29 Essential Ambient Albums To Own On Vinyl
This blog post is part of our That Special Record vinyl resources guide
Are there any genres you love that you feel have an undeserved reputation?
I think ambient music is one of those genres. Those not too familiar with the genre tend to think that it’s meant to be background music or simple, uninteresting, cheesy, hippie style of “mood music” or “elevator music” or simply music used by listeners for yoga classes. And they could not be any more wrong. The term "ambient music" was coined by ambient music pioneer Brian Eno in the 70s. Quoting Brian Eno:
"Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." - Brian Eno
Although, technically pure ambient music may sound like unobtrusive, background music, what makes ambient music truly interesting is that it is a different kind of listening experience that actually requires the attention of the listener far more than many other genres. Its evolving textures can literally absorb and hypnotise, but you must allow yourself to be absorbed and hypnotised. If you do, this type of music can literally suck you out of the world and transport you to another world you never knew about. This is the beauty of ambient music. It's music that takes you on a journey to the deepest thoughts of your mind, and pushes you outwards to wherever you want to be.
There are tons of great examples, but here's a list of 29 ambient albums we consider essential to own on vinyl. Some are absolute classics most ambient heads probably own, others are under the radar albums that deserve more love. Some were released this year, others were released in the 70s or 80s. But what all have in common is that listening to them on vinyl accentuates the sonic qualities that are essential to each one of them.
Ariel Kalma - Open Like A Flute (Black Sweat Records) / 2015
This is a beautiful double-LP reissue of obscurities originally composed between 1982-84 and released only on tape in two different editions. ‘Open Like a Flute’ offers a glimpse at New age / Ambient music innovator Ariel Kalma’s passion with hypnotic Indian music and experimental electronic music. This is ambient music designed to daydream, relax and enhance deep meditative, or altered states.
Ariel Kalma - Osmose (Black Sweat Records) / 2013
This is a single LP reissue of the first disc of Ariel Kalma's wonderful and weird 'Osmose', originally released in 1978. This is a time travel worthy soundtrack for lucid dreaming through an imaginary rainforest - French minimalist composer Ariel Kalma composed gorgeously minimal, spacey ambient soundscapes mixing them with the sounds of the rainforest, crickets, frogs, etc.
JD Emmanuel - Time Traveler (Aguirre Records) / 2013
JD Emmanuel is an ambient / new age /early electronics legendary producer we have infinite love for. Self-described as an artist whose “music is designed to create and enhance deep meditative or altered states using electronic music.”, Time Traveller is his most recent album (released in 2013) and one of his finest albums. One of the best things about ‘Time Traveller’ is how JD Emmanuel keeps things deceptively simple. Few sounds are used, but out of those sounds, little polyrhythmic swirls emerge like extra-terrestrial sounds that put the listener into a state where time seems to disappear. This is a truly wonderful voyage of deep exploration.
JD Emmanuel - Wizards (North Star Productions) / 1982
Self-described as “a molecule of nothing inside of nothing at all”, Iktsuarpok is an incredibly beautiful record comprising four long ambient pieces. While this LP is washed with synth soundscapes that could make it sound cold and boring, it’s anything but boring: long, and serene synth washes flourish majestically in conjunction with weird noises like haunting church noises, pastoral atmospheres and eerie vocal samples.
Tim Robertson - Outer Planetary Church Music (Aguirre Records) / 2015
Aguirre records stumbled upon something quite special with this record. These are 7 tracks with no name, but with a story behind them. Tim Robertson was born in Honduras, but moved out of there when he was a kid to travel the World with his parents who were devoted to some sort of religious organisation and were spreading the Lord's word all around the World. During this period he was a church organist. Later in his life, after returning to Barcelona following a few years in Niger and Ethiopia, Tim bought an old 4 track recorder and spent two years obsessed with the idea of creating music "for future temples on Neptune and Saturn." Tim Robertson had a strange vision: to compose the perfect soundtrack for the buildings where future space travelers would praise the lord. Eventually, this bizarre phase passed and Tim decided to throw all those tapes to the bin, except for two tapes he kept as a gift for his parents. Sadly, his parents passed away and Tim decided to keep these tapes as a memory of this crazy period of his life. 20 years later, those 7 surreal sonic experiments have now finally been released thanks to chance meeting in a thrift store in Barcelona. This is spacey new-age keyboard ambient music, on milky white vinyl. What not to love about it?
Potter Natalizia Zen / Cass. – Schleißen 4 (Emotional Response) / 2015
The final part of Emotional Response`s wonderful Schleißen series, brings together the legendary Colin Potter with two of Italy’s best experimental / drone / industrial producers in Alessio Natalizia, Guido Zen for one hell of a special record, backed up on the flip by Niklas Rehme-Schlüter aka Cass. 'Schleißen 4' is all about beautiful, mellow Tangerine Dream / Blade Runner-esque ambient vibes.
AUN -Fiat Lux (Cyclic Law) / 2015
An in-depth exploration of the outer reaches of drone and ambient. At times industrially sinister and dark at others lost in beautiful melancholic soundscapes, just try listening to 'Fiat Lux' while walking around the city without a destination and you'll suddenly feel like you're part of your own imaginary sci-fi movie.
Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe (Philo) / 1980
Absolutely extraordinary 1980 debut album by composer and computer music pioneer Laurie Spiegel. This record is an exquisite deep meditation piece of pure and highly psychedelic synthesiser tones. Just shut your eyes and drift away into the cosmos. The Expanding Universe was reissued by Unseen Records in 2013.
Jon Brooks - Walberswick (More Than Human) / 2015
Elegant, minimal, calm, icy ambient excursions composed and performed on the Buchla Electronic Music Box, a modular analog synthesizer. Stunning album on the rather lovely Canadian label More Than Human Records.
Dolphins Into The Future – …On Sea-Faring Isolation (Not Not Fun Records) / 2011
Antwerp-based sound artist Lieven Martens, also known as Cetacean Nation Institute For Environmental Sounds, Wildlife Tapes Portal Jams, dives into new age, ambientish aquatic drones, field recordings and Terry Riley-esque synth sweeps. Beautifully composed and sequenced, Isolation is one of those truly timeless records.
K. Leimer – Imposed Order (Palace Of Lights) / 1983
Leimer released a series of albums on his own Palace of Lights label in the late 70s and early 80s, but only recently thanks to the wonderful RVNG imprint - already responsible for reviving forgotten artists ranging from Harald Grosskopf to Franco Falsini - the Seattle artist started (deservedly) getting more attention. Lush analogue synths, serene textures, quirky noises, dreamy and a little eerie, 'Imposed Order' is an absolute ambient masterpiece from an underrated visionary.
Offthesky & Pleq -A Thousand Fields (Infraction) / 2015
Steve Roach is nothing short of a musical genius, and one of the best ambient maestros of all time and ‘Structures From Silence’ might just be one of the best ambient albums ever made. Released in 1984 on Fortuna, this three-track collection of slow-moving, subtle, airy clouds of synth, is a truly emotional, powerful ambient masterpiece.
ELODIE - Traces Ephémères (La Scie Dorée) / 2014
Such a weird and beautiful album from Andrew Chalk and Timo van Luijk. 'Traces Ephémères' is an eclectic ensemble of 18 serene instrumental arrangements, from well-crafted pastoral ambient keyboard excursions to exquisite oriental acoustic vibes.
Michael Stearns – Planetary Unfolding (Continuum Montage) / 1981
Pretty much everything has been said about this groundbreaking record, the only problem is the availability of this spacey ambient masterpiece (well, you can find a few copies on Discogs but each one will probably cost you at least 70€). 'Planetary Unfolding' should be the standard background music for every Planetarium.
Grouper - Ruins (Kranky) / 2014
Grouper’s (Liz Harris) Ruins is one of those LPs you play on a solo, adventurous walk with no time limit in place and no destination in mind. Recorded with Liz Harris’ voice, a piano and not much else, 'Ruins' is beautifully devastating, spacious but yet intimate.
Pausal – Forms (Barge Recordings) / 2012
Slow Walkers is a project by two legends: Lawrence English and Liz Harris aka Grouper. This is a beautiful drone-based ambient meditative album, perfect for quiet and long train rides on rainy days.
Raum - Event Of Your Leaving (Glass, House) / 2013
Everyone has a record that they turn to when sadness sets in. 'Event Of Your Leaving', recorded by Raum (Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Liz Harris) in 2011 and 2012, is a record perfect for those moments as listening to it almost always feels like an experience of catharsis. 'Event of Your Leaving' is self-described as "a loose set of memories, dreams, and images interpreting the work of visual artist Vija Celmins for piano, guitar, keyboard, voice, and tapes."
Robert Rich – Numena (Multimood) / 1987
Across 3 decades and over 30 albums, Robert Rich has helped define ambient music with his deep, organic and seductive sound. Released in 1987, 'Numena' is an incredible tapestry of sounds that still sound refreshing and remarkably forward thinking. By blending different electronic music styles and traditional acoustic influences, this album was categorised as "sacred" space music. And that's exactly what it is. Spacey ambient music, dark and haunting yet weirdly alluring.
Sam KDC - Late Night Innominate, Volume One (Auxiliary) / 2015
Sam KDC's debut ambient LP on Auxiliary is absolutely stunning. As the album name suggests, it's late night music and all tracks are untitled so you can experience it without any preconceptions about what you are about to hear. 'Late Night Innominate' explores heavy shaded soundscapes, haunting voices, slow building and complex melodies that will let your mind take you to where you want to go.
Inoyama Land - Danzindan Pojidon (Yen Records) / 1983
This Inoyama Land LP from 1983 is lovely! Inoyama Land were a fairly obscure 80's synth duo from Japan consisting of Yasushi Yamashita and Makoto Inoue. Almost completely instrumental, but synthesizer-heavy, the beautiful simplicity of 'Danzindan-Pojidon' feels like floating in a cloud of sounds. Essential record for fans of Japanese new-age/ambient music.
D.A.R.F.D.H.S. - In The Wake Of The Dark Earth (Field Records) / 2015
'In The Wake Of The Dark Earth', by D.Å.R.F.D.H.S. aka Swedish pair Michel Isorinne and Jonas Rönnberg (you probably know him better as Varg) is a wonderful lush ambient album. At times mediative, lenitive and hypnotic, at others awe-inspiring, deep and magical, this album is a floating trip into-multi-dimensional realms. Get some ginger tea, play it from the beginning and let the music take you to places you’ve never been before.
Willamette – Echo Park (Infraction) / 2011
'Echo Park' is a little masterpiece packed with antique atmospheres, subtle, beautiful string arrangements and distant, droning memories. But beware. This isn't one of those easy listening ambient records, 'Echo Park' is far more complex and subtle than you may think it is. Try listening to it at least 20 times, and suddenly you might start feeling it and getting all the little and subtle details that make it truly special.
Af Ursin – De Overkant (La Scie Dorée) / 2014
Damn, this is such a wonderful record! 'De Overkant' is a collection of deep, minimal, complex, addictive, wonderful, folk ambient meditative excursions from Timo Van Luijk, the boss of Belgium's exquisite Metaphon label.
Carlos Maria Trindade / Nuno Canavarro – Mr. Wollogallu (União Lisboa) / 1991
Wonderful portuguese experimental /ambient album from the early 90s, with a few nice ethnic touches. This record was a collab between ex-Corpo Diplomático - Heróis do Mar - Madredeus, Carlos Maria Trindade and ex- Street Kids avant garde musician and film music composer Nuno Canavarro.
Terry Riley – A Rainbow In Curved Air (Columbia Masterworks) / 1969
no.3 is a hypnotic ambient beauty with a modern classical spirit. This is the third in Christina Vantzou's wonderful series of ambient solo records, and one of the best albums of 2015.
Blog post written by Miguel Ferreira
P.S. Please don't see this post it as "THE" ultimate and definite list for ambient LPs, but as a starting point for a deeper conversation about ambient music. If you're looking for a more extended introduction to what ambient music is all about, I really recommend reading this excellent post "Neither scene nor heard: a journey through ambient music written by Ryan Griffin, the founder of A Strangely Isolated Place.
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