What are your recommendations for electronica and ambient music?
June 22, 2004 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Help for my burgeoning interest in electronica/ambient? [Nope. There's no more inside. Don't even bother looking.]

Heh. I kid!

First off, please forgive any misuse of terms -- I'm generally a indie/mod/punk/etc. kinda girl, so this is kind of new territory to me. Anyway, I've put my toe in the electronica/ambient waters now and then over the years, and now I'd like to perhaps wade in a little deeper. Most recently, I've become enamoured of George Sarah's extraordinarily pretty string and piano work, and I adore the weird avant-rustic alt-country broken electronica of Califone. Any other vaguely related stuff that I know and like is pretty much from the late '70s to early '90s -- Bowie/Eno stuff on "Low" and "Heroes," early Gary Numan/Tubeway Army, Ultravox (some John Foxx stuff, but primarily the first two records with Midge Ure), and "Utd. State 90" by 808 State. And oh yeah, my ex burned me a copy of one of Spaceheads' releases, which I liked too. With the exception of 808 State, none of this is really hard, dancey stuff (sorry, I'm at a complete loss as to the subgenre names here). Any suggestions of other things I might like?
posted by scody to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is trip hop too dancy? (God, I'm sorry to be using the terms too since they get granular enough to contain only one band on certain nights) I ask because I introduced my no-way-not-ever girlfriend to electronica through Massive Attack (Mezzanine), Morcheeba (any really) and Portishead (Live). Not particularly ambient, but not Shitmat either. (If ift matters, I like Califone as well)
posted by yerfatma at 12:54 PM on June 22, 2004

For a very useful primer on 'electronic music' Ishkur's Guide is hard to beat.
posted by punilux at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2004

There's some cracking mixes on this site that should fit the bill.
posted by bifter at 1:10 PM on June 22, 2004

The less poppy stuff by Interpol and Ladytron is nice.

Freezepop is great but maybe too poppy for your taste.

Air is good. As is Fischerspooner. And Goldfrapp. Peaches, maybe too danceable. The Faint. Postal Service, probably too poppy again.

You might like Massive Attack. Yerfatma's suggestions of Portishead and Morcheeba are good ones. Also, you might really like the Wrens, or Broken Social Scene, or even Sufjan Stevens, who does this great orchestral electrofolk thing which I rreally like. Lately I've been liking the Decembrists a lot.
posted by luriete at 1:17 PM on June 22, 2004

I'm mainly a guitar rock person myself but here's a few electronica-type-things I like.

Boards of Canada are moody and very highly recommended to everyone (Music Has The Right To Children particularly).

If you like folky electronica type stuff you might like The Book's Lemon of Pink. Also you might enjoy Four Tet's Rounds.
posted by dodgygeezer at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2004

You will definitely like dodgygeezer's Four Tet recommendation, and you'll probably dig The Books.

Also check Manitoba, Mum, early Amon Tobin, Gastr del sol, and maybe even Tortoise.
posted by Marquis at 1:33 PM on June 22, 2004

I don't know most of the people you mentioned (except 808 and the 70s stuff), but my favorite electronica and ambient artists are:

Bobby Birdman* [mp3s: 1 2 3 4] - My vote for best artist of 2003.

Mum [1 2 3 4 5]

Kammerflimmer Kollectiev* [ 1]

Electric Birds* [1 2 3]

Stars of the Lid [1 2 3 ]

French Paddleboat [1

Manitoba [1]

Polmo Polpo [1]

Prefuse 73 [1 2 3]

Velma* [ 1 2 3]

* Available cheap from emusic
posted by dobbs at 1:38 PM on June 22, 2004

Places to browse and listen:


From your background, you may like to start with these albums:

Flying Saucer Attack, New Lands
Thurston Moore, Root
posted by the fire you left me at 1:43 PM on June 22, 2004

Oops. My bad on the formatting. Sorry. And that should be Kammerflimmer Kollectief with an F, not a V on the end.

