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Top 20 records (albums) of all time

TOP 20 Records of all time

1)  The   ORB : Adventures beyond the ultraworld / 1991 / Big Life

The Orb virtually invented the electronic genre known as ambient house, resurrecting slower, more soulful rhythms and providing a soundtrack for early-morning ravers once the clubs closed their doors. The group popularized the genre as well, by appearing on the British chart show Top of the Pops and hitting number one in the U.K. with the 1992 album U.F.Orb. Frontman Dr. Alex Paterson’s formula was quite simple : he slowed down the rhythms of classic Chicago house and added synthwork and effects inspired by ’70s ambient pioneers Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. To make the whole a bit more listenable, as opposed to danceable, obscure vocal samples were looped, usually providing a theme for tracks which lacked singing. Much like the early Orb-related project recorded as Space, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld simulates a journey through the outer realms — progressing from the soaring ambient-pop of “Little Fluffy Clouds” and the stoned “Back Side of the Moon” (a veiled Pink Floyd reference) to “Into the Fourth Dimension” and ending (after more than two hours) with the glorious live mix of “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain.” A varied cast of samples (Flash Gordon, space broadcasts, foreign-language whispers) and warm synthesizer tones provide a convincing bed for the midtempo house beats and occasionally dub-inflected ambience. With a clever balance of BBC Radiophonics Workshop soundtracks, 70s ambient meister-works by Eno, Steve Hillage, and Floyd, plus the steady influence of Larry Heard’s sublime Chicago house, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is the album that defined the ambient house movement.

The first Orb album was also entirely new when it appeared : a low-key dance record, with echoes and swells more than up-front tunes, stoner-level dub bass, and all sorts of samples and sounds like seagulls, film clips, astronaut voices, bits of disco–fluttering through the mix like hallucinations. Essentially a techno album for tired dancers, it’s held up nicely over time, thanks to its intricate, dreamy sonics. Beyond the classic “Little Fluffy Clouds”–a set of interlocking synth hooks and loping percussion, held together by a cut-up sample of Rickie Lee Jones talking about the skies on Little fluffy clouds.

One of my top 5 favorite records ever was released in 1990. Not talking about Celine Dion but Little fluffy clouds by The british band The Orb, fonded by Alex Patterson (see picture below) and Jimmy Cauty of KLF fame. The Orb’s name comes from Woody Allen’s Sleeper, where The orgasmatron, a fictional electromechanical related device, an orgasmic orb, in the fictive future society of 2173, acts as a large cylinder big enough to contain a single person. Once entered, it contains some future technology that induces orgasms. It’s as if Patterson would suggest The Orb’s music is capable of generating orgasm, which may do so after repeated listening… Little Fluffy Clouds was the first single from The album Adventures beyond the Ultraworld. Back then, their music was classified as ambient house but it was so weird and original. I don’t think people appreciate how much the ORB were geniuses of an era. They updated Brian Eno and Tangerine dream’s soundscapes with the post-rave era, and builded a genre in itself : ambient dub. They were pioneers in bringing slow motion dubby beats with ambient atmosphere, and that was way back in 1989 and 1990, 22 years ago. This was the first “techno” record I had heard and I fell totally in love with the genre from the get go. Atmospheric music with beats, a different array of samples, amazing production and above all, a genuine sense of humor. Little fluffy clouds was centered on clips from an interview with Rickie Lee Jones in which she recalls picturesque images of her childhood. Critics and fans sometimes attribute the odd nasal tonality of Jones’ voice to drug use, though Jones later claimed that it was the result of a heavy cold. The sample comes from a conversation between Jones and Levar Burton (who played in the TV series Roots) on the children’s television program Reading Rainbow. The quote taken as the voice sample goes on like this :

Jones: “They went on forever – They – When I w- We lived in Arizona, and the skies always had little fluffy clouds in ‘em, and, uh… they were long… and clear and… there were lots of stars at night. And, uh, when it would rain, it would all turn – it- They were beautiful, the most beautiful skies as a matter of fact. Um, the sunsets were purple and red and yellow and on fire, and the clouds would catch the colors everywhere. That’s uh, neat cause I used to look at them all the time, when I was little. You don’t see that. You might still see them in the desert.”

The song also uses a harmonica sample from Ennio Morricone’s The Man With The Harmonica (from the film Once Upon a Time in the West) and parts of Electric Counterpoint, a piece for multitracked guitars composed by Steve Reich and recorded by Pat Metheny. Reich was quite happy with the end result. “Little Fluffy Clouds” was used as the music to a Volkswagen commercial for the New beetle in the late 1990s, accompanied by video of the New Beetle rotating and changing color to the beat of the music. As for the rest of the album, Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld opens with the crowing of a cockerel, the rich tones of a Radio 4 announcer declaring that, “Over the past few years, to the traditional sounds of an English summer – the drone of lawnmowers, the smack of leather on willow – has been added a new noise…”, which could refer either to the fictional testing of The Orb’s spaceship or to the 120bpm music that burst out of warehouses in the late-eighties, before the hazy sounds of Rickie Lee Jones fondly recalling the summer skies of her childhood drifts in. So begins Little Fluffy Clouds, the still wonderful opening track on the album. Although this is often erroneously called ambient house, there is little of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports here – Little Fluffy Clouds is a glorious flashback to the acid house boom of a few years earlier and the familiar burbling of a Roland 303 underpins Jones’ story. Rickie Lee Jones claimed that her suitably influenced tones were the result of a heavy cold and sued Big Life, The Orb’s record company settled out of court with her, but Little Fluffy Cloulds provided Jones with her most memorable song in many years and even after twenty two years, it still sounds fantastic.

The Orb : Little fluffy clouds [1990 : Adventures beyond the Ultraworld]

2)     Manuel Göttsching : E2 E4 / Inteam GmbH [1981]

E2-E4 is considered as one of the most sampled and remixed music of the 20th century. More than Can or Kraftwerk are. Most of the people into Detroit techno and electronica know about this famous piece of minimal electronic music and if you don’t know about it because you’re new to the genre or because you are more into other genres of electronic music, than here is your opportunity to know more about the record and hear its magic. In the record, 28 minutes are electronics and 30 minutes, guitar music. The record has been popular with DJs all over the world and classic music lovers, but also those who like experimental music. First, let’s mention that Manuel Göttsching was part of Ashra Tempel. The debut album Ash ra Tempel was released in 1971, recorded in Hamburg by famed Connie Plank. Klaus Schulze left the band to pursue a solo career. with Klaus Schulze. Then, Göttsching also made an album with the late Timothy Leary the title being Seven up in 1975 but Schulze was never part of that collaboration. Göttsching is one of the most important guitarists of the Kosmische Musik genre. He also participated in the Cosmic Jokers sessions. His style and technique influenced dozens of artists in the post-Eno ambient and new age scenes in the 1980s and 1990s. But, more importantly E2-E4 is not an album for Progrockers or Kraturock fans.

But let’s face it, even though that record is a classic and has influenced everyone in the Detroit techno area from Carl Craig to Derrick May, rarely will you sit still 58 minutes to listen to an entire record which consists of just one track. It takes time, in fact, it is time consuming. It also takes patience. If you don’t like stuff like Brian Eno or Tangerine dream, Steve Reich and minimalist music then this record is not made for you. But then again, you would miss on something which is quite a masterpiece. The first time, I heard it was in 1998 I think, close to 15 years after its release. Now on to 25 years after its original production, it has aged especially well. Sure, back then it was picked by one of the best DJ’s of all time in Larry Levan who used to mix it next to the Clash. But think about it : this record has been covered in1989 by the Italian techno-house outfit Sueno Latino, it was covered by Basic channel, on their Basic reshape, and remixed by Paperclip people aka Carl Craig on his Remake uno EP. Most recently it was picked by LCD Soundsystem‘ on 45:33 a record that was inspired by E2 E4 both conceptually as seen on the artwork and musically with the duration of the song. Just another example of how many times it’s been named-checked, reworked and expanded countless times.

E2-E4, was recorded in 1981 but released in 1984, and was not the first solo recording album by Manuel Göttsching but his 5th after Inventions for electric guitar, followed by New age of earth, Blackouts and then Dream and desire. The album itself consists of a minimalistic hour-long progressive electronic track that is subdivided into single tracks according to the stage of the song. The second half of the record is notable for Göttsching’s guitar playing. The album is named after the most popular opening chess move, 1. e4. Maybe its legendary status is due to the fact that as the story is sometimes told, Göttsching stopped in the studio, while touring with Klaus Schulze, and invented techno. In a concert mood, in december of 1981, he entered his studio armed with only a korg synth and a guitar, his favorite asset. And then, he started playing. He improvised. But thanks for us, he decided to record the whole thing on the spur of the moment. And an hour of music was born. But he did not even intended to release it. After many reflections, doubts and afterthoughts, and only after the counsel of usual pal Schulze and especially three years later, he decides to publish the session. E2 E4, covered with a chessboard on cold and brown, sees the light and its light changes the course of history. E2 E4 is the most compelling argument that techno came from Germany. And even more so than any Kraftwerk album. Over a heavenly two-chord synth vamp and simple sequenced drum and bass, Göttsching’s played his guitar like a percussion instrument, creating music that defines the word hypnotic over the sixty minutes of the single track. Nonetheless, even though E2-E4 is very famous within young people (Say Carl Craig and Derrick May) and most notably of the DJ generation and those who like minimalistic music, it is not as much known by those who love Krautrock.

How do we explain musical genius? We can’t. When it happens, it just happens. And nothing happens at random, this for both normal and special things. But only the special things happen by pure magic, or some strange astral combination, the dance in zero gravity between relevant things and transcendent randomness, that leads to improvisation. The ability to take a theme and stretch it out into an ever increasing artform is often unattainable. The ex-leader of Ashra, the kraut-deutsch guru Manuel Göttsching, did it a quarter century ago, and his ability came from live shows. But what’s E2 E4 ? For a human, the easiest opening move in chess. For a musician, the dream of life. A persistent pulse of dreamy synthethic geometries which proceeds to the nirvana escorted by a spastic beat and a guitar that never ceases to peak. A perfect loop, the loop by definition. Nevertheless it’s not a dance piece. But it’s impossible to speak of E2 E4 in terms of human technology, if you’ve got that melody in your head, it will never leave you. I will never grow tired of that record. Jeff Mills once said : some things are better left unexplained. I do agree with him. That is the case with E2 E4.

Manuel Göttsching : E2 E4 / Spalax

3)     Kraftwerk : Autobahn 1974 / Radio-activity 1976 /  Trans Europe express 1977 / Man machine 1978 / Computer world 1981

Numerous books have been written about Kraftwerk. If you think you like electronic music and doesn’t know about this seminal German outfit, do you yourself a favour, do a little research, you owe it to culture and its vast history. Complex, accurate, funny and playful could be words to describe them.

Historically, Kraftwerk’s musical style and image can be heard and seen in later electronic music successes such as Gary Numan, Ultravox, John Foxx, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Human League, Depeche Mode, Visage, and Soft Cell, to name a few. Kraftwerk would also go on to influence other forms of music such as hip hop, house, and drum and bass, and they are also regarded as pioneers of the electro genre. Most notably, “Trans Europe Express” and “Numbers” were interpolated into “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, one of the earliest hip-hop/electro hits. Techno was created by three musicians from Detroit, often referred to as the Belleville three (Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson & Derrick May), who fused the repetitive melodies of Kraftwerk with funk.

Richard D James (Aphex Twin), has noted Kraftwerk as one of his biggest influences and called Computer World as a very influential album towards his music and sound.

Björk has named Kraftwerk as one of her main musical influences. Joy Division and New Order were heavily influenced by Kraftwerk. Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis was a fan of Kraftwerk, and showed his colleagues records that would influence both groups.

Their musical legacy is H-U-G-E !

So, trying to put words into these albums would be impossible for me. If you’re new to them and would like to have a glimpse of their sound, I would recommend instead listening to this tribute mix by Tim Zawanda from Chicago

Kraftwerk : Pocket calculator / 1981

4)     De la soul : 3 feet high and rising / Tommy boy [1989]

3 Feet High and Rising is the debut album from the American trio De La Soul, which was released in 1989. The album marked the first of three full-length collaborations with producer Prince Paul, which would become the critical and commercial peak of both parties. Lyrically, the album was unusual for its time. Even beside its exhortations for peace and harmony, many of the songs are personal and heartfelt recountings of early sexual intercourse (“Jenifa Taught Me”), love on Eye Know and insecurity regarding personal appearance and fashion (“Can U Keep a Secret”, “A Little Bit of Soap” “Take It Off”). In fact, there is very little profanity on the album, in contrast to most hip hop albums from the time period. Supporters point to songs like “Say No Go” as a realistic portrayal of the pitfalls of drug abuse. The title, besides being a Hall & Oates sample, is a reference to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign ; Posdnous criticizes Reagan, but applauds the sentiment.

In 2011, 3 Feet High and Rising was among 25 albums chosen as additions to the Library of Congress 2010 National Recording Registry for being cultural and aesthetical and also for its historical impact.

Their positivity meant many observers labeled them a “hippie” group, based on their declaration of the “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” (da inner sound, y’all). Sampling artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan and The Turtles, were used. 3 Feet High and Rising is often viewed as the stylistic beginning of 1990s alternative hip hop.

Their music is also radically unlike any rap you or anybody else has ever heard — inspirations include a learn-it-yourself French record. And for all their kiddie consciousness, it is one of the most original rap records ever to come down the pike, an inventive and playful album!

De la Soul : Say no go

5)     Beastie boys : Paul’s boutique / Capitol [1990]

Paul’s Boutique is the second album by the Beastie Boys, released on July 25, 1989, on Capitol Records. Featuring production by the Dust Brothers, Paul’s Boutique was initially considered a commercial failure by the executives at Capitol Records, as its sales did not match that of the group’s previous record, Licensed to Ill, and the label eventually decided to stop promoting the album. The album’s popularity continued to grow, however, and it has since been touted as a breakthrough achievement for the Beastie Boys. Highly varied lyrically and sonically, Paul’s Boutique secured the Beastie Boys’ place as critical favorites in the hip-hop genre. The album’s rankings near the top of many publications best albums lists in disparate genres have given Paul’s Boutique critical recognition as a landmark album in hip hop.

Paul’s Boutique was produced with the Dust Brothers, whose extensive, innovative use of sampling helped establish the practice of multi-layered sampling as an art in itself. While the Dust Brothers were set on making a hit record, but the duo agreed with the group on producing a more experimental and sonically different record. In total, 105 songs were sampled on the album, including 24 individual samples on the last track alone.

Speaking about the album 20 years on, Adam Yauch told Clash magazine :

“The Dust Brothers had a bunch of music together, before we arrived to work with them. As a result, a lot of the tracks come from songs they’d planned to release to clubs as instrumentals – “Shake Your Rump,” for example. They’d put together some beats, basslines and guitar lines, all these loops together, and they were quite surprised when we said we wanted to rhyme on it, because they thought it was too dense. They offered to strip it down to just beats, but we wanted all of that stuff on there. I think half of the tracks were written when we got there, and the other half we wrote together.”

Miles Davis said that he was never tired of listening to Paul’s Boutique. Later, in a VIBE interview of all three Beastie Boys, Chuck D of Public Enemy was quoted as saying that the “dirty secret” among the black hip-hop community at the time was that “Paul’s Boutique had the best beats. Indeed they had.

6)     Serge Gainsbourg : Melody nelson / Phillips [1971]

Histoire de Melody Nelson is a 1971 concept album by French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. The Lolita esque pseudo-autobiographical plot involves the middle-aged Gainsbourg unintentionally colliding his Rolls Royce (ironic since Serge didn’t know how to drive) Silver Ghost into teenage nymphet Melody Nelson’s bicycle, and the subsequent seduction and romance that ensues. Histoire de Melody Nelson is considered by many critics and fans to be Gainsbourg’s most influential and accomplished album. The French edition of Rolling Stone magazine named this album the 4th greatest French rock album (out of 100)

At just under twenty-eight minutes, the short running time and the stylistic consistency and similarity throughout the album gives it qualities more in line with an EP or an extended musical piece with a number of movements. Histoire de Melody Nelson‘s mix of freewheeling guitar, funk style near spoken word vocal delivery, and lush, deep orchestrated string and choral arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier who composed almost the entire music in collaboration with Gainsbourg for the album, have proven to be highly influential amongst later francophone and anglophone musical performers including the French band Air, David Holmes, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, Portishead, and Beck, whose 2002 track “Paper Tiger” from Sea Change is extremely close to the distinctive Histoire de Melody Nelson sound.

The album is one long suite built around a spare, electric bass-driven theme – a slow funk riff that’s been sampled countless times over the years, and which has gotten the album continuous play on both sides of the Atlantic for many many years. The arrangements are second to none, and Serge mutters the lyrics over the top, in a raspy loud whisper – while the funky rhythms dart in and out of odd washes of sound, and unusual eerie sounds. There’s a very strong soundtrack feel to the album, as waves of music envelop the lyrics – tripped out in funky beats that have become legendary over the years, thanks to some very famous samples!

7)     Boards of Canada : Music has the right to children / Warp [1998]

Music Has the Right to Children is the debut public album of the Scottish electronic music duo Boards of Canada. It was published by Warp Records and released on 20 April 1998. Q magazine has said that MHTRTC is the hair equivalent to Super 8 movies and it’s clear by several listen that BOC took electronica into space. Cleverly referencing the esoteric side of ’70s Test Card music in all its trippy glory.

You can think of this album as music as a journey, as a ticket to a trip. This is one of those albums you should not be casual about. This is a recording where you sit or lay down and just kind of let it enter your head. It is perfect listening for a lazy Sunday, as daylight is fading but the air is still warm. I think that is why I like this album so much. It completely transcends its genre and takes you to a place, a mood and maybe even a time in your life.

But there is something very candid and childlike in some of these songs– like roygbiv or aquarius–that remind one of the innocence of childhood, and hazy memories of eating cheerios while watching saturday morning cartoons, catching grasshoppers, and playing in the park immediately come to mind. But other songs like telephasic workshop sound much more grown up (my favorite) begins crackly and muffled like an old favorite record, but gradually works itself up to a beat-intensified frenzy, with really cool voices lapping over one another as they compete with a beat that gradually overtakes them.

BOC is a reference to the National Film Board of Canada. Best known for its documentaries, in the 70’s and early 80’s they produced some exquisite wildlife films. Music has the right to children is a mesmerizing and dreamy place where you would like to spend some countless of time.

8)     Aphex twin : Selected ambient works vol. 2 / Warp-Sire [1994]

Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2 is a more difficult and challenging album than Aphex Twin’s previous collection. The music is all texture; there are only the faintest traces of beats and forward movement. Instead, all of these untitled tracks are long, unsettling electronic soundscapes, alternately quiet and confrontational; although most of the music is rather subdued, it is never easy listening. While some listeners may find this double-disc album dull (both discs run over 70 minutes), many listeners will be intrigued and fascinated by the intricately detailed music of Aphex Twin.

British electronics wunderkind Richard James (alias Aphex Twin, AFX, Polygon Window, etc.) claims he heard the compositions on Selected Ambient Works, Volume II in lucid dreams. Like abstract paintings composed of shades of a single color, James’s resonant explorations of specific timbres linger close to a central idea on each cut, incorporating just enough variation to remain disturbing. While its predecessor, Selected Ambient Works ’85-’92 drew on seven years’ worth of material, the uniform quality of these untitled tracks, plus their judicious sequencing, suggests they were assembled over a shorter period. Clocking in at over 150 minutes, the double-disc set (if this is “selected,” how many hours of outtakes remain?) provides an exemplary introduction to the quieter facets of James’s expansive, idiosyncratic aesthetic. It’s much smoother and lower in frequency. About half the tracks have deep beats of some sort or another, and a few tracks have controlled freakiness. Genius is often close to craziness and RDJ is indeed proof of this.

Aphex Twin : Rhubarb / Selected ambient works vol. 2 / 1994 : Sire

9)     Vangelis : Blade runner OST Soundtracks / 1982

Blade runner is by far my favorite movie of all time. And its soundtrack is also my favorite of any film ever released. It is mostly a dark, melodic combination of classical composition and synthesizers which mirrors the futuristic film noir envisioned by Scott. The original soundtrack release was delayed for over a decade, until 1994, despite the music being well-received by fans and critically acclaimed—nominated in 1983 for a BAFTA and Golden Globe as best original score.

Arriving 12 years after the release of the film, in 1994, the soundtrack to the 1982 futuristic noir detective thriller Blade Runner was as bleak and electronically chilling as the film itself. By subtly interspersing clips of dialogue and sounds from the film, Vangelis creates haunting soundscapes with whispered subtexts and sweeping revelations, drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern textures and evoking neo-classical structures. Often cold and forlorn, the listener can almost hear the indifferent winds blowing through the neon and metal cityscapes of Los Angeles in 2019. The sultry, saxophone-driven “Love Theme” has since gone on as one of the composer’s most recognized pieces and stands alone as one of the few warm refuges on an otherwise darkly cold but beautiful score. Fans of Ridley Scott‘s groundbreaking film (as well as those interested in the evolution of electronic music) will warmly take this recording into their plastic-carbide-alloy hearts.

Vangelis wrote this music to perfection, capturing all the emotions and feelings you need to feel when you are looking at a beautifully atmospheric electronic landscape capable of highlighting the weirdness and the beauty. The music also captures well the epic proportions of the special effects. No other soundtrack that I remember have managed to capture quite as perfectly the rich imaginary of science fiction and the sense of otherworldly metaphysical angst. Aphex Twin, Global Communications, FSOL and DJ Krush are just a few of the names that owe something to this historical album.

The overall impression is of a dark and troublesome future with brief glimpses of hope and great beauty. As a musical score this truly captures the moods and feelings inspired by reading the novels of Philip K Dick, far more than any other adaption of his material to date.

An album that showcased how important the right music & sound effects are to make a memorable film.

10) Plastikman : Consumed / Novamute [1998]

When I got this album back in 1998, I didn’t like at all. But it’s one of those rare gems that sounds better 15 years after his original release, hence the presence of the record in this list. Back then, I was more into drum and bass, cheerful IDM and positive electronica like Orbital. It seemed almost too…dark, elusive, stark and eerie for me. But a few years later, these were exactly the reasons why I finally fell in love with it, and why it grew steadily on me, and became an album I truly cherish. The heavy deep bass and slow movements creep up to you like slow moving light in a black hole. You almost feel self absorbed in each tracks. I would call it claustrophobic techno. A truly unique and deeply engaging album which (depending on what you’re on) creates a steady and consistent atmosphere that is impossible to escape. Dark, minimal, but most of all insular in design, this work remains a timeless and almost genre-less ode to the relationship of music and audio-visual inner perception, boasting a near surreal paradox of a disconnected intimacy that is open to interpretation.

I remember Hawtin saying in an interview in 1998 (Jockey slut magazine) that the sounds were just as important as the sounds between them. Brilliant attention to the smallest detail and evolving repetition serve as the backbone to the fearless and unflinching agenda that Hawtin has created here. The whole album takes you on a journey into a mysterious world with a good variety of dramatic, dark and deep atmospheres, the echoes of the sounds makes you imagine that you are surrounded by giant and colossal places such as abandoned temples, mazes, a remote warehouse in Area 51…

This album has a rare color to it which drives you into the deeper parts of an imaginary ocean.The minimalist wave keeps the intentions of your inner melancholy. The tenth track, Consumed, builds up a climax that is yet still highly minimal and has an extra-ordinary framework.

Honestly, I didn’t listen to it more than 10 times in my life so far, not because I don’t like it, but because it is like an expensive bottle of wine for the very precious moments. It’s that precious to me. It’s the Apocalypse now version of my record collection ( :

11) KLF : Chill out / TVT-Wax Trax  [1990]

Chill out is an album released in 1990 by the English band Klf that has basically defined what chill out was about at that span as the concept of a chill-out room only became necessary within the rarified rave culture of the ’80s and ’90s, when club-goers needed a respite from Ecstacy-induced whirling and the random hugging of strangers.

It consists of 40 minutes supposedly excerpted from a 480 minutes of a live chill room performance. This was back when chill was unheard of (or at least cutting edge). Strangely enough, it’s at least 50% Orb, and was just made at the KLF’s studios. All I can say is that it sounds like a mystical journey through the English countryside. If there’s only one ambient album you ever buy, buy this one.

One of the initial works in the ambient house canon, Chill Out is practically a beatless soundtrack to a late-night journey along the Gulf Coast, and the track titles tells much of the story: “Six Hours to Louisiana, Black Coffee Going Cold,” “3AM Somewhere Out of Beaumont,” “Elvis on the Radio, Steel Guitar in My Soul.” Recorded live by Drummond and Cauty (with much unintended help from sample victims Elvis Presley, Fleetwood Mac, and the throat singers of Tüva), Chill Out consists largely of fragmented, heavily reverbed steel guitar, environmental sounds (birds, trains), occasional synth, and an angelic vocal chorus repeating the KLF’s own “Justified and Ancient” theme.

Say what you will about mind-expanding drugs, but without them, the world wouldn’t have Dark side of the moon or KLF’s Chill out. On Chill out, listeners are treated to a sonic collage that works as both fascinating listening and an aural blanket in which to wrap one self to counteract the affect of too many pinging synapses. Each song here is a hallucinatory vignette, filled with sounds that could have been collected from dreams. A sleepy sax floats over ocean noises and seagulls in “Melody From a Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back”, while elsewhere are heavenly choirs, railroad ambience, Tibetan chants, stuttering synthesizers, a snippet of Elvis Presley singing “In the Ghetto”, sounds of thunder, and disembodied voices off the radio. Throughout, Drummond and Cauty display an instinctive talent for wallpaper music that’s truly diverting, making Chill Out one of the essential ambient albums.

KLF : Madrugada eterna / 1990 : Chill out / TVT Wax trax

12) Massive attack : Blue lines / Virgin [1991]

Blue Lines is generally considered the first trip hop album, although the term was not widely used before circa 1994. The album was a success in the United Kingdom, reaching #13 in the albums chart but sales were limited elsewhere. A fusion of electronic music, hip hop, dub, soul and reggae. The album established Massive Attack as one of the most innovative British bands of the 1990’s and the founder of trip hop’s Bristol Sound. Music critic Simon Reynolds stated that the album also marked a change in electronic/dance music, “a shift toward a more interior, meditational sound. The songs on Blue Lines run at ‘spliff’ tempos — from a mellow 90 beats per minute …down to a positively torpid 67 bpm. The group also drew inspiration from concept albums in various genres by artists such as Billy Cobham (Stratus was sampled on Safe from harm), Herbie Hancock and Isaac Hayes.

Blue Lines featured breakbeats, sampling, and rapping on a number of tracks, but the design of the album differed from traditional hip hop. Massive Attack approached the American-born hip hop movement from an underground British perspective and also incorporated live instruments into the mixes. It features the vocals of Shara Nelson and Horace Andy, along with the rapping of Tricky Kid.

Groundbreaking in every way when this album was released, this was the start of the trip hop revolution, that spawned so many great coffee table, lounge albums from the likes of Portishead, Morcheeba, Nightmares on Wax, Ballistic Brothers. The album also encompasses fantastic hip hop (Blue Lines), stunning & timeless soul music (Unfinished Sympathy) & an incredible closing song that speaks poignantly about modern day society & environment (Hymn of the Big Wheel). Stunning!

13) LFO : Frequencies / Warp [1991]

Formed 1988 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom with members: Mark Bell, Gez Varley (1988-96) LFO (Low Frequency Oscillation), named after the Low Frequency Oscillator component of synthesizers, L.F.O. were pioneers of the Sheffield “bleep techno” sound in the UK at the start of the 1990′s and are best known for the early self-titled techno anthem “LFO”. Frequencies, their debut album released in 1991, 20 years ago, is one of the most tremendous electronic albums ever made. As of today, it still sounds fresh, unique, and unbelievable : just hear “L.F.O.” for churning speaker-erupting bass wedded to sharp beats and mind-blowing chirps. “We Are Back” similarly explodes with distortion (or is it just so loud that mere home speakers cannot handle it?) and rapidly expanding synths. For that matter, “Love is the Message”, “Mentok 1″, and just about every other track on the album are classics too. Quite honestly, THIS is where 90′s-era electronic music starts, and if history and influence are any guide, just may be where the music ends too. N.B. : This quintessential album got repressed on vinyl on november the 11th 2011. The news here. The guys who remastered it here. You need this album on vinyl to fully experience it.

14) New order : Blue Monday EP / Factory records [1983] / Substance box set [1987]

Blue Monday is a dance song recorded in 1982 and originally released as a single in 1983 by British band New order. It was later remixed in 1988 and 1995. At nearly seven-and-a-half minutes, it is one of the longest tracks ever to chart in the UK. It has been cited as the biggest selling 12 inch all time by the band and in the film 24 Hour Party People. The song begins with a distinctive kick drum intro, programmed on an Oberheim DMX drum machine. Blue Monday is often seen as one of the most important crossover tracks of the 1980s pop music scene. Synthpop had been a major force in British popular music for several years, but Blue Monday was arguably the first British dance record to exhibit an obvious influence from the New York club scene, particularly the work of producers like Arthur Baker. According to singer Bernard Summer, it was influenced by 4 songs :

1) The arrangement came from Klein + M.B.O. “Dirty talk”.
2) The signature bassline came from Sylvester’s disco classic “You make me feel (Mighty real)
3) The housy beat came from Donna Summer and her song “Our love”
4) And the long keyboard pad on the intro was sampled from the Kraftwerk song Uranium, from the Radio-activity.

Key to the track’s success was its ability to crossover into multiple scenes and club communities. Its ubiquity directly influenced the evolution of 80s synthpop dance music and left its legacy firmly in the hands of Djs and musicians : rarely will you see a track being played by nostalgic of the 80s, rock fans, pop fans, house heads and hardcore fans of trance as it’s been remixed by Hardfloor in 1995. Blue monday didn’t invent anything but upgraded the sounds of Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk.

This record was the start of the Hi Energy style and probably the beginning of dance music as it is today. Perhaps what’s even more impressive is how that record was made. Bernard Summer was talking about this tune in an interview, telling that it was actually made in an old mixing desk, without any automation and with old analogue FX machines. This meant they had to do everything manually. Here is what a clubber in Hacienda who heard the record in 1984 had to say : ” From the very first moment I heard Blue Monday, I knew something really really BIG will happen. And indeed, this track took me light years away from what I was hearing before,  just like it took New Order light years away from the ashes of Joy Division.”

Today, it still is a dancefloor kick ass number :  nowadays, after 30 years of existence, a lot of the younger clubbers aren’t aware of the original release date and it blows them away when they realize that often the track is older than them. When it came out this track was groundbreaking. It’s surgical use of synth driven bass lines, beats, and melodies hadn’t been used quite like this before ; to produce an emotional complexity rarely matched in our era. A true and eternal masterpiece and will definitely be part of the ten records I’d take with me to a remote island…

15) Depeche mode : Violator / Mute records / 1990

Violator is the seventh studio album by DM: Preceded by the hit singles “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence” (a Top 10 hit in both the UK and US), Violator propelled the band into international stardom. The album yielded two further hit singles, “Policy of Truth” and “World in My Eyes”. The band decided to try something new with regards to how they made this album compared to previous efforts. When “Enjoy the Silence” was written by Martin Gore, it was intended to be a slow-paced ballad in C minor; the demo featured a harmonium with Gore singing. Alan Wilder saw hit potential in the track, and arranged an upbeat tempo and structure for the song. Despite initial resistance from songwriter Gore, who felt the spirit of the song was not suited to an upbeat track, the rest of the group liked it. After some self-described “sulking”, Gore came around and added more to the embryonic fast version together with producer Mark “Flood” Ellis, notably the guitar riff heard throughout. Depeche Mode lead singer David Gahan contributed his distinctive lead vocals to the track and within hours the band was convinced they had a hit single on their hands. The original release of the single included a wide variety of remixes. One of the more unusual mixes is “The Quad: Final Mix” which expands the song to over fifteen minutes in length, making it the longest commercially available Depeche Mode track.

In addition to the “reinterpretation” by Mike Shinoda, there were several more remixes of the song released in 2004. The 12″ version of the release included remixes by Timo Maas and Ewan Pearson.

The production quality of this album is unmatched, and the mastering of these original 1990 editions is perfect, no “loudness war” compromises. The entire 1986-1990 period was phenomenal for Depeche Mode. Black Celebration and Music for the Masses took electronic pop further than it had ever gone, but still represented a steady progression away from the band’s earlier, more upbeat sound. When Violator came along, it was like serious next-level stuff. They’ve moved on, but never achieved such command of songwriting, performance, and production as they did here. One of the best and most influencial electronic pop records of all time. This marked the apex of DM’s career, and the music reflects their self-enduced renaissance. The music is dark and volatile, while still poppy and dancy. The lyrics are moody and pessimistic, which helps convey the themes of love, mistrust, and abandoned hope.

16) Trentemoller : The last resort / Poker flat [2006]

The Last Resort, a surprisingly accessible and wide-ranging work by Anders Trentemøller, is a winter wonderland of quiet phosphorescence and pristine beats. Not that the Danish composer/producer/remixer is above contrasts, as in “Evil Dub,” where he allows down-tuned and distorted guitars to run like the proverbial bull in a china shop of elegant, understated programming. But tracks like “While the Cold Winter Waiting” beg comparison to the frosty, glockenspiel-laced ambience of Iceland’s múm, and the closer, “Miss You,” is a hypnotic lullaby sure to receive ample acclaim or the Spaghetti Western guitar and scalding broken beat of ‘The Very Last Resort’ are not to be missed. This is the future of techno. Deep, emotional, and full of spine tingling joy. Nightwalker shifts the gear up and presents us a bit more familiar Trentemoller dancefloor oriented rhythm and sounds. Deep, funky, groovy tune that makes your head move without asking it. A perfect winter companion for eerie nights.

17) Global communication : 76 : 14 / Dedicated [1994]

One of the most significant releases to cross the ambient currents of the 1990s, 76:14 places itself alongside benchmark electronic releases from Brian Eno, the Orb, and the Future Sound of London. This synth-dominated venture allows the armchair traveler to indulge in atmospheric wanderings which suggest virtual galactic discovery. But often enough the textured beats keep things grounded to dissuade the listener from being lost in the void. Vocal samples from nine languages also remind us of the international and diplomatic intentions of this otherwise electro-instrumental album. Strap in and enjoy the lift-off for all mankind.

Tempering the industrial tilt of their previous Reload material with slower, more graceful rhythms and an ear for melody unmatched by any in the downtempo crowd, Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton produced the single best work in the ambient house canon. The tick-tock beats and tidal flair of “14:31″ nowadays called Ob-selon-mi-os is proof of the duo’s superb balance of beauty with a haunting quality more in line with Vangelis than Larry Heard (though both producers were heavy influences on the album). On several tracks the darkside appears to take over — the pinging ambience of “9:39″ — but for most of 76:14 the melodies and slow-moving rhythms chart a course toward the upbeat and positive.

Global communication : Ob selon mi os or know as 14:31 (Notice how naming songs after minutes makes the listener focus on the music instead of the namechecking…) released in 1994 on Dedicated : Album 76:14

18) DJ Shadow : Entroducing / Mo wax [1996]

Endtroducing….. Is the debut studio album by American hip hop artist DJ Shadow. It was released on November 19, 1996 by Mo’ Wax Records. The album was conceived as an effort by Shadow to make an album completely based around sampling. It is structured almost entirely out of sampled elements from genres ranging from hip hop, jazz, funk, and even pop and metal (Metallica) as well as samples from films and interviews. All samplings on the album were done on an Akai MPC60 MKII sampler. Read what music snobs like Pitchfork had to say about Endtroducing (they gave the maximum score of 10.0/10.0, saying that it  :

“Taps that inner-whatever better than most of the albums of its day, and it swims so easily that it established an entire genre of instrumental hip-hop– count how many records come out every month and are dubbed ‘Shadowesque.’ Building the album from samples of lost funk classics and bad horror soundtracks, Shadow crossed the real with the ethereal, laying heavy, sure-handed beats under drifting, staticky textures, friendly ghost voices, and chords whose sustain evokes the vast hereafter.”

Musically, samples ranges from Tangerine dream (Strastosfear) to Metallica, Bjork (Possibly maybe) David Axelrod ( Human abstract) and thanks to the author’s very unique research that included Northern Soul, Rare Grooves & Old School Funk tunes from the sixties and seventies, The quality of the breakbeats present on this masterpiece suggests an abyssal disparity between the musical backgrounds of the contemporary and the old school artists (“Endtroducing” suggests something like the ‘introduction of something from the past’, already ended – like something brought from the old times, though through a nowadays bold perspective.)

It can be easily figured out on the comparison between the old breakbeats formed by instrumental kicks, snares and hi-hats, created by those Funk bands with the more recent drum machine sequences used since the eighties with the purpose of simulating the original ones. It’s not difficult to realize the higher complexity and the artistic level of the older ones

In short, this album is an amazing tour de force, one of a kind, one of the greatest albums ever recorded. I can’t find the words to fully describe how brilliant this album is. DJ Shadow’s debut is a milestone in music and one that anyone interested in non-mainstream music should hear. It might just change your outlook on the possibilities that music has to offer.

I will never ever stop liking this album. I know “Endtroducing…” almost by heart but it never fails to impress me. It all started when I heard “Midnight In A Perfect World” (probably my favorite Shadow track ever), which almost brought tears into my eyes. The whole album devastated me. While the contemporary technologies seem to offer an unimaginable amount of possibilities, we realize more than ever the importance of the very essential aspect of our environment : the musical culture.

His album sleeve, one of the most gorgeous gatefold sleeve of all time, is a testament to that and to crate diggers of vinyl all around the world.

19) Kruder & Dorfmeister : Sessions / k-7 [1998]

THE best chill-out album of all time imo. Music database All music gave the album five stars out of five, opining that “the impossibly deep beats on almost every track simply couldn’t have been recorded by any other act” and referred to the music as “the most blissfully blunted music the world has ever heard. 14 years after its release, I still listen to it every month or so, mesmerized by its dubby soundscapes and hypnotic landscapes. What makes this a masterpiece is the perfect mix between original samples and new arrangement, especially basses and delays. I started listening to this release a few years ago, and it STILL sounds fresh when I listen today – and this doesn’t happen with many of my albums. Could this be the quintessential intelligent downbeat chill-out album of all time? You came home from the club spangly eyed and twitchin and you put on the K&D Sessions, like a reflex action, it wasn’t concious thought that did it, it was what you did, it was almost an unwritten law. And through the buzz of the Heads coming down, the rustle of rizzlas, the soupy herbal haze drifted K&D’s sumptuous serving of chilled beats and baselines. It swoops and rolls, slides and shuffles, cossets and supports then messes you up with ghostly, icy fingers tickling your very soul. Heck one of their remixes was even used in a movie with Daniel Craig. K&D are that cool.

20)Leftfield : Leftism [1995]

This album was and still is ahead of its time. I remember its dazzling sleeve when it got out in 1995. Eye catching, but at the time I was more into Exit planet dust by the Chemical Brothers. It’s not until 2008 that I finally began to understand the full scale of the diverse songs on this album. Some really forward thinking music: Open up and the tribal house on Space shanty. Where to begin ? Song of life is one the beautiful electronic music song ever written. Melt, which includes a sample from Art of Noise, is a gorgeous ambient number that has stood the test of time. We go from danceable to soothing electronica. Release the pressure, the opening song, has a dub techno feel that makes this whole LP 10 years ahead of its time. Leftism was shortlisted for the 1995 Mercury Music Prize but lost-out to Portishead‘s Dummy. [Don’t get me wrong, Dummy is great album but almost a copy frame by frame of the samples used innit : Lalo Schiffrin ; Isaac Hayes, IMO, Leftism has aged much better] In a 1998 Q magazine poll, readers voted it the eightieth greatest album of all time, while in 2000 it wasplaced at number 34 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. It’s a must have and truly a piece of art. The vinyl is such a beauty!

PS : These little buckets of sunshine are my vinyl, I only miss Blade runner!

  1. April 1, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Nice selection Jeff, but no FSOL ‘Lifeforms’ !

  2. funkyjeff77
    May 23, 2015 at 12:53 am

    I forgot Matt! lol

  3. June 25, 2015 at 12:47 am

    couldn’t agree more. i believe myself a discerning type and having been emerged in this community as it flowered (up?) and withdrew i looked at these records, saw that i owned or had owned most (and had seen them all) and agreed. loving thus culture as my heyday this list spoke to me. Were not all supposed to like the same things so feel free to differ or even polarise in what you believe to be seminal, but for me thats what we have here. Beautiful – and have you heard John Beltrans 10 days of Blue on Peacefrog – not so huge but cherished and adored by all who’ve heard it. Try it. It fits in perfectly here. Love X

  4. September 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

    you have a wonderfull taste man.

  1. November 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

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