Ambient and Atmospheric Recommendations

HTML version of this RYM list. ⁘ Last updated: July 30, 2021.

SoothingDroneyAcoustic (Ambient)Acoustic (Atmospheric)Electronic, Spacey, Trippy
Arctic AmbientAmbient GlitchPower AmbientConceptual, IntriguingSong-Oriented, Warmer
NaturalTribalUrbanDarkerDarkest

Introduction

“The concept of music designed specifically as a background feature in the environment was pioneered by Muzak Inc. in the fifties, and has since come to be known generically by the term Muzak. The connotations that this term carries are those particularly associated with the kind of material that Muzak Inc. produces — familiar tunes arranged and orchestrated in a lightweight and derivative manner. Understandably, this has led most discerning listeners (and most composers) to dismiss entirely the concept of environmental music as an idea worthy of attention.

Over the past three years, I have become interested in the use of music as ambience, and have come to believe that it is possible to produce material that can be used thus without being in any way compromised. To create a distinction between my own experiments in this area and the products of the various purveyors of canned music, I have begun using the term Ambient Music.

An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint. My intention is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres.

Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to ‘brighten’ the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.

Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”


— Brian Eno, September 1978



Most of the time, I think of ambient music as sonic environments without action or narrative. Music that takes you somewhere else, but leaves you there with your imagination… or sometimes makes you feel something without showing a cause.

Anyway — this page contains my favourite releases in the genre, and a few others which many people love and I found interesting enough to include. Some “classics” are not on it, some little-known releases are. I also have a drone list and a (smaller) noise list if you’re interested. My categories are pretty much subjective, I don’t think they cover the whole spectrum yet so maybe I’ll add some more in the future. I hope you find something you like!

Hover over the covers to see the comments; click on them to go to an official page (many of them let you stream the music) or click on the title to go to the rateyourmusic.com page (with ratings and reviews). (I) links contain more information, other links are detailed in the comments. Pleasant listening!

: lamuya · zimina :

Soothing, abstractThe most agreeable and typical kind; may include some unintrusive rhythms and melodies, or just nice soothing drones and atmospheric sounds.


Also features tribal ambient elements. A great album all around, and a good choice for getting into the genre.
Steve Roach
Dreamtime Return
Subtle and contemplative, but with many facets and details — some tracks are warm, melodic and immediate, some only reveal themselves after a few listens. Really impressive album — goes beyond the frontiers of the genre too.
Ryuichi Sakamoto
async
Psychedelic yet ambiguous, with interesting shifting harmonies and percussive, almost concrète sounds.

DreamThe digital reedition on Comatonse includes bonus versions of the first two tracks before Laswell reworked them — they hold up very well as alternative versions, and are an interesting way of hearing who did what. Bill Laswell also has the original 3-track edition available at a cheaper price. (L)

Bill Laswell & Terre Thaemlitz
Web (L)
Half soothing post-rock, half trippy electronic ambient. Thanks to space_ritual for the discovery!
Port-Royal
Flares
Also fits the “electronic/trippy” category.

Everything I’ve heard by these guys (Outland, Aestrata, the Quiet Calling trilogy, North Passage under the name Nautic Depths) comes very recommended; they also have a label called El Culto which is worth looking into.

Mathias Grassow & Tomas Weiss
Outland
Very warm, rich and beautiful, close to post-rock at times; almost too lively to be considered ambient. Try this if you find other ambient releases too uneventful.
Bersarin Quartett
Bersarin Quartett
Very soothing loops. Also fits the “urban atmospheres” category thanks to the interludes.
Celer
Xièxie
A collaboration between Mark Pritchard of Global Communication (see 76:14 in the electronic/spacey category, it’s a classic) and Kirsty Hawkshaw of Opus III (a trance/ambient band I also enjoy very much). Short but great, I wish they had released more.
Pulusha
Isolation
Somehow straddles the gap between droney, minimal ambient and warm, rich, almost song-like ambient without stepping foot in between.
Oren Ambarchi
Grapes from the Estate
(I)
Keith Berry’s previous album, The Golden Boat, was lowercase music; here he makes a very beautiful and calm ambient album that is more accessible but still has a lot of subtlety. (Some listeners will dislike the high-pitched frequencies though!) Each track title is a paragraph of a poem by Massimo Ricci.

Another recommended album between ambient and lowercase is The Illusion of Infinitesimal by France Jobin (1).

If you are interested in lowercase music proper, The Golden Boat is sublime.

