Favorite Ambient Albums

I have been meaning to post something about the ambient music that I love for a while now. So, below is a short, meandering description of five of my favorite ambient LPs. I feel very drawn to this sort of music. I just hope that some person somewhere in the world will discover this blog post and it will provide a similar experience for them as it does for me.

Shuttle 358 – Understanding Wildlife

Clicks, thumps, pretty sounds all swirling together. Sunlight is definitely present here. It’s not a darker mood at all, but rather an exploration of the simple pleasures in life. The beauty of one’s backyard, the early morning light, the late afternoon lull as orange enters the room on a Sunday. The soporific tones of nap time after a long morning of working in the yard. “Rubber Clock” sets a very extraordinary mood, for me, in particular. The thump of the percussion in this track is very hypnotic. Pretty notes also exist on this record, which distinguishes it as a bright color such as yellow. This album could be classified as cinematic, and works well as a waking up record and also seems fitting for getting work done.

Donnacha Costello – Together is the New Alone

This is by far my favorite record to come from the now expired label known as Mille Plateaux. There are rumors on the web that it was created with samples of an acoustic guitar, which I would love to believe. I have the vinyl and on the back is says it was “recorded while Dublin slept”. This album is very slow. It makes very good use of the shortest sounds possible. Clicks and sticks and stabs and static and fuzz have never sounded so warm. The pad sounds here are irresistibly sleep-inducing. It’s a very sad record, in my opinion. These tracks have the power to change the mood in a room dramatically. It’s the type of record that one feels most comfortable keeping to one’s self out of suspicion that a regular person might make a very ugly remark like, “Can you please play something a little more up-beat”. Although, I do admit, I have played this record on several occasions to show off my sophisticated tastes in the finer offerings from this world’s most talented electronic musicians.

Signer – Low Light Dreams

What a perfect title for this album. I would definitely loop it in with Together is the New Alone in terms of the mood that it establishes in a room. In my opinion one of the main differences is that the sounds in this album are more sustained and textured, windy even. It clears the air. Yes, definitely an airy feeling to many of these tracks. Although here you also have subtle elements of 4/4 techno, but in a subdued atmosphere that you can still sleep to. There are strings present, and also vocals. “Interior Dub” is one of the highlights of the album, in my opinion. In it you can hear the hauntingly prophetic echoes of Signer’s voice, which simply must be heard without any further description. This album is one of my all-time favorite late night listens.

Mitchell Akiyama – Temporary Music

Temporary Music is ambient music at the core but is also noteworthy for its glitchiness. Each track is extremely hand-crafted to create an abstract landscape of lines, vectors, colliding polygons, confusion, static, inertia, time-travel, and all other kinds of feelings, for me. “Big Sur” and “Thaw” are my two favorite compositions from this record. The opening sounds in “Big Sur” haunt me while I lose consciousness in the night. The timbre of these sounds is unmatched in terms of the haunt. There’s a sharp attack on them but it still sounds so soft. It’s very tribal, for me. The rhythms on this album are incredible. It’s definitely a darker album as well. More abrasive than Donnacha Costello and Signer, but also more crowded. It’s probably a little harder to fall asleep to this album, so I recommend it more for working and for thinking than as sleep accompaniment.

Biosphere – Substrata

This is hand down one of the greatest achievements by man in creating a total, visceral audio experience. The landscapes created in this album are perilous. Icy Norwegian peaks, frigid caves, screeching wind, places you’ve never been but with a picture that seems so clear in your mind. It’s a marvel of audio-visual imagination. You feel like you’re there and you know what it looks like, but you’re unsure as to why it feels so good, despite the harsh conditions. This album is probably the reason I decided to pursue ambient listening as a hobby. One of the first times I feel asleep to this album I woke up in the middle of “The Things I Tell You”. There is a frequency in this track that occurs just before the vocal sample, and it is as if the track was designed to wake you up just for that sample, as if it couldn’t be any more impressionable than at that moment, where it literally penetrates your subconsciousness and connects your mind with the music. This album is just incredible.

Ambient Landscapes

I put this mix together in Ableton Live with the idea that it would be good thinking music, or music for getting work done. This mix has been downloaded a few dozen times on SoundCloud so I figured I’d submit it here as well. I like ambient style music because it’s not busy. I really appreciate the way ambient music requires patience from the listener. It’s not an instant-gratification style at all. There are longer spaces and increased separation between the elements, droning rhythms, colder sounds that echo to bring out the vast distance created by the sounds. Something about this kind of music really does it for me. I hope you like it as well. Just click the Download arrow on the player and throw it into your iTunes.

The Mix Tape Cabinet

Track Blending by andywarthol
The jukebox above contains a variety of mixes that I have put together over the last two years or so, with the exception being the Makeout Mix. A quick breakdown of each of these compilations:

Everythings Okay

Lately it just seems like things are unstable.  The economy is still in turmoil.  Unemployment is still at 9.6%.  People are pinching pennies.  War rages on in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now in Yemen.  Here in the U.S., many are upset with Obama, or so it seems.  There are real problems in the world, and here at home.  And yet I can’t help but to think of dear Jens Lekman when he says, “…but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty.”  That’s what this mix is about.  Each track on this compilation is a back rub.  It’s to say that everything will be okay.  It’s mostly a rockier, band-driven compilation, though there are a few tracks that are more electronic.

Rachel Rotten

Rachel Rotten is an adult film actress.  I made this compilation because I was dating a girl who resembled Rachel.   She is a new-wave, dark-wave, synthpop lover so I decided to focus mostly on music that suited her tastes, though I do also branch out into some down-tempo and experimental.  There are also several tracks here that would be considered more emo, or indiepop-esque.

Iscipil Rotala

The first half of this mix is more concerned with IDM.  Then I very cleverly segway into tech haus and minimal.  Honestly this is one of my finer mixes.  Please download this.

Angel Heart Waves

A lot of electronica and indie on this mix.  Belle and Sebastien, John Maus, Broadcast, Figurine, Bobby & Blumm and Erlend Øye are a few of the artists featured.  A lot of sweet sentiments going on.  It’s playful, whimsical, and nostalgic.  I created the mix for a friend of mine in Florida.

Ambient Landscapes

The name says it all; it’s an ambient music compilation.  It’s definitely a more sophisticated sound and experimental in nature.  It’s not necessarily beatless ambient music.  It’s more work music for me than fall-asleep-to music.  It’s actually one of my most downloaded submissions on SoundCloud.

Glitch House Mix

The glitch house mix is also sophisticated, in my opinion.  It’s stripped down dance music that has been very carefully tailored for a more minimal approach.  This is some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever heard.

The Makeout Mix (2003)

Wow, 2003 seems like such a long time ago.  I recorded this mix back in college from vinyl onto MiniDisc.  There are some moments of brilliance, even if it’s a shorter mix.  The combination of Boards of Canada and Chris Isaak in this mix is quite striking and definitely worth a listen.

Selected Shoegaze

This is probably my least electronic mix, though it does contain some electronic music.  I’m trying to give reverb a voice with this mix, and it show it off to all the boys and girls.