I'll second the shout outs for The Books, Four Tet, Boards of Canada.
posted by dobbs at 1:46 PM on June 22, 2004

Yes to Boards of Canada and The Books.
Also, Dntel and Mouse on Mars (1 or 2).
And maybe The Notwist, though they are more indie rock than electronic.
posted by sad_otter at 1:50 PM on June 22, 2004

stereolab is in that vague direction.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:03 PM on June 22, 2004

I really enjoy some ambient/electronica but hate some too. My tastes second Amon Tobin and randomly nominate the Autechre albums Incunabula and Amber, LSG's Into Deep and the soundtracks to Sling Blade (Daniel Lanois) and Solaris (Cliff Martinez).
posted by turbodog at 2:07 PM on June 22, 2004

an oldie but goodie:
Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 2

I also second the Books as a fantastic group - though, ambient, I'm not so sure. (also I favor Thought for Food over The Lemon of Pink)

Boards of Canada and Plaid might be more of what you're looking for

Also check out Fennesz

there are many more, but I'm leaving work now, more will come to me later, I'm sure
posted by soplerfo at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2004

Response by poster: thanks for all the responses -- much of this sounds right up my alley!
posted by scody at 4:01 PM on June 22, 2004

Max Tundra (1)
posted by Gortuk at 4:21 PM on June 22, 2004

Polwechsel & Fennesz's album Wrapped Islands and Food's Eat might work; they're not really ambient in an electrica kind of way (Food is all real, played-live instruments plus a producer, Deathprod, whose album Morals + Dogma is ambientoid and gloomy). Supersilent's 6, maybe, too.

The Blithe Sons, Robert Fripp's Let the Power Fall, some Thuja. Again, Thuja and the Blithe Sons are more droney-ambient than electronica-ambient; Fripp's is looped.

And has no one recommended Eno's Discreet Music or Music for Airports yet?

I second Fennesz—try Endless Summer

alva noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto - Vrioon

The Books kind of remind of Biota (electro-acoustic group).
posted by kenko at 5:23 PM on June 22, 2004

some fairly classic stuff i'm surprised no one's mentioned - the orb and plastikman. minimalist [in rather different ways] and ambient. the klf has some very excellent stuff, though their output varies wildly because they were completely insane. in the vein of classic "electronica", there's always groups like orbital and underworld.

if you like most of luriete's suggestions [which would mostly be classified as "electroclash" today], you need to listen to adult., which, while still synthpop, is darker, without the annoying saccharine quality of freezepop or the made-for-dancing quality of fischerspooner. "synthpop you don't have to be ashamed about." i am spoonbender is also worth checking out.

for more experimental-sounding stuff, aphex twin and autechre are good bets.
posted by ubersturm at 5:40 PM on June 22, 2004

FFWD's (Fripp Fehlman someone [Weston?] Doctor) self-titled album is good too. I don't think it was released in the US.
posted by kenko at 5:47 PM on June 22, 2004

Eno: On Land
Biosphere: Substrata

Enjoy. You won't need anything else.
posted by davebush at 5:57 PM on June 22, 2004

For the Orb, I'd highly recommend the first volume of "Auntie Aubrey's Excursions Beyond the Call of Duty".

Best use of an elephant sample ever: the Material remix. (I think it is in that song. It has been a while since I played this)
posted by sleslie at 6:24 PM on June 22, 2004

There are a lot of good recommendations here, but to be frank, I would start your listening in the late 1980s early 1990s stuff, vs. stuff that has just come out. Some of the stuff that just came out (say in the past 6-7 years) is very derivative stuff.

I also recommend Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 2.
I also like Global Communication's ambient stuff.
Banco de Gaia's Last Train to Lhasa is classic ambient.
posted by gen at 6:35 PM on June 22, 2004

Let me just take a moment to point everyone here towards www.discogs.com because it is the best damn database and UI for dance music on the Intarweb.

They are in the process of switching servers and adding functionality, so you can't add new music until the end of June, but nevertheless, it is really an incredible resource for electronic music lovers.
posted by gen at 6:42 PM on June 22, 2004

Try maybe Hooverphonics, Gus Gus, Frou Frou and Moomoo
(the last one I made up).
posted by phyrewerx at 7:35 PM on June 22, 2004

Wow, two plugs for Selected Ambient Works 2, and no mention of 1. SAW 1 is absolutely stellar, though it was hard to find the last time I had to rebuy it.

