Category Archives: Reviews

Essential albums: Slow Mo (series)

Sitting on the downtempo end of the Stereo Deluxe label’s nu lounge spectrum are the three stellar albums of the Slow Mo series (1998-2002). These various-artists collections set an exceptional standard in the realm of jazz, dub and hip hop-influenced instrumentals, on par with Crammed Discs’ classic Freezone compilations. series: Slow Mo country of origin: […]

Read More

Essential albums: Slow Dancing Society

Drew Sullivan’s hybrids of electronica and ambient rock are among the best examples of what you might call post-rock. Not content to just create a chilled-out mood – which he does very well – his reveries also tug on an emotional level with remarkable depth. artist: Slow Dancing Society country of origin: USA style(s): Ambient […]

Read More

Essential albums: Don Slepian

Don Slepian is another of the genuine talents whose music rose above the haze of early American new age music to enjoy widespread acclaim and airplay on pioneering American radio shows such as Music From The Hearts Of Space…he’s a musician, synthesiser programmer and performer of quietly dazzling skill and versatility. artist: Don Slepian country […]

Read More

Essential albums: Vidna Obmana

In the more muted, introspective and minimalist lands of old-school ambient, Vidna Obmana is a presence to be reckoned with. If you like the cerebral electro-acoustic soundscapes of American artists like Steve Roach and Robert Rich, Vidna Obmana albums have a similar appeal. The music traverses industrial noise, lovely Eno-esque minimalism, environmental music, dark tribal […]

Read More

Essential albums: Waveform Records

The brilliant and eclectic Waveform Records was founded in 1994 by U.S. West Coast ambient icon DJ Forest, host of the long-running American public radio show Musical Starstreams. Waveform is the surviving offspring of now defunct UK label Beyond Records, which in the early-to-mid 90’s pioneered an exotic strain of ambient dance music called ambient […]

Read More

Essential albums: Silent Records (label)

There is no denying that the first wave of experimental chillout music to emerge from the afterglow of early rave, techno and acid house in the early to mid 90’s did have that special warmth and sense of wide-eyed wonder. San Francisco-based Silent Records was there and captured this spirit beautifully. label: Silent Records country […]

Read More

Essential albums: This Mortal Coil

Filigree And Shadow (1986) is the greatest of the three albums This Mortal Coil recorded. It captures Ivo and company at their most imaginative: a seamless 74 minutes of surreal, gothic-flavoured songs and instrumentals shrouded in a seductive ambient fog. Brooding and fragile, the individual pieces are strung together with an unsettling, dream-like logic. artist: […]

Read More

Essential albums: Shulman

Initially rather too derivative of psychedelic chillout icons Shpongle to stand out, Israeli duo Shulman soon escaped their influences to become a downtempo act with their own special combination of quirks, musicality and brave experimentation. Their third and fourth albums stand among the greatest electronica releases of the 2000’s. artist: Shulman country of origin: Israel […]

Read More

Essential albums: Shpongle

In forming the psychedelic duo Shpongle, UK musician Simon Posford was one of the first psychedelic trance artists to go beyond the occasional downtempo or chillout track among an otherwise uptempo repertoire of dance music. Away from the demands of the dancefloor, he and bandmate Raja Ram are free to draw on whatever inspires them […]

Read More

Essential albums: Sigur Ros

A four-piece rock band centering around guitarist and vocalist Jon Thor Birgisson, Sigur Ros’ epic sound is progressive rock of the spacey variety. At their most atmospheric they’re one of the most distinctive ambient rock acts since the early Pink Floyd and the original cosmic German bands of the 1970’s. artist: Sigur Rós country of […]

Read More

Essential albums: Rhian Sheehan

New Zealander composer Rhian Sheehan crafts instrumentals of great cinematic beauty and strong emotional undertows. He effortlessly straddles dual worlds – acoustic and electronic sounds, rock rhythms and loopy ambient dance patterns – and his background in film and TV soundtracks lends his music a very personal and story-like flow. artist: Rhian Sheehan country of […]

Read More

Essential albums: Jonn Serrie

Jonn Serrie is both an aircraft pilot and a long-established composer of music for planetariums, which is a perfect resume for making spacemusic. Of course most of us will never know what the experience of space travel is really like…Serrie’s instrumentals are more about possibilities, a kind of aural science fiction. It’s left to your […]

Read More

Essential albums: Ulrich Schnauss

Think of these albums as two sides of the same coin. Far Away Trains Passing By is the happier and more dreamy of the two, while A Strangely Isolated Place suggests a darker side with its distorted electric guitar textures, more obvious indie rock flavours and even wordless female vocals on occasion. Both are wonderful […]

Read More

Essential albums: Robert Schroder

Robert Schroder is one of Krautrock’s forgotten heroes, perhaps because he started releasing music towards the end of German electronica’s first wave (the late 70’s) rather than near its beginning (the late 60’s). Schroder deserves better…his classic albums from the late 70’s and early 80’s compare more than favourably to the music of his better-known […]

Read More

Essential albums: Johannes Schmoelling

Audio technician, composer and keyboard player Johannes Schmoelling was a key member of pioneering German electronic band Tangerine Dream from 1980-85. Upon joining, he immediately brought a slicker production sheen to their 70’s sound, working with some of the earliest digital synthesisers to expanded the range of tonal colours in Tangerine Dream’s music. artist: Johannes […]

Read More

Essential albums: Sasha

As one of the leading lights in progressive dance music since the early 1990’s, Alex Coe aka Sasha’s role as a DJ, remixer and producer has been significant and influential. I would be the first to suggest that discussion of his music is best left to writings on club music and dance culture…except, that is, […]

Read More

Essential albums: Tim Story

Of all contemporary ambient musicians combining piano with synthesisers, American composer Tim Story is one of the most distinctive and fascinating. On first hearing it’s easy to make comparisons with Californian ambient pianist and chamber musician Harold Budd, not surprising given that both composers have been influenced by late-19th Century French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925). […]

Read More

Essential albums: Bruno Sanfilippo

Bruno Sanfilippo’s delicate touch has produced some of the most poetic, sophisticated old-school ambient of the 2000’s and beyond. He shows an exceptional talent with reverb effects; it would be easy to place his delicate pieces against a large reverberant backdrop and lose all definition. Yet Sanfilippo does the opposite, preserving the exquisite detail of […]

Read More

Essential albums: Klaus Schulze

E-music pioneer and multi-instrumentalist Klaus Schulze was part of the Krautrock phenomenon of the late 60’s and 70’s, and alongside a handful of other German acts from that era he is a pivotal figure in the development of modern electronica and ambient. artist: Klaus Schulze country of origin: Germany style(s): Spacemusic, ambient trance, Krautrock, prog […]

Read More

Essential albums: Vangelis

Beyond a few tunes played on the radio, relatively few people are aware of Vangelis’ extensive recorded legacy or his considerable influence on ambient, soundtrack and new age music. The Greek-born artist has always trodden his own path; idiosyncratic and restless, his recorded output varies widely in both style and quality. artist: Vangelis country of […]

Read More

Essential albums: Don Robertson

The Colorado-born Don Robertson was one of the most musically gifted artists to enjoy substantial sales success in the early days of independent new age music – the 70’s and early 80’s. He’s a lifelong musician and multi-instrumentalist adept at many styles, as well as a passionate music educator and a voluminous writer on music […]

Read More

Essential albums: Michael Stearns

Cosmic is a word that’s inescapable – in the most profound sense – when you listen to the peak 80’s and 90’s recordings of American musician Michael Stearns. Another word that comes to mind is humanity. If humanity is the ingredient that was sometimes lacking in the work of the 70’s electronic pioneers, Stearns’ recorded […]