Keith Berry
The Ear That Was Sold to a Fish
(I) (1)
“The Healing Music of Rana music series developed gradually during a fifteen-year involvement with classical electronic music technique, the study of esoteric mystical traditions and personal practice of North Indian vocal music between the years 1966 to 1985. These improvisations were created in live performance while seated on the floor behind a Moog Prodigy and Micromoog synthesizer.”
Randall McClellan
The Healing Music of Rana
Part of DJ Olive’s “sleeping pills” project (which also includes previous albums Sleep and Buoy). The artist is known for being a major artist in the illbient scene (check out As Is by We™), but these are ambient works especially made to help listeners sleep.
DJ Olive
Triage
Released on the Silent Season label, “influenced by the natural surroundings in British Columbia”.

(See also Stillpoint by Purl below.)

ASC
Fervent Dream
The first half is close to arctic ambient (though not quite as cold), then it gets warmer, borrowing elements from other styles depending on the track (e.g. “Lily’s Dream Fountain” is a bit new agey, “Any% Teardrop ASMR” reminds me a little of Mileece’s Formations (also on this page)).
Yamaneko
Spa Commissions
Soft and mysterious. Takes some inspiration from progressive electronic, I think.
Roberto Détrée
Architectura Celestis

Jacques Dudon
Lumières audibles


Droney, minimalThe most abstract and minimal kind — but still soothing or evocative enough to be distinct from drone.


Stars of the Lid
Avec Laudenum
Featuring one of the members of Tu M’. Surprisingly minimal considering the sounds that went into it (laptop, piano, synth, electric bass), in a good way.
Triac
Days
One of the only artists to feature both in my ambient list and my drone list (D). Very organic-sounding drones. Note that there are two significantly different versions:

    Hic Sunt Leones version:
        1. “Winter Arc” (49:12)
        2. “The Plain” (13:43)

    Faraway Press version:
        1. “Winter Arc” (29:56)
        2. “High Water” (28:10)

(The Faraway Press version (L) is expensive but the packaging is very beautiful.)

Andrew Chalk
East of the Sun
(D) (L)
“A poet always has too many words in his vocabulary,a painter too many colors on his palette,a musician too many notes on his keyboard.”
    — Jean Cocteau

The Monochromes project also featured videos.Don’t expect volume two to come anytime soon as Tu M’ has unfortunately disbanded, but the Triac album (left) features one ex-member.

Tu M’
Monochromes Vol. 1
(I)
Formerly known as ᴷ (I guess the artist changed because it was ungooglable?).
Foquus
Lumi
“Blue.Hour explores the high contrast colors created in the landscape during “l’heure bleue,” the period of twilight each evening when there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness. Directly following the ‘Golden Hour,’ know for its diffused yet powerful light, the Blue Hour retains the diffusion but lacks the strong light source giving this period of the day an especially melancholic and meditative atmosphere.”

A very nice 21-minute EP, which is also part of a video installation (I); more soothing than the few other releases I’ve heard from the artist so far (which are also really good, closer to drone).

Yann Novak
Blue.Hour
(I)
Actually a drone album, but a very soothing one. Kevin Drumm’s other works cover the whole spectrum from drone to noise to rhythmic noise to lowercase to electro-acoustic etc. I’m a fan of his; very few of his releases would qualify as ambient though.

(If you’re interested in these genres, check out my drone (D) and noise (N) lists below too!)

Kevin Drumm
Tannenbaum
(D) (N)

Yui Onodera
Substrate / The Garden

Chris Meloche
Recurring Dreams of the Urban Myth

Zakè (扎克)
To Those Who Dwelt in a Land of Deep Darkness

Chubby Wolf
Ornitheology

Gimmik
Deux nouvelles


Acoustic Instruments (Ambient)No electronics there, but warmer and more “natural” sounds.

Accordion, voices, trombone, digeridoo, conch, pipe... recorded in a huge empty cistern. Fantastic album.

+ Two other ambient or drone albums recorded in a cistern: (1) Underground Overlays from the Cistern Chapel by Stuart Dempster; (2) Cistern by Doublends Vert.

Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis
Deep Listening (I) (1) (2)
Soft, beautiful and just a little dark. One of the most inspired and effective “neoclassical” ambient records I’ve heard.
Brambles
Charcoal
Very warm-sounding, with vocals. Could fit the “soothing” category as well.
Alio Die
Aura Seminalis
The sounds here come from Aeolian harps — instruments played by the wind.
Aeolian String Ensemble
Lassithi/Elysium
(I)
Based on Debussy’s orchestral works. Much warmer-sounding than most of Biosphere’s other albums — I like playing this one on quiet summer nights.
Biosphere
Shenzhou
(I)
Music made entirely with metal sculpture-instruments built by the artist.

