Top 5 Albums to Get You Into Ambient Music

Top 5 Best Ambient Albums for Beginners

 

Ambient, definitely a genre that I feel is much more conditional by nature. You need to be in the right environment and frame of mind to properly experience the subtle soundscapes that you're listening to.

It tends to be moments of isolation and it's not a very communal type of music. I often listen when I'm running, or on a solitary walk, that way there are no distractions, and I can just properly get sucked into the music.

It's a style of music that doesn't often reveal itself on a first listen, but after subsequent listens, really starts speaking to you and you start to understand what's going on.

It's so different from the immediacy of most forms of music, but there's nothing quite when you've listened to a piece of music several times finally getting it. 

Today I'm going to do top 5 albums to get you into the ambient.

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This list contains a few classics of the ambient genre, but also some contemporary albums that for me really sit at the peak of ambient work.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978) by Brian Eno 


One of the first true pioneers of the ambient genre, although not the first. Brian Eno really popularized ambient music in the mainstream media through his ambient series. Starting with Music for Airports.

As a quick side note: I definitely recommend you listening to all of his ambient works, to be honest, everything Eno has ever done. He's just brilliant! 

His idea with this project was to create a piece of music that you could listen to on a loop, and both ignore and listen to intently depending on where your frame of mind was. 

And the idea that the music on a continuous loop would dissipate the tense haughty atmosphere of somewhere like an airport.

I suppose this is the true beginning of music being created to facilitate a calm reflective response in the listener. A kind of atmosphere that will allow the person you think and reflect and let the music wash over them.

To create this album Eno created tracks of different instruments- acoustic piano, acoustic guitar, wordless vocals, and then he put them on a loop. 

But the loops didn't match up, it'll be a mathematical impossibility to ever truly sync back up again, which is quite nice. Because, it's almost like a sonic interpretation of an airport, where you have planes flying off to different places, and never syncing up again, their flight paths never really sync.

The result of this experiment that he did is a very ethereal collection of tracks. With little piano motifs and like voices floating in and out of synthesizers, it's just willing you to shut your eyes and escape every day, even for just a little while. 

Take track number two, titled "2/1", it sounds like a church choir with these beautiful vocal harmonies, but without any lyrics, or there isn't anything to do with religion or God.

It's like a celebration of life. The whole thing feels like, you remember where you're going, remember the places you're going, think about things. And that's what Eno was trying to achieve all along with this project. 

On another note: if you're looking for ambient music to study - then this album is definitely a great place to start.

Phaedra (1974) by Tangerine Dream


Another hugely prolific artist along with Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream has been recording music for about four decades at so many different projects, that have taken on completely different forms. 

You've probably unknowingly heard some of their music if you're one of the millions of people that played grand theft auto 5 because they are actually sound-tracked in that game, so if you're running a prostitute over, or blowing up a gang, and stuff. 

In the game, 80s synth kind of neuroticism sound, with the keyboards, and the low bass- that was them. 

They're a German electronic group, and they've effectively shaped a lot of genres throughout their history. 

They've shaped things like Krautrock-Progressive, New Wave, and Experimental, throughout their varied prolific decades of work.

But this album, Phaedra, is all based around this Moog synthesizer, which hadn't really been used much in commercial music up until this point. And Tangerine Dream had never used it either, so it was a real experimental time for them apparently.

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It was so difficult, they would have to manually tune it up every single day because there were no presets at that time, so they spent most of the day doing that. And then most of the evening, and into the night recording. 

I think the result of that, you can hear, it's experimental. They're trying out new things, and they're not really sure where it's going. There's even a couple of points in the tracks where you can hear the synthesizer very slightly detuning. Because it was getting towards the end of the day. 

Compared to Music for Airports, Phaedra is a much more urgent record. It's spacey, futuristic, and epic. Dragging you through to these deep Cynthy climaxes, and deeply layered scales of unusual sounds.

This album personally for me feels like a soundtrack to discovery, which is so wildly different from the introspective quality of Music for Airport.

Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994) by Aphex Twin


 I was at a loss, whether to include this or Aphex Twin's Ambient Works Volume I, which is altogether far more immediate. 

But I feel like volume two definitely is moreover the line of ambient, and very far away from dance music or anything beat-driven.

So, I think it's probably a better introduction in terms of ambient as a genre. But definitely check out Volume one as well, because that was just a real peak for experimental electronica, and dance music as well. 

Richard David James has said in the past that every track on this album was inspired by lucid dreaming that he'd experienced. 

And had also come about as a result of his synesthesia, which for those of you that might not know, synesthesia is a condition where the brain attributes colors to form shapes and letters, and also sounds as well.

In this case, I'm not synesthetic at all, but I do feel like when you listen to this album you can hear wildly different sonic palettes that were inspired by completely different things as you're listening through.

This record isn't one flowing part like Phaedra or Music for Airports, it's like a rich tapestry of moods fizzling in and out, and changing your perceptions.

Tracks like Radiator are particularly unsettling. It consists of this haunting loop of tuned percussion, it's very slightly detuned actually, and just keeps going on and on.

It's eventually joined by another melody of rush-on. As you get further through the track, we get this distorted burst that sounds like the tuning of a radio or something, or high-pitched treated screaming.

It's just got this horrible menace to it. It's a really unsettling track, but then that track is followed by Rhubarb, which is one of the most beautifully serene minimalistic pieces I've ever listened to.

Its simplicity as several notes repeated across these soft electronics and string instruments, which create a blissfully calm atmosphere. 

A personal favorite of mine is Blue Calx, a gentle but complex track that has this fragile pulsating rhythm throughout. It's really good for cathartic running experiences.

Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline (2007) by Stars of the Lid


These guys are an ambient drone duo hailing from Texas that have been experimenting with sonic landscapes and visual paintings since 1995.
 
As another side note: When I'm talking about drones, I'm referring to this style of music composition which is using a tone or a cluster of tones, which repeat for a sustained period. And it may be slightly varied.  Drones become part of ambient contemporary music as much as it's its own genre, and a method of music writing as well.

This album is much more orchestral than the other albums I've picked. Featuring violin, trumpets, clarinets, harp, among modern electronic equipment.

I would say the choice of orchestral instrumentation makes for a far more somber listening experience. It feels very serious.
 
I guess it's got a cinematic quality to it because we attribute sound in films to often be orchestral. So, it has a real cinematic quality to, it but for me, it's quite heavy to listen to.

What's so fascinating about this kind of music is it's completely open to interpretation, and it really depends on that specific listener's responses or the mood that they're in at the time.

What I might find uplifting and light you might find crushingly sad and depressing.

On Articulated Silences Part II,  all of a sudden the track melts into this new melody, which is for me on this entirely different emotional level. It really hits me hard. 

All of a sudden this real deep bass, and all of the violins the following suit as well, and it's it just really hits me right there in the middle.

It really shows that the smallest change in this kind of music can elicit the biggest response. Because you're used to this similar flow of music which used to a specific sound, and then all of a sudden when that's very slightly varied.

It just opens up this whole new world of emotions and feelings.

Ravedeath, 1972 (2011) by Tim Hecker


Tim heck has been a hugely influential artist in the past decade. He's collaborated with people like Ben Frost, who's another ambient drone artist, he's worked with Daniel Lopatin from Oneohtrix Point Never.

He's done sound installations across the country, and across the world. He's been releasing project after project, which is always brilliant.

There's a similarity between And Their Refinement of The Decline, and Ravedeath, 1972, and that is both artists have prolifically used drones throughout the tracks, but that's probably about where the similarities end.



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