Category Archives: Reviews

Essential albums: Neu

While dropping this German band’s name is nowadays synonymous with alt and indie rock cool, rest assured that there is real substance behind the legend…Neu never received the recognition it deserved during its all-too brief existence and the band’s revered status was only cultivated by figures like David Bowie and Brian Eno after its mid-70’s […]

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Essential albums: The Necks

Ambient jazz is a perfect description of what this unique Australian band sounds like. The Necks use the repetition ideas of minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass as a foundation, starting with simple patterns and ringing changes on them only very gradually. But in The Necks case the resulting music is ultimately looser […]

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Essential albums: Pete Namlook

The extremely prolific Pete Namlook (1960-2012) was one of the high priests of new-school ambient, ie. ambient techno, trance, lounge and other related dance-music spinoffs. In its 20 year history his record label Fax Records released some of the definitive albums in these sub-genres. artist: Pete Namlook country of origin: Netherlands/Germany style(s): Chillout, ambient techno/trance/dub, […]

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Essential albums: Mystical Sun

Richard Plom aka Mystical Sun makes a panoramic, celestial brand of psy-ambient and his distinctive tracks like the exquisite “Nebulous Mist” have graced many chillout compilations released since the mid-1990’s. His own full-length albums are relatively modest in number but many of them are masterful. artist: Mystical Sun country of origin: USA style(s): Psyambient, ambient […]

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Essential albums: Ennio Morricone

So prolific is his catalogue and so conspicuous is his movie music, Ennio Morricone deserves an entire encyclopedia on his own. But for now, here are four essential albums to get you acquainted with one of the acknowledged masters of contemporary film music who has scored literally hundreds of films over his lengthy career. artist: […]

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Essential albums: Stephan Micus

In a way Stephan Micus is the ultimate purist; all his instrumentation and sounds are acoustic and unprocessed. In another sense, however, he’s completely non-purist, having collected a massive array or instruments from all over the world and learnt to play them in his own unique and deeply personal way. artist: Stephan Micus country of […]

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Essential albums: Massive Attack

Although they constructed their tracks using hip hop methods, like Brian Eno they took the recording studio and played it as a kind of giant instrument. Massive Attack re-fashioned borrowed samples and drum loops with remarkable production expertise, bringing in guest vocalists and studio musicians to help fill out their heady sound. artist: Massive Attack […]

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Essential albums: Cliff Martinez

Martinez’s bubbling, chiming, luminous score for Solaris (2002) holds up very well indeed when disengaged from the film’s images. It’s not exactly sweet, but it’s not quite depressing either. It’s a quiet, contemplative work that occupies the same ambivalent space as the film itself. artist: Cliff Martinez country of origin: USA style(s): Soundtrack, orchestral, ambient, […]

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Essential albums: Jon Mark

A breathtaking achievement, Jon Mark’s ambient debut The Standing Stones of Callanish (1988) mines its source – the Celtic legacy of Britain – with exceptional sensitivity. His tone is unmistakable: broad, sweeping, multi-layered keyboard harmonies of incredible richness and textural subtlety, underpinned by deep, resonant bass drones artist: Jon Mark country of origin: New Zealand […]

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Essential albums: Marconi Union

There’s something distinctly cinematic about Marconi Union’s music, though its rarely ‘soundtracky’ like a functional commercial film score. There’s a signature sound of sorts – clean and non-distorted electric guitar figures, reverberating electric pianos, live drums and and synthesised washes – and melody is rarely far away save for the occasional foray into abstract landscapes. […]

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Essential albums: Loop Guru

The British world beat/exotic dub outfit Loop Guru was at its most active in the 90’s and was once described by Q Magazine as “occupying a corner of the dance world that is forever putting its head over some metaphorical bong and inhaling deeply of musically altered states”. artist: Loop Guru country of origin: UK […]

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Essential albums: Oliver Lieb aka LSG

Oliver Lieb was particularly influential via the first wave of European club trance that emerged in the 1990’s, the melodic and more accessible cousin of techno…and the distinctive futuristic, techy quality of his trance productions also carries over into his downtempo and ambient albums, relatively few in number but exceptionally high in quality. artist: Oliver […]

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Essential albums: Riley Lee

The American-born Riley Lee has evolved a brand of delicate flute music that draws deep inspiration from Zen Buddhism. Lee is widely respected as a master of the Japanese shakuhachi flute and he was the first non-Japanese to ever attain the rank of “grand master” of the instrument. artist: Riley Lee country of origin: USA/Australia […]

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Essential albums: Alan Lamb

Unique, eerie and strangely affecting, Australian composer Alan Lamb released a series of soundscape albums in the 1990’s which centred around the droning sound of wind resonating with telegraph wires in Australia’s desolate outback. artist: Alan Lamb country of origin: Australia style(s): Ambient, environmental, soundscape decades active: 80’s – 00’s essential releases: Sky Song [with […]