… Actually not that soothing, it’s closer to drone in spirit and better suited for night-time listening. Maybe I should include it in the dark section instead? I’m not sure.

Anyway, click (I) to get more information about the project and (V) to watch the artist play his sculptures!

Harry Bertoia
Sonambient Complete Collection
(I) (V)
Beautiful EP featuring field recordings (Yannick Dauby’s specialty) and Tibetan bowls.

(Had the title been Descendre Cinq Lacs au Travers d’Une Voile, without the accent at the end, it would have been strange but grammatically correct French meaning “to sail down five lakes through a sail” or “through a veil”. With the accent, though, it’s just incorrect. Yes, that “é” bugs me.)

Alio Die & Yannick Dauby
Descendre Cinq Lacs au Travers d’une Voilé
An audiovisual project featuring two hours of ambient and minimalist compositions, with accompanying short films for each track. It's a personal project too, as the composer documented his feelings when he was diagnosed with cancer. Which he fortunately survived — there are anxiety and dark thoughts here, but also healing and hope.
Kasper Bjørke Quartet
The Fifty Eleven Project


Acoustic Instruments (Atmospheric)These may border on other genres than ambient and do more than simply soothe.

“[…] The composition of each single track started from the note D#, obtained from the natural pitch of a reference cymbal, and from other notes related to some acoustic percussion used in the live set (a cowbell, two vietnamese gongs). This notes were then orchestrated using several compositional and artistic choices:· a reductionist character of the sound and the dynamic’s range;· a “minimal techno” feeling of the acoustic drums’ rhythms;· the use of odd time beats (7/8 on “Parte Prima” and “Parte Quarta”) and dub (Parte Seconda);· the use of the recorded voice as an phantom element;· the use of different layers of the sound diffusion […]”
Andrea Belfi
Knots
Beautiful spiritual/psychedelic ambient with folk elements, a bit of an early Popol Vuh or Constellation Records vibe too. These guys deserve more popularity.
Rain Drinkers
Wood Violet
“[…] A fever dream of blurred harmonics and ethnomusicological spelunking, Relief repeatedly returns to variations on a peculiar yet beautifully serpentine drone, whose twinkling acoustic properties meld the hallucinatory mouth-music of the Bangladeshi Murung people and the curved air hypnosis of Terry Riley. Millis bookends and interrupts his mysterious miasma with comedic interludes snatched from his lauded collection of antique 78s, maudlin piano tone-clusters, and teleported crescendos of spectral ballroom waltzes. […]”
R Millis
Relief
Ambient/“neoclassical” or however this genre should be called.
Richard Skelton
Verse of Birds / Véarsa Éan
Breton pipe, hurdy-gurdy and electronics.

Coil also have great ambient pieces on Astral Disaster and A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room among others; if you want to get into their discography, I’ve made a chart/guide (click on (C) below)!

Coil
The Remote Viewer
(C)
Based on guitar loops, by two members of a space rock band also called Loop.

A bit similar to Nocturnal Emissions too.

Main
Firmament II
Minimalist ambient jazz. Might be a bit of a stretch to include them in an ambient list, but they’re a really great band!
The Necks
Drive By
Very low-key, moody, sparse and intriguing music. Piano, kalimba and some discreet rhythmic loops — no drones except for the background hiss (which somehow fits and doesn’t disturb me like it often does). Interestingly, Turman was a member of the industrial project Non, though you would never tell by listening to Flux.

Thanks to snow_over_mongolia for the discovery!

Robert Turman
Flux
Another drone-less album, this time with a dreamy and exotic mood; ocarina, cowbells, marimbas, harmoniums, etc. All four tracks feel quite different, one takes obvious inspiration from Steve Reich… actually this could be more of a minimalism record than an ambient one, but RYM tagged it as “ambient” and it’s really good, so whatever.

Thanks to Paul Bilger for the discovery!

