Sunday A.M. Radio is one year old!
I’ve been listening to ambient and downtempo music for years, and after diving even deeper into the chill waters this year, I’ve decided to post my Top 10 ambient albums. I’m sure this list will evolve as time goes on, but here’s what I really like at this moment. Feel free to email your favorite ambient albums and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. “The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld” – The Orb
Founded in the late 80’s by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty of The KLF, The Orb pioneered the genre of ambient house for ravers looking for chill music to come down from ecstasy-induced highs. But the music is enough of a high, really. “The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld” from 1991 sounds as fresh as anything today.
9. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” – Boards of Canada
2013’s “Tomorrow’s Harvest” by the enigmatic downtempo duo Boards of Canada oscillates between dark, dissonant sounds and uplifting airy atmospherics. My favorite track, “Nothing is Real,” comes at the 40:55 mark.
8. “Dive” – Tycho
Tycho‘s 2011 album “Dive” leads off with, in my opinion, a perfect downtempo electronic track, “A Walk,” and the album doesn’t let up after that.
7. “Morning/Evening” – Four Tet
Four Tet‘s 2015 album “Morning/Evening” gives us a track for the start of your day and another to end it. (Each clocking in at about 20 minutes.) The tracks feature samples from Indian vocalist Lata Mangeshkar, pulsing digital drums and psychedelic synths.
6. “Elaenia” – Floating Points
“Elaenia” has all the sounds that I love. Downtempo house beats, cool-jazzy Rhodes keys, synth arpeggios and washes of ambient sounds and digital noise. Enough electronic elements to work in the club beside Four Tet and enough jazz for fans of Kamasi Washington to dig.
5. “The Disintegration Loops” – William Basinski
“I’m recording the life and death of a melody” said William Basinski during the taping of a Radiolab podcast. Basinski’s method of capturing sounds from old magetic tape strips as they naturally evaporate into thin air and disintegrate is interesting enough, but when you find out the album was completed during the 9/11 attacks, it adds a whole other level of poignancy to the project. Stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking. Just like life.
4. “Pop” – Gas
The electronic/ambient project of German-based musician Wolfgang Voigt. “Pop” mixes nature and electronics. It’s like you’re standing in a rainy forest listening to the beats of an outdoor EDM festival reverberating from miles away.
3. “Chill Out” – The KLF
Spacey Pink Floyd-like guitars, samples of Elvis, Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore,” found sounds of cars driving by, sheep, a preacher – all laced with subtle hip-hop and house beats. There is a reason they called this record “Chill Out.”
2. “The Essential Fripp and Eno” Brian Eno and Robert Fripp
This is the first ambient music I ever listened to. It took me to a whole new world of music. Peaceful waves washed over me as I listened to “Wind on Water” and “Evening Star.” I’ve been listening ever since and will never put this one down. On a side note, Brian Eno‘s albums could have easily made up more than half of this list.
1. “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” – Aphex Twin
If you’ve been reading this column then you know that I’m a huge Aphex Twin fan. His “Selected Ambient Works” has everything that I love about Aphex Twin – the odd mix of dissonant sounds, noises, house beats, minimalist drums and moments of beauty that no other musician can match.
I’m sure as I continue listening to ambient and downtempo music this list will evolve. It might even be slightly different next week. Some albums will remain. I doubt anyone will dethrone Aphex Twin. That Eno and Fripp record will always have a special place in my heart. The KLF, Four Tet and Floating Points are all excellent examples of the kind of music that show up on Sunday A.M. Radio.
It’s been a lot of fun doing this series and I hope you enjoy it. I hope you keep reading and keep discovering new music with me.