From Brian Eno to Aphex Twin and the KLF, these are the experimental, ambient albums that we keep on coming back to.
Ambient is an incredibly wide musical genre. Perhaps only the catch-all ‘classical’ comes to to the variety of musical styles that we could have included here, and those two tellingly overlap as well.
So, we have selected ten albums that cover a number of ambient genres, but this is in no way supposed to be an all-encompassing guide. We have included classics of the genre from the likes of Brian Eno – ambient albums designed to be just that: music that can be looped continuously in different venues – to more contemporary, electronic dance music inspired offerings and some of the more noisy ambient style in the world of Drone.
We feel that all the albums here offer something a little bit special, and listening to them all in their entirety to remind ourselves of what they offer and how great they are, was a complete joy. So much of this genre is also incredibly well recorded, providing your system with a unique work out, and you with a wonderful listening experience.
Ambient music – Challenging, yes. Boring, NEVER!
And before you complain that your favourite ambient album isn’t here. Yes, we know, and we apologise, and we would love to hear your suggestion – as this list could have been almost endless!
KLF – Chill Out
While the KLF are best known for burning a million pounds and their poppier moments and Top of the Pops appearances, this wonderful 40 minute work is their true legacy. This Ambient House concept album tells the story of a night time along America’s Gulf Coast, and it is a thing of absolute beauty.
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
This incredible collection of chilled out electronica is viewed by many as the pinnacle in the modern ambient cannon. At times eerie, often warm and welcoming, this fantastic album stands the test of time in the way that many ‘dance’ music offerings from the same period fail to.
Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports
While Brian Eno certainly didn’t invent ambient music, his debut album in the genre was also the first to explicitly use the term. This four-track masterpiece primarily uses tape loops, and is designed to be looped itself, to provide a continuous backdrop.
Harold Budd – Pavilion of Dreams
Minimalist composer and pianist Budd is possibly best known for his collaborations with Brian Eno, but this landmark early work was instrumental in setting Eno on the ambient path. The four pieces on this work all have a slightly different feel, but come together as a fantastic, engaging whole.
Tim Hecker – Harmony in Ultraviolet
Tim Hecker’s work is closer to the ‘drone’ side of ambient than most of the other albums here. As a consequence there’s not the relaxing, spacious feeling of many ambient works, but this intense, evocative colleciton is all the better for it.
Boards of Canada – Music has the Right to Children
This debut offering from this prolific Scottish electronica duo mixes beats, synthesisers and found-sound in an almost unclassifiable manner. Moving between almost DJ Shadow style scratching to more spacious, ambient moments, every second of its 70-minute running time is completely intoxicating.
Higher Intelligence Agency – Colourforms
If you are looking for an ambient album that could also test the bass response of your Hi-Fi – and who isn’t?! – then this is the album for you. Blending 90s dance idioms with more ambient influences, this highly underrated album sounds amazing on a good Hi-Fi system.
Harold Budd and Brian Eno – The Pearl
This collection of layered, textured piano pieces provides an incredibly haunting listening experience. Elements of electronica also make themselves felt, and the whole effect is completely at odds with the early 1980s music scene into which it was released. Relaxing, and meditative, but without ever slipping into new age ‘whale’ music.
Stars of The Lid – And Their Refinement of the Decline
This beautiful, drone based album was the last offering by this Austin, Texas based duo. It is full of wonderful ambient soundscapes that just appear and then disappear, with no obvious structure to them. Close your eyes, sit back and imagine your own movies.
Tetsu Inoue – Ambiant Otaku
Like the Aphex Twin album here, this is another debut offering that quickly became recognised as a classic of the genre. This amazingly atmospheric five track album was an immediate rarity on release, and is still pretty scarce even after a re-release, but it is well worth searching out.