Midori Takada
Through the Looking Glass
One foot in beautiful acoustic melancholy, the other in more mysterious waters… and dipping just the tip of one toe in noisier, more violent territories. It’s not dark ambient, but I recommend listening to it in the dark — preferably in autumn or winter.
Daniel W J Mackenzie
Every Time Feels Like the Last Time

Robert Rich & Markus Reuter
Eleven Questions

CHVE
RASA (1)

Davaahargak Tsaschikher
Re Exist
Great “neoclassical” ambient; sounds a bit like a movie soundtrack.
Deaf Center
Pale Ravine
Short, poetic and evocative, with piano and glassy, mechanical, slightly glitchy toy-like sounds.
Shye
Obscura


Electronic, Spacey, TrippyI didn’t mean to jumble ambient techno, ambient house and Tangerine Dream together initially, but… well, I guess it just happened!

Space ambient to ambient techno. “8:07” and “5:23” are based on “Love on a Real Train” by Tangerine Dream (the fact that they didn’t credit them in the liner notes is the only thing I dislike about 76:14, the album itself is a classic).
Global Communication
76:14
By Kim Cascone. Reminiscent of psybient in spirit, with a feel-good psychedelic vibe; composed for St. Giga, a (now defunct) Japanese radio station which transmitted ambient music 24 hours a day and whose programmation was based on tidal movements.
Heavenly Music Corporation
Lunar Phase
FSoL really have a sound of their own — very organic-sounding IDM. Lifeforms is one of their most ambient-oriented releases (along with the Environments series), though I think their best work is the darker, tenser, more beat-oriented Dead Cities.
The Future Sound of London
Lifeforms
Also check out their albums if you’re interested in techno and haven’t heard them already! Momentum and Cinemascope are fantastic.
Monolake
Gobi. The Desert EP
Mostly cold and stripped down but with some seductive warm rhythms and melodies (a bit tribal at times), plus some sparse spoken word in French.
Pete Namlook
Air II: Travelling Without Moving
One of many solid psybient (ambient trance) albums released on the Ultimae label (L). I’m only including one here, but their catalogue is worth exploring — Solar Fields is very popular, I like Aes Dana (1) and Connect.Ohm (2) very much too.
Carbon Based Lifeforms
Hydroponic Garden
(L) (1) (2)
Released on Pete Namlook’s Fax +49-69/450464 label.
Tetsu Inoue
Ambiant Otaku
Ambient house. This one will make you feel good.
Sun Electric
30.7.94

Gas
Pop
Berlin School. Tangerine Dream had some very good releases and some very kitsch ones — this is one of the very good ones.
Tangerine Dream
Phaedra
A shame it’s only one track… But get the Starethrough EP (featuring the original track) and the Quique album if you like it!
Seefeel / Autechre
Autechre Remix of Spangle by Seefeel
Excellent ambient techno album that goes very progressively from austere to melodic, then back again into the depths. Nearly too beat-oriented to fit on an ambient chart, but too good to be ignored.
Voices from the Lake
Voices from the Lake
Ambient techno, but close to arctic ambient at times too. Somehow this music reminds me of glass (maybe this will make sense to you if you listen to it, maybe not). Released on :zoviet*france:’s Charrm label, with no information at all regarding the artist or the project.
Serafuse
Fallen Angel
Sunny, slightly psychedelic, really good ambient house by Youth (Killing Joke’s bassist) and Paul McCartney. Nice use of guitars and other acoustic instruments.
The Fireman
Rushes
Ambient techno. Released on the Silent Season label, “influenced by the natural surroundings in British Columbia”.

(See also Fervent Dream by ASC above.)

Purl
Stillpoint
Ambient techno / dub techno.
Evan Marc + Steve Hillage
Dreamtime Submersible
The artist is also known for his lo-fi house works as Huerco S., but I much prefer this — beatless ambient techno, also “fuzzy” in the way it hides its details behind lo-fi and pads. Somewhere between waiting rooms and alien biotopes?
Pendant
Make Me Know You Sweet

Andrew Lahiff
A Perpetual Point in Time
Narcotic and beautiful ambient by Uwe Schmidt (a.k.a. Atom™), reminiscent of Pete Namlook or Tetsu Inoue’s works.
Dots
Dots

Vidna Obmana
Ending Mirage


Colder: Arctic AmbientExactly what the name implies: cold, vast, beautiful and quiet soundscapes.

An all-time classic.

The Substrata² edition also includes The Man with a Movie Camera, a surprisingly dark and eerie bonus disc.

Biosphere
Substrata
Pjusk’s other albums also qualify (I like Sval (1) very much, released on Taylor Deupree’s 12k label).
Pjusk / Sleep Orchestra
Drowning in the Sky
(1)

SleepResearch_Facility
Deep Frieze

Thomas Köner
Teimo
Inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic (samples of a movie are used on several tracks). Found on Samourai1978’s Cold, Arctic Ambient list (L) — check it out if you want more recommendations!
Irezumi
Endurance (L)
This one is also pretty dark.
Lull
Cold Summer


Ambient GlitchRelax to the sweet sounds of computer and machine errors.

