edge of an inevitable cyberpunk reality. It’s a propulsive dream.
Photo: Marie Staggat
I’ve been familiar with Rod Modell via his Deepchord Presents Echospace project for several years now. 2007’s The Coldest Season is often cited as a monument of dub techno; icy beats, muted atmosphere, and warm rounded analog bass flesh out an album that bumps against the limits of control.
His second Deepchord album, Liumin, is one of my favorite techno releases of all time. This time the beats are more pronounced, evolving from broken radio tuner waves into a futuristic cityscape stomper.
However, I’d somehow missed his absolutely blissed-out meditation music, crafted with Michael Mantra over a decade ago. Listen to this half hour of pure alien serenity now:
I stumbled across this ominously bespoke track today while falling through a youtube hole. Understated dub techno sprawl from Deepchord Presents Echospace.
I began following an Intrusion link from a fine German friend, stepping through the nocturnal Detroit world one related video at a time.
This might be one of the more tightly controlled meditations from Deepchord Presents Echospace, but it’s ventilated, heaving, and not a little bit spooky despite itself. This video highlights the sort of mindscapes you’re bound to fly over with this tune on high volume. Dark, specific, filled with cavernous negative space. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
If you find yourself falling, just look around.