As far as the Orb goes, I would recommend U.F.Orb. My favourite napping music ever.

A couple people have mentioned Autechre - I will enthusiastically recommend their album Tri Repetae, but I'm a little embarrased to admit that I find some of their other albums unlistenable.
posted by jeffj at 7:57 PM on June 22, 2004

Hood is a great indie rock/electronic band, sort of like a more melancholy version of the Notwist (also recommended). Fog is also good, especially the album "Ether Teeth", from a year or two ago. Dntel, Mum, Four Tet, Boards of Canada, Stars of the Lid, and a lot fo others that were already mentioned are pretty great. the Books are probably the closest thing to what you've described (in the vein of Califone as far as techniques, but rather different tone). Jackie-O Motherfucker might be worth a listen. Lali Puna is a great , mellow, female-fronted pop/electronic group, with members of the Notwist. Cex's recent albums "Being Ridden" (look for the Bowie homage album cover) and "Maryland Mansions" blend his early IDM/glitch/hip hop work with indie rock, acoustic rock, and industrial sounds. Savath & Savalas, which blends Scott Herren (of Prefuse 73)'s production style with mellower acoustic-based sounds and latin rhythms. Did anyone mention Tortoise yet? Funkstorung's new album "Disconnected" is a downtempo pop/IDM hybrid with lots of great vocals. Telefon Tel Aviv is great, but don't bother with their 2nd album, just get "Fahrenheit Fair Enough". Timonium is great, if you can find any of their albums.
posted by cathodeheart at 8:12 PM on June 22, 2004

Ok, here's my recommendations:

First, Last and Always, Steve Roach. Blissful soundscapes to get lost in. Very very very deep and quite trance inducing.

Second, try some old Tangerine Dream. It's more 'electronic' at times, made on old analog synthesizers and such, but quite trance inspiring as well.

You can't go wrong with Saul Stokes, either.

If you like indie stuff, as in independent label stuff, you might as well check out Atmoworks. Good independent label ambient music.
posted by geekhorde at 8:17 PM on June 22, 2004

It's Hooverphonic, not Hooverphonics. They're pretty good but for the last couple albums they've been almost a pop group, not that that's so bad.

Tosca (side project of Richard Dorfmeister of famous remix team Kruder & Dorfmeister, and pianist/composer Richard Huber) is my favorite electronic music by far. Their albums have a few more ambient tracks between the more melodic rhythm-oriented ones, and their last album, Dehli9, has a bonus disc of Huber's minimalist piano pieces.

Their "Suzuki" album is a classic. Totally perfect. More essential listening than any other electronic I've heard.

The best individual track IMO is DJ Shadow's Midnight in a Perfect World, though, which headspace-wise is along the same lines for me (one of these days I'm going to a cover of that with a phasered guitar playing that Rhodes part - I swear it'll be good ;) ). Either his Endtroducing or The Private Press albums are good to pick up. Almost everything in his music comes from samples, usually from esoteric stuff he finds in record shops and such - but the music is definitely cohesive. I hear he does some of the sampled drumming himself, though. He has a collaboration with Thom Yorke called "Rabbit in your Headlights" if you're into Radiohead.
posted by abcde at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2004

Avoid the new Mum album like the plague, but get all the rest of them.
posted by ejoey at 10:12 PM on June 22, 2004

Another plug for Jackie-O Motherfucker.
posted by kenko at 12:19 AM on June 23, 2004

If you like the really freaky stuff, you might go for The Boredoms. A lot of screeching tape loops, but somehow pretty awesome.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:32 AM on June 23, 2004

Check out the new band "Ratatat." Sounds kind of like indie daft punk.
posted by Quartermass at 12:37 AM on June 23, 2004

(i honestly didn't mean to write band - what a dork am i)
posted by Quartermass at 12:37 AM on June 23, 2004

Kaibutsu—Isn't that a little far afield? I mean, she might also like the Flying Luttenbachers, but electronica/ambient they ain't.
posted by kenko at 1:09 AM on June 23, 2004

Currently I'm recommending Minuit & Pitch Black to anyone who will listen. Both from New Zealand, all really cool people & you can d/l mp3s from the Pitch Black site. There is a lot of really good electronic music in NZ at the moment.