Truly beautiful, with warm acoustic instruments contrasting with glitchy textures. This is the first part of a series of five.

Click on (N) to listen to samples / buy a digital copy.

Alva Noto
Xerrox Vol. 1 (N)
The EP that made me want to create this category. (The vinyl reissue has a bonus track.)
Robert Lippok
Open Close Open
Not purely ambient, but drifts in and out between ambient glitch and rhythmic — sometimes chaotic — passages. Avoids clichés. Rewards repeated listens.
Hecq
0000
Not your typical “ambient glitch” album; there's a lot going on here.
Nicolas Jaar
Telas


Power AmbientI.e. ambient that sounds like Tim Hecker or Fennesz. (I used to name it “fuzzy ambient”, but Fact Mag came up with “power ambient” and I like that term better.) It's a paradoxical kind of ambient music: busy, abrasive, sometimes inducing a sense of drowsiness. Some of it bridges the gap between ambient and noise.

Noisy, melodic, droney and full of effects.
Tim Hecker
Harmony in Ultraviolet
Only twenty minutes long, but some of the best and most beautiful music I’ve heard in the genre yet. The second track is based on a looped violin sample from “Good Night” by The Beatles. (I don’t think John Cassavetes composed music — the record is an homage, not an interpretation.)

I recommend getting the entire Plays collection (which has been compiled on CD), especially if you’re into experimental music and aren’t afraid of some dissonance.

Ekkehard Ehlers
Plays John Cassavetes
An original sound, with ambient/dub techno elements but also dense and very organic.
Pub
>Single

Giulio Aldinucci
No Eye Has an Equal

Lawrence English
Wilderness of Mirrors
Surprisingly concise and sometimes abrupt despite its soothing sound. In a good way.
René Margraff
phasen
Ambient, harsh fuzz and piano melodies. Free download!
Miche
Along Yurikamome
Another project by Richard Skelton; fuzzy, acoustic and very melancholic. Particularly recommended for autumn and winter.
The Inward Circles
Belated Movements for an Unsanctioned Exhumation
August 1st 1984

Fennesz
Venice

Belong
October Language


Conceptual, IntriguingEven more paradoxical: these releases are ambient in form but contain ideas, have points to make, stories to tell (and so contradict my idea of ambient — I knew I should just have quoted Eno’s…) or will more simply puzzle you. Probably one of the most interesting categories.

All works by Terre Thaemlitz are laden with concepts, often having to do with gender/sex studies, sociology, power relations etc. While this album is mostly great ambient, some parts can be disruptive or surprising — making it a paradoxal but very interesting album.

Tranquilizer is in the same vein but quieter. Terre’s other albums belong to different styles (electro-acoustic/glitch, solo piano, or house music under the K-S.H.E and DJ Sprinkles aliases).

Terre Thaemlitz
Soil
A night-time road trip from Texas to Louisiana, all recorded/mixed in one take. Doesn’t sound like their other works at all. (Which isn’t a bad thing — their dance music releases haven’t aged very well. The KLF are a funny and interesting band to read about though.)
The KLF
Chill Out
Mostly pieces created for installations. Contains extracts of texts by Paul Auster and Samuel Beckett.
Scanner
Sound for Spaces
Each track is inspired by a twentieth century painting.
Strië
Struktura
An electroacoustic neo-impressionist monthly diary. Introspective and subtle.

“Working through a circle of fifths, each one of the twelve tracks [was] written and recorded within one month. The work [also incorporates] sounds and images recorded during that month to capture the change of seasons.”

Isnaj Dui
Duodecim
Recordings of old, worn out Dixieland jazz vinyl records. An illustration of the effects of time and memory damage.

The name of the project is a reference to the haunted ballroom scene in the movie adaptation of The Shining.

The Caretaker
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
“Pinkcourtesyphone desires to capture the sonic essence of some nicely dressed 1960’s housewife wistfully peering out her window while reclining on some lovely couch or divan, with, of course, a slowly sipped cocktail and perhaps half of a valium. Perhaps she is waiting for the phone to ring.”

Project by Richard Chartier, founder of Line label (which is excellent if you like quiet electronic experimental music).

