If the best electronic music artists were magically transported from around 20 years ago to the present day, what would you suppose they would say about the state of the music scene? It’s almost a given that they would take to bland-as-you-like dance music artists like David Guetta like a lion to a plate of broccoli and spinach. Likewise, show DJ Shadow or Orbital the likes of Skrillex or Diplo and you can be sure that they’d vomit instantly all over these modern-day ruiners of what was originally an inventive and unique genre that was fertile ground for the growth of some of the best electronic music artists to ever grace this world.
This mention of EDM will be the last in this post I assure you (this acronym should make you shudder), so let’s proceed with namedropping and listing of some bloody great old-school electronic music, shall we? The following is simply a summary of what I feel to be the best old-school electronic music albums out there, and they are accompanied by links to listen to or purchase these pieces of musical genius.
Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Aphex Twin
It’s hard to believe that this album is now 22 years old, a fact that will make most long-running fans of Aphex Twin (as well as Richard D James’ other projects including Polygon Window and The Tuss) feel pretty old in this year of 2014. James’ music is utterly timeless however, owed mainly to the quality of his production, massively deliberate approach to every second of every song, and highly skilled use of even the most outlandish and difficult-to-operate of synthesisers – all aspects that are pretty much taken as read for any Aphex Twin album.
Selected Ambient Works 85-92, as most Aphex Twin fans will know, displays a much lighter side of James’ musical mind. Far away are the punchy bass lines and at times aurally distressing samples in this album (though they aren’t entirely absent); tranquillity is first and foremost on my mind when I listen to Xtal, the album’s opening track. You won’t find the any of the ridiculously upbeat tempos of techno or drum and bass here. What you will find is a series of songs largely centred around some solid, and occasionally funky beats. The simple chord progressions and melodies are haunting at times, and the chillingly distant drum loop in Tha is simply sublime.
This album is simply one of those experience that you must involve yourself in directly in order to fully appreciate what’s going on within. You can still pick up Selected Ambient Works 85-92 on Amazon.co.uk, a purchase I highly recommend to those that truly appreciate electronic music at its very best.
Music For Airports, Brian Eno
Brian Eno is notorious for his ambient works, which are less like straight-up tracks and more akin to adventurous concept albums that work with a theme. And when I say work with a theme, I mean they well and truly immerse the listener into the experience. Music For Airports is the most notable of all of Eno’s ambient works because of the brief that it sets out for itself in the title: to act as ambient music for those waiting in or around an airport. If you were Eno writing this album, you could safely say that you’ve got a big challenge in front of you, but it is one that has been risen to quite spectacularly.
Split into four tracks, titles 1/1, 1/2, 2/1, and 2/2, each involves the repetition of simple themes throughout. 1/1 is perhaps the most accessible with its simple and innocent piano hook, though the rest of the songs also make use of synthesisers, bells, and tape loops. This isn’t the kind of music you go clubbing to of course, but that wasn’t Eno’s intention here. Just check out the tracks on Grooveshark and you’ll realise what you’ve been missing out on.
Bricolage - Amon Tobin
There are so many layers to Amon Tobin‘s Bricolage that one can fail to adequately describe them in full even if given a 2000 word limit on the subject. Suffice it to say that this album is a simply gorgeous (and I don’t use that word lightly) collection of textures ranging from fat break beats ti downtempo drum groovesthat take laid-back to another level.
Easy Muffin is one of the exemplary tracks on the album that involves a simple, funky drum beat, setting an immensely relaxed tone that you could either fall asleep to or lose yourself in. The muted brass hook is the recurring hook in this song and is underlined by a wonderful bass line that gives the song its thicker texture. There are many fantastic tracks such as this on the album however, and the only way to appreciate them. Amon Tobin is deserving of huge respect for this album, which sounds a little like a stripped-down and laid-back alternative to modern Jazz/break artists GoGo Penguin.