Older stuff...
Apollo - their compilations [I] & [II] are a good intro & include artists mentioned above.
Transient's Mashed Mellow Grooves series. [Disclaimer] I had a hand in putting some of these together so I know they're good!
Rising High - Lots of artisits such as Irresistable Force (Mix Master Morris), Pete Namlock, Bedouin Ascent &c. & compilation series inc. Chill Out or Die! & Further Self-Evident Truths
On an ambient-style drum & bass tip have a good look at Good Looking (ho ho) & associated labels. Their 'Points in Time' re-issues are a really cheap way of picking up some excellent tracks from the likes of PFM, Blu Mar Ten, LTJ Bukem, Future Engineers &c. Logical Progression Vol I pretty much kicked off the genre to a wider audience in the mid-90's

For more old school ambient you can't beat Virgin UK's A Brief History Of Ambient series for tracks from Eno, Harold Budd, Sheila Chandra and loads more from the 70's onward.

As a general rule, as you probably know already, compilations are a great way of sussing out new tunes, artists, labels & music & can usually be picked up in your local or inner-net music emporium for not too many pence. As a general rule avoid taking a chance on anything with 'Chill Out' in the title. The clubbing generation have grown up & are being plied with compilations full of advert music to remind them of their early morning flake outs as they recover from another working day.

Have a look into the works of Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton (Global Communication [76:14 is a classic], Chameleon, Jedi Knights &c.)
The aforementioned Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld & U.F.Orb are still regulars in the cola household.
Penguin Cafe Orchestra are always good for strings.

Ach, there's loads of good stuff. Feel free to e-mail me for more ideas...this used to be my job. I may even have some mix CDs hanging around in the cupboard.

The Ambient Music Guide has some good info on the genre.

The Hyperreal site has loads of links to electonica goodness.

Do you have iTunes? There are a few good radio stations tucked away under the 'Electronica' tab - some available via the Soma FM website inc. Groove Salad & Beat Blender - & Static Beats.

I could go on all day...as I say...drop me a line if you feel the need.
posted by i_cola at 5:20 AM on June 23, 2004

While we're at it.... any suggestions for minimal lyric but somehow lighter/upbeat tunes? I'm having trouble narrowing down whether it's ambient-techno, ambient-break (according to Ishkur's Guide) or what. I really like Air's Moon Safari and Porcelain from Moby's Play, but am having trouble finding others like it. Trying to stay away from darker/slower.
posted by yoga at 6:05 AM on June 23, 2004

PS and definitely not the rappy side of the house.
posted by yoga at 6:05 AM on June 23, 2004

Might be a little tame, but I received FC Kahuna's Machine Says Yes as a birthday gift last month and have had it in steady rotation ever since. The song "Hayling" is particularly nice. In general, I get a lot of ideas from Monkey Radio, SOMA fm's Cliqhop, and RadioIO's Beat station.
posted by whatnot at 8:09 AM on June 23, 2004

There is an Ambient tab in iTunes radio which I'd forgotten about. Have a look thru the stations at Live365 or Shoutcast too.
posted by i_cola at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2004

Scody, the same ambient vibe to the Bowie/Eno stuff on Low and Heroes can be found on:

Harmonia (all albums)
Neu I, II, '75
Michael Rother's solo albums
Cluster (II, Zuckerzeit)
Some Tangerine Dream (I especially like the soundtrack to Friedkin's Sorceror)


Most things on the Kompakt label, their Pop Ambient series is excellent
Thomas Fehlmann - Visions of Blah/Reinhart Voigt - Beinfait - ambient house albums
Tim Hecker - Radio Amor
Keith Fullerton Whitman - Playthroughs
The Mice Parade
Phil NiBlock
Aphex Twin Selected Ambient 2
William Basinski
Fluxion and things on Chain Reaction

Why not listen to microhouse? It's the most interesting music around these days. Here are some mixes
posted by dydecker at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2004

Aim, Ulrich Schnauss, St. Germain, DJ Krush, Fila Brazilia.
posted by sudama at 11:35 AM on June 23, 2004

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