Pinkcourtesyphone
Foley Folly Folio
An unofficial alternative soundtrack to a 1969 movie called The Colour of Pomegranates.
Nicolas Jaar
Pomegranates
Strange and enchanting. Made from layered and re-edited damp, decayed tapes, so there’s some glitch involved — it goes from smooth to noisy, nicely veering between beautiful assonances and intriguing dissonances.
Ouvala
Psychology of Colour
Inspired by the story of Bronisława, a 13th century nun living in Poland who had to hide in the forest to escape invaders. Based on Russian and East European folk music samples, evoking phantoms and old tales, ghostly without sounding blurry.
Biosphere
Departed Glories
Droneless ambient compositions with very nice organic patterns, a bit reminiscent of minimalism but “inspired by formations in nature; the rotating progression of sparse then condensed spouts of growth in plants, the changing hues and intensities of light, the sudden changing gusts to wisps of the wind, the unfathomably intricate structures of snow flakes, the random patterns of raindrops as they fall to ground”. Mostly electronic, though one track features singing and cello.

Thanks to fighuass for the discovery!

Mileece
Formations
Strange notes and photographs, found artefacts, damaged magnetic tapes and warped records… a mysterious, half-comforting, half-disqueting album that uses both recent and reworked (up to 30-year-)old recordings from the band. Not that you can really tell what’s old and what’s new here.

Close to :zoviet*france:, with whom they have collaborated. I recommend seeking out the CD version, which is longer and has a half-handmade packaging.

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project
Revisionist History

Paul Schütze
Third Site (L)


Song-Oriented, WarmerFor those who like melodies and maybe a few vocals. There aren’t many full-fledged songs here (this is still ambient after all), but we’re close.

Perhaps the most moving ambient record I’ve ever heard. A very short album, with strings and barely-there vocal elements — as if these tracks were ghosts of songs, unheard but deeply felt. Heartwarming yet wistful.
Malibu
One Life
Beautiful new age ambient by another artist who deserves more recognition. You might already have heard Gigi Masin’s track “Clouds” without knowing it, as it was sampled in many tracks including Björk's “It's in Our Hands” or Nujabes' “Latitude (Remix)”.
Gigi Masin
Talk to the Sea
Pieter Nooten is better known as an ex-member of the goth rock band Clan of Xymox; Michael Brook is known for his ambient records and movie soundtracks. So this is a soothing album with goth vibes — several tracks are actually ambient versions of Clan of Xymox tracks Nooten wrote.
Pieter Nooten &
Michael Brook

Sleeps with the Fishes
Sounds a bit like an ambient/dream pop version of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. One single track, with wordless vocals.
Insides
Clear Skin

Susumu Yokota
Sakura
If ambient rock was a genre, this would be it.
Slowdive
Pygmalion
Sounds like being in a deep forest at dusk, in a story from the old days where animals speak and witches live in wooden huts. Soothing but melancholic and sometimes dark; occasional rhythms and singing.

Thanks to kneeonkian for the recommendation!

2muchachos
Forest Is Not What It Seems
Four nice, melancholy tracks that are close to the softest side of post-rock, with cello, subdued singing, tapes and acoustic sounds (few electronic ones).

Thanks to snow_over_mongolia for the recommendation!

The Boats
Ballads of the Research Department

Windy & Carl
Consciousness
Blurry, echoey, charming and melancholy songs. This is a two-part work; one part is called Alien Observer (1), the other Dream Loss (2).

(What does A I A stand for? Or is it A | A? I don’t know.)

Grouper
A I A

Ana Roxanne
Because of a Flower


Natural SoundsAmbient with field recordings from natural environments. (Yes, I still need more!)

“Makruna” features beautiful, peaceful riverside field recordings nicely contrasting with darker drones and a slow gong; “Minya” is a lot tenser and more abstract. Beautiful work.

The artist also has free/name your price releases on his Bandcamp page (B).

Jonathan Coleclough
Makruna · Minya (B)
Melancholic neoclassical ambient (violin) with field recordings from Iceland and South Africa; subtle and very moving. “The word ‘Aven' refers to an underground shaft that leads upward from the roof of a cave passage.”

Also available digitally on Bandcamp (B). Check out the artist's website for more information and recordings (A).

Bethan Kellough
Aven (B) (A)
Geir Jenssen = Biosphere.

As the title implies, this is half (arctic) ambient, half field recordings; if you like it, you may want to get into field recordings proper (Jana Winderen (1), Francisco López, Chris Watson… click (L) to get a good list!).

Geir Jenssen
Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings from Tibet (1) (L)
A single track that’s more than four hours long, rather dark but soothing, with rain falling in the background. Great to listen to while working on a long project or reading. Free download.