Read More

Essential albums: Max Richter

Long before he was composing soundtracks for actual films, the neoclassical/modern classical composer Max Richter was making some of the greatest film music on Earth. “Cinematic” is a word that comes to mind easily on hearing his superb first three albums, even though none were made for actual movies. artist: Max Richter country of origin: […]

Read More

Essential albums: Robert Rich

A longtime native of the fertile ambient and new age music pastures of the San Francisco Bay area, Robert Rich has been releasing and performing since the early 1980’s and has helped pioneer multiple strands in experimental electronica and old-school ambient – including spacemusic, ethno-ambient, dark ambient and psychedelic drones. artist: Robert Rich country of […]

Read More

Essential albums: Terry Riley

The Californian-born Terry Riley is one of the founding fathers of a 20th century music style known as minimalism – along with Philip Glass and Steve Reich – whose innovations in the 1960’s paved the way for much of the ambient, psychedelic, new age and neoclassical music that has arisen since. artist: Terry Riley country […]

Read More

Essential albums: Tangerine Dream

Tangerine Dream helped transform contemporary music from something merely electric into something electronic, birthing a deeply technological art form. From their Berlin base, they eventually brought electronica to the masses, and their recorded legacy up to the late 1980’s has influenced and continues to influence and inspire modern electronica to an enormous degree. artist: Tangerine […]

Read More

Essential albums: Steve Roach

With his distinctive melange of analogue and digital synthesisers, acoustic instrumentation and highly imaginative soundscaping, Steve Roach is a giant in modern ambient and one of the most respected electronic musicians in the world. artist: Steve Roach country of origin: USA style(s): Ambient, ethno ambient, techno-tribal, environmental, dark ambient decades active: 80’s – 10’s essential […]

Read More

Essential albums: Jorge Reyes

There is a mysterious, earthy intensity to Jorge Reyes’ work that’s an exception to the light, semi-commercial fare that usually sits under the world music banner. This quality is often at its most visceral when he sings and chants amid the percussion, flutes, synths and sundry other native instruments that make up his exotic sound. […]

Read More

Essential albums: Steve Reich

Often cited as inspiration by art rockers such as Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, Steve Reich’s recording career stretches back to the 1960’s and continues to the present day. His catalogue is enormous, but arguably his most creative and accessible period is represented by a handful of middle-period albums from the 70’s and 80’s, most […]

Read More

Essential albums: Raphael

Raphael’s electro-acoustic arrangement of classical composer Faure’s “In Paradiso” is hands-down one of the most weepingly gorgeous things I’ve ever heard, its lushness and luminous beauty surpassing all traditional performances of the piece. artist: Raphael country of origin: USA style(s): Ambient orchestral, ethno ambient, dream pop, spacemusic decades active: 80’s – 90’s essential releases: Music […]

Read More

Essential albums: Quantic

Quantic’s debut album The 5th Exotic (2001) remains his greatest work in the fertile world of eclectic, sample-based, instrumental downtempo breaks. This style of chillout was pioneered by likes of DJ Shadow in the early 1990’s, soon followed by names like of Bonobo, Jon Kennedy and breakbeat label Ninja Tune. artist: Quantic country of origin: […]

Read More

Essential albums: Popol Vuh

Popol Vuh’s sonic trademarks are diverse: abstract electronica, devotional music, progressive rock, eclectic vocal blends and pioneering ethno-ambient fusions…founder Florian Fricke was a brilliant, intuitive musician and one of the first Westerners to seamlessly blend Eastern and Western sounds, in both a traditional rock band context and in a more ethereal, meditative vein. artist: Popol […]

Read More

Essential albums: Pitch Black

Melodically there’s nothing desperately catchy on Pitch Bkack’s superb third album Ape To Angel (2003) and it’s not the most accessible ambient/tech dub around. But that doesn’t diminish its greatness. These tracks make you work and pay attention before surrendering their charms – and the rewards are well worth it. artist: Pitch Black country of […]

Read More

Essential albums: Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd’s best music is more than anything else about ambient sound: the slow trance-inducing bass/drum throb, the ethereal organ and synth backdrops, the sighing and crying guitar lines, the clever and unexpected sound effects. It was a sound achieved through a combination of offbeat ideas, innovative recording techniques and a cosmic ambience that is […]

Read More

Essential albums: David Parsons

Parsons music shows a profound affinity with Indian and Tibetan cultures, an understanding which reaches into the furthest recesses of Eastern religious experience and the landscapes in which it evolved…his art remains one of the purest, most potent distillations of the East through a Westerner’s eyes that’s ever been committed to music. artist: David Parsons […]

Read More

Essential albums: Pacific Heights

Frozen Fears (2003) manages to be epic without sounding pretentious and the result is one of the greatest-ever albums in the atmospheric drum’n’bass genre. It’s glistening, shadowy, lush and psychedelic. Abrams expands the genre’s palate with deft skill, incorporating 4/4 tech-house rhythms and the skittering percussion patterns of jazzy Detroit techno into the mix. artist: […]

Read More

Essential albums: Ott

Many remix projects sound like after-thoughts, fairly pointless variations on the one idea. A smaller number of them bring something fresh to the original versions. Even fewer of them totally transform their source material and Ott’s Hallucinogen In Dub (2002) is such a work. It is utterly mesmerising, a re-invention of great power, richness and […]

Read More

Essential albums: Oti

Recollection (2005) is the most rewarding kind of environmental ambience, particularly in those moments that brilliantly dissolve the boundary between music and environmental noise. artist: Oti country of origin: UK style(s): Ambient, environmental, sound collage decades active: 2000’s essential releases: Recollection (2005, Audiobulb Records) Reviewed by Mike G Merging music deeply with environmental sounds – […]

Read More

Essential albums: Ornament

The now-defunct Australian psychedelic label Psy Harmonics occasionally took welcome detours into the ambient and downtempo zones. The debut album Bleu (2004) by Melbourne duo Ornament – the only album the duo has ever released – was one such detour and it’s a stunning achievement. artist: Ornament country of origin: Australia style(s): Ambient rock, environmental, […]

Read More

Essential albums: The Orb

The Orb’s rise to prominence in Britain in the early 90’s was the most visible example of what was perhaps that decade’s most interesting musical hybrids: ambient dance music…the druggy melange of slow-motion Chicago house beats, Jamaican dub and Detroit techno coupled with mad voice samples, Eno-esque soundscapes and Pink Floyd-style psychedelia…widely influential on the […]

Read More

Essential albums: Orange Crush

Karl Endreson aka Orange Crush is an impressionist, as is made clear by titles like “Waterflow”, “Neon Dreams” and “By The Shores”. Like the undeniably similar Boards Of Canada he’s rather fond of pitch flutters and artificially ageing his sounds, a technique that gives some of his landscaped compositions the vague fuzziness of imperfect or […]

Read More

Essential albums: Omnimotion

Playfulness and curiosity distinguish the magnificent Dream Wide Awake (2002), the second of only two albums released to date by the Swedish artist Stefan Lundaahl aka Omnimotion. It sounds like the ambient pop equivalent of a very gifted child playing with old toys in new ways. artist: Omnimotion country of origin: Sweden style(s): Ambient pop, […]

Read More

Essential albums: Mike Oldfield

In his 1970’s heyday there was no one to touch Oldfield in the area of what might call symphonically-structured art rock. Forever passionate about musicianship, he was among the first musicians in the West to convincingly combine the sounds of rock, folk, ethnic and classical minimalist music, stretching and a times completely changing their context […]

Read More

Essential albums: Ninja Tune (label)

Launched in 1994, UK electronica label Ninja Tune built it’s catalogue on the more intelligent end of the breakbeat, nu jazz and hip-hop/trip-hop axis…the full range of its sonic adventures can be heard on these two Zen releases – double CD sets that were released to mark the label’s 10th anniversary in 2004. label: Ninja […]

Read More