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Essential albums: Kreidler

Kreidler’s forte is rhythmic instrumentals that straddle rock, synthpop, club techno, ambient, dub, repetitive minimalism and always some degree of avant-garde strangeness. Their brand of 21st century Krautrock shows an amazing flair for meshing harmony and noise. artist: Kreidler country of origin: Germany style(s): Krautrock, ambient rock, techno, neoclassical, electronica decades active: 90’s – 10’s […]

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Essential albums: Kraftwerk

Much of Kraftwerk’s output is hardly what you’d call ambient, but their technological innovation and machine minimalism has informed some of ambient music’s sources – art rock, electro lounge, ambient techno – in a myriad of ways. Much electronic music in the new century would be unthinkable without them and no collection of electronica can […]

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Essential albums: Leo Kottke

Another heir to alternative guitar tradition pioneered by John Fahey, Leo Kottke has the double honour of being both one of the masters of the twelve-string guitar (he also plays six string) and a major influence on the development of new acoustic ambience embodied by labels such as Windham Hill. artist: Leo Kottke country of […]

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Essential albums: Kosma

As a member of now-disbanded nu jazz pioneers Jazzanova, the German DJ-producer-composer Roskow Kretchsmann aka Kosma comes with impeccable credentials in the genre and this – the last and best of his Kosma albums – is really quite stunning. artist: Kosma country of origin: Germany style(s): Nu jazz, nu lounge, trip hop decades active: 2000’s […]

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Essential albums: The KLF

An impressionist soundtrack to an overnight drive through the Deep South of America, Chill Out is clever, surreal and always accessible…Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto”, silky pedal-steel guitar, a ranting evangelist and Mongolian throat singing are all wrapped in layers of electronic tones and effects to create a dislocated, dreamlike experience that tastefully recalls the […]

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Essential albums: Jon Kennedy

Call it trip hop if you like; there’s no denying the stoned appeal of its laid-back beats and hazy melodies. Emotionally, however, Kennedy’s personal touch places his music in a sublime world all of its own. artist: Jon Kennedy country of origin: UK style(s): Trip hop, instrumental hip hop, downtempo breaks decades active: 2000’s essential […]

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Essential albums: Rena Jones

Rena Jones’ best music is light years beyond the random digital doodling of artists who delight in the kind of glitchy noises that clear rooms and annoy your dog. Imagine glitch as just one of many sonic tools, rather than a whole genre: now there’s an idea with a future. artist: Rena Jones country of […]

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Essential albums: Jean-Michel Jarre

Jean-Michel Jarre was among a handful of European artists in the 1970’s responsible for propelling synthesiser music into the mainstream. His early records were also a major influence on 80’s synth pop and – in the 90’s and beyond – on the rise electronic dance music, particularly club trance. artist: Jean-Michel Jarre country of origin: […]

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Essential albums: Ishq

UK duo Ishq have achieved something of a rare feat in ambient music: making new age sound credible. As a fusion of new age signatures with classic ambience and the technology of dance music, their music is truly distinctive and special. artist: Ishq country of origin: UK style(s): Ambient, new age, environmental, drone, ethno-ambient, ambient […]

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Essential albums: Mark Isham

Pioneer of new acoustic music Windham Hill Records roped in some impressive talent during its 70’s and 80’s heyday and jazz trumpeter Mark Isham was one of its most impressive artists. His ambient excursions for the label are graceful, delicate and exude a subtle grandeur. artist: Mark Isham country of origin: USA style(s): Soundtrack, jazz, […]

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Essential albums: Interchill Records

Canadian-based label Interchill Records has been releasing music since the mid-1990’s and has trodden its own quietly idiosyncratic path. Nearly all the music is in one way or another related to electronic dance and its sub-genres, and co-founders Andrew Ross-Collins and Gordon Field have kept things varied…using quality as their filter rather than committing the […]

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Essential albums: Tetsu Inoue

Of the many artists who have recorded on German new-school ambient label Fax Records, it’s perhaps the music of Tetsu Inoue that most closely resembles classic Brian Eno. That’s in the best possible sense, of course; Inoue’s music rarely comes across as derivative. artist:  Tetsu Inoue country of origin:  Japan style(s):  Ambient, environmental, minimalism decades […]

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Essential albums: Iasos

Iasos has made some of the most celestial, intricately textured electronic ambience ever to come out of the original Californian new age scene…the synth sounds are very distinctive, and lush without being overly glossy. artist: Iasos country of origin: Greece/USA style(s): New age, ambient, spacemusic, environmental decades active: 70’s – 10’s essential releases: Inter-Dimensional Music […]

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Essential albums: Human Mesh Dance

Mindflower is a true early ambient techno classic, full of space and imbued with that curious 90’s cosmic glow. The fantastically layered melodies are crafted from crystalline textures and soft, soaring synths comparable to the best music of similar acts of the era like Kim Cascone’s Heavenly Music Corporation. artist: Human Mesh Dance country of […]

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Essential albums: Paul Horn

A pioneering figure in world music since the 1960’s, Paul Horn’s repertoire has ranged from contemporary jazz to neo classical to deep ambient. He’s an incurable traveller and was one of the first generation of Western musicians to embrace indigenous sounds wherever he found them. artist: Paul Horn country of origin: USA style(s): Ethno ambient, […]

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Essential albums: Honeyroot

Honeyroot’s wonderful debut album Sound Echo Location is a worthy contender for best ambient pop release of 2003. It has also stood the test of time, a summer album so cool it gives you goosebumps. artist: Honeyroot country of origin: UK style(s): Chillout, ambient pop, lounge, Balearic, cinematic decades active: 2000’s essential releases: Sound Echo […]

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Essential albums: Steve Hillage

Rainbow Dome Musick is, in a way, a real oddity because it doesn’t fit with anything else that was happening in the UK music at the time…it’s a trippy classic at any rate, and can claim to be a formative influence on the psychedelic chillout music that emerged from the early electronic dance music scene […]

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Essential albums: Seb Taylor

UK composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Seb Taylor sets a benchmark in downtempo electronica, offering variety, inspiration and originality in spades. He has multiple personalities and monikers, most notably the melodic world beat of Kaya Project and the more experimental electronica mashups of Hibernation. artist: Seb Taylor country of origin: UK style(s): Lounge, chillout, trip hop, […]

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Essential albums: Michael Hedges

Like other Windham Hill guitarists such as Willliam Ackerman, Hedges’ music goes far beyond just “folk”. It’s considerable appeal to ambient and downtempo fans comes from its subtly, its atmosphere and its flirtations with exotic melodies and modes. artist: Michael Hedges country of origin: USA style(s): New acoustic, folk, ambient, new age decades active: 80’s […]

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Essential albums: Heavenly Music Corporation

The four albums that Silent Records founder Kim Cascone recorded as Heavenly Music Corporation were creative highpoints in the rebirth of ambient via the burgeoning dance music and rave scenes of the 1990’s in the USA, Britain, Europe and the Asia Pacific. artist: Heavenly Music Corporation country of origin: USA style(s): Ambient techno/trance, environmental, psychedelic, […]

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Essential albums: Harmonia

Releasing only two albums in the mid-1970’s before disbanding, the revered German trio Harmonia was a Krautrock supergroup of sorts. It brought together Michael Rother of alt rock icons Neu! with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of the brilliant avant-garde pop-rock outfit Cluster. artist: Harmonia country of origin: Germany style(s): Krautrock, art rock, ambient rock, […]

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Essential albums: Healer

Swedish composer Michael Andresen aka Healer – who has also made banging psytrance under the names 12 Moons – created these two exquisite, gently psychedelic chillout albums in the early 2000’s, after which he returned to dance music. It proved a very worthwhile detour. artist: Healer country of origin: Sweden style(s): Ambient trance, ambient, psychedelic […]

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Essential albums: Groove Armada

Their second album Vertigo (1999) is the album that cemented the duo’s reputation, applying slick house production aesthetics over a broad canvas of instrumentals, vocal and part-vocal tracks. The album’s organic and always rhythmic sound encompasses landscaped synths, funky basslines and guitar, hip hop breaks and scratching, percussive bongo grooves and dreamy ambient tunes. artist: […]

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Essential albums: Grey Area

Grey Area (aka Alex Salter and friends) were fine purveyors of gently trippy downtempo electronica in the 90’s and early 2000’s, known to some in the Australian outdoor doof party scene for their soothing sets performed on festival chill stages. artist: Grey Area country of origin: Australia style(s): Experimental, psyambient, ambient techno, dub decades active: […]

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Essential albums: Grains Of Sound

Brothers Chris and Jason Sevanick are one of those fascinating acts whose main repertoire is hard techno or dark industrial electronic beats, yet who have also come up with subtle, intelligent and harmonious ambient that stands well out from the pack. Speedy J and Aphex Twin are two examples. Grains Of Sound is another joyful […]

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Essential albums: Gondwanaland

Gondwanaland was a uniquely Australian world music group featuring an unlikely combination of didgeridoo (Charlie McMahon), synth and electric keyboards (Peter Carolan) and live and electronic percussion. The two albums listed above capture the group at its zeitgest both as a live act and in the studio. artist: Gondwanaland country of origin: Australia style(s): World […]

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Essential albums: Global Psychedelic Chill Out (series)

Launched in 1994 and lasting a little over ten years, German-based label Spirit Zone was much loved and respected in underground circles for its championing of both progressive and full-throttle psychedelic trance…less known but equally worthy is Spirit Zone’s downtempo material, which draws on electro, dub, old-school ambient, world beat and dancefloor trance. series: Global […]

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