(In a sense, this bridges the gap between the “nature” and the “urban” categories…)

Ananta
Inside My Room, Watching the Rain
Quiet, short album of field recordings and piano. Sometimes it’s all you need.

Granted, the recordings are partly from cities, but there are enough birds chirping to give it a more natural than urban feel (to my ears at least).

Fennel
Resuming the Trail
Or: Jungle by Chikyuu (“Earth”). A lush and peaceful track with jungle sounds; released as a split album with New Eden by Shinkou (“Faith”).
地球
『ジャングル』


Tribal AmbientAmbient with “exotic” sounds, most often involving drums.

(One or two releases here also have ties with tape music and hints of industrial, which isn’t typical of the subgenre but… I do listen to a lot of that too.)


Jon Hassell has also coined “Fourth World music”, which he defines as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques”. Fourth World, Volume Two: Dream Theory in Malaya (4) for instance is pretty great!
Jon Hassell
Power Spot (4)
Has a beautiful “natural” feel, featuring field recordings, bamboo flutes, clarinet, guitar, voice samples from around the world etc.

Part of a trilogy including also The Original Recordings (album) and The Kallikatsou Recordings (EP), available on the same label; I highly recommend all three!

The Chi Factory
The Bamboo Recordings

Steve Roach
Artifacts
Ties with experimental/tape music, with found sounds, makeshift instruments etc. Sounds like tribal music from contemporary England.

If you like it, also check out Fossil Aerosol Mining Project (1), Reformed Faction and Troum (2).

:zoviet*france:
Shouting at the Ground
(1) (2)
Muslimgauze is the project of a strange British guy who got obsessed by the Israelo-Palestinian conflict and released hundreds of albums inspired by it… Arabic atmospheres, tension, somewhere between ambient and ambient techno. This one is one of the most ambient-oriented albums (many are more techno-oriented). Another good album is Zul’m.

The project is politically charged, thankfully you don’t have to buy into it to appreciate the music.

Dominick Fernow (Prurient)’s Vatican Shadow project is very much inspired by this artist.

Muslimgauze
Al-Zulfiquar Shaheed
I really like Schütze's experimental approach to “tribal” ambient (more interesting, darker and less new agey than most records labelled that, fourth world or ECM); this long album is a really good example of this style. The darker, hypnagogic 40-minute “Sleep” suite is amazing and could have been released on its own.
Paul Schütze
Apart

O Yuki Conjugate
Peyote

Omenya
Ancient Rites

Vasilisk
Acqua
Close to “fourth world” ambient, but with industrial elements in the background (what SPK was best known for, though their style has varied considerably from record to record).
SPK
Zamia Lehmanni: Songs of Byzantine Flowers


Urban AtmospheresAnother very subjective category — including field recordings from cities but also ambient hip hop, ambient techno… anything that reminds me of life in a city.

By Rod Modell (cv313, DeepChord). A single hour-long track that feels like being half-conscious, half-drifting to sleep in the middle of the city.
A601-2
Shibuya Hypnagogia
Dark ambient/industrial (techno). For more like this, check out the Blackest Ever Black catalogue. (Quarter Turns Above a Living Line by Raime (1) is another good album.)
Black Rain
Dark Pool (1)
Low-key jazz + ambient techno.
Nils Petter Molvær & Moritz von Oswald
1/1
Very austere and dark (but beautiful in its own way) minimal ambient techno.
Plastikman
Consumed
Illbient (experimental atmospheric hip hop beats with drum'n'bass)… I didn't include this album at first because some tracks are definitely beat-oriented and even danceable, but the entire album is focussed on the atmospheres and very interesting in this regard. It's more elusive than you might expect too.
DJ Spooky
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
A pleasant musical promenade through the city, featuring field recordings. (Both artists also collaborated on an arctic ambient album called Polar Sequences — recommended as well!)
The Higher Intelligence Agency & Biosphere
Birmingham Frequencies
Fragments of field recordings from various cities around the world, all bathed in introspective dark ambient. Travelling without escaping your own thoughts and feelings.

Thanks to Eoin23 for the recommendation!

Thomas Köner
La Barca
Or: New Eden by Shinkou (“Faith”). A lush and peaceful cityscape; released as a split album with Jungle by Chikyuu (“Earth”).
信仰
『新しいエデン』


DarkerFrom ambient to dark ambient; these are dark, but still soothing enough.

A note about dark ambient: depending on who you ask, the genre can get very broad, including pretty much anything that’s scary or disturbing and doesn’t fit in other genres… which would make it a different genre than ambient entirely. Still, this being an ambient list, I tried to avoid records that are really too intense and eventful throughout, such as Ben Frost’s By the Throat (even though I love that one).


Very different from Selected Ambient Works 85-92, which was more techno than ambient.

The tracks on this album are designated with pictures rather than titles, and some versions have different tracklists — fans have come up with unofficial names for the tracks and it can all be a bit confusing, so I made a visual guide (G) to help you sort it out!

Not all tracks here are dark, but the mood generally is. One of my all-time favourites.

Aphex Twin
Selected Ambient Works
Volume II
(G)
Beautiful and intricate, close to power ambient; nocturnal, but this night is full of stars.
Witxes
A Fabric of Beliefs
Ambient dub, hauntology, dark ambient. Compiles their three first LPs with a lot of bonus material.

Elemental is good too, but darker and at times almost brutal (doesn’t really fit on an ambient list).

Demdike Stare
Tryptych
Nocturnal, but peaceful and with a lot of space. Featuring synths, cello, singing bowls, gong…

Thanks to wilczur for the recommendation!

Nebula
Genesis
Yup, this is my favourite album by Eno yet — beautiful, subtle, perfectly meets the ambient ideal he presented in the text quoted in the introduction. And without the cheesiness that mars some of his other releases.

(Another one I really like by him is Small Craft on a Milk Sea, I think it was underrated.)

Brian Eno
Ambient 4: On Land
Their first album Quique was a great ambient techno record with female vocals and a slight shoegaze influence; on this album, they keep these elements but take a dark ambient turn. (Their next one, (CH-VOX), is sparser and darker still but not quite as good.)
Seefeel
Succour
Creates a very special atmosphere while sounding very sparse; hypnotic, seductive and enigmatic, a lot of whispering and quietness. The text in the second track is taken from Max Ernst's La femme 100 têtes.

Also recommended by the same artist: Spellewauerynsherde (S), featuring only layers of ghostly voices. Look up “hauntology” (H) if you’re into this!

Akira Rabelais
cxvi (S) (H)
Very dynamic and cinematic, with rhythmic parts and climaxes.

Thanks to wilczur for the recommendation!

Caul
The Long Dust
Still partly based on guitar loops, but darker, stranger, with more concrete sounds. Initially released as a series of six EPs.
Main
Hz
Solo work by Mark Spybey (:zoviet*france:, Reformed Faction, Download, Beehatch…).
Dead Voices on Air
From Afar All Stars Spark and Glee
Cold, dark and lonely semi-trip hop that sounds like it was recorded in a bunker in Siberia. Haunting and beautiful.
Стук бамбука в XI часов
Лёгкое дело холод
Ritualistic, song-oriented, with rhythms and vocals. “A Lefthanded Sign” is as close as I’ve ever heard dark ambient get to a hit song (!).
Inade
The Incarnation of the Solar Architects

Emeralds
Allegory of Allergies
An original sound, using phonography collages that seem to be sound sculptures. Her other releases, Msuic and Too, are really good as well!
Klara Lewis
Ett
Melodic and dark without sounding hostile; probably the most accessible album in this category.
Jääportit
Avarrus
Three albums, the first one focussing on “harmonies”, the second one on “drones”, the last one on “rhythms and pulsations”. A bit of a murky tribal sound at times.

Troum is formed by two ex-members of Maeror Tri.

Troum
Tjukurrpa
Based on actual electromagnetic waves “recorded” by the NASA Voyager Probe! Edited by Jeffrey Thompson, but you can find unaltered recordings on Youtube too.
Symphonies of the Planets 1-5:
NASA Voyager Recordings
(I’m still unsure whether to put this one in the “darker” category or the “darkest” one…)
Robert Rich & B. Lustmord
Stalker
Space-themed, rather dark but not oppressive, with great textures.Neel is also a member of Voices from the Lake (see above).
Neel
Phobos
A short, ominous twenty-minute piece evoking a giant squid rising from the depths… All ambient until the crashing finale.
Hail Architeuthis!
Hail Architeuthis!
(I hesitated to include Multiple Personality Disorder, which is both conceptual and dark, in this list too — but decided against it because one track is much too noisy/jarring for it to be ambient.)
Maeror Tri
Myein
A starkly minimal single-track album; much of it consists of an exploration of the cosmic vacuum, until some unexpected synths appear. It sounds a bit like a modern reinterpretation of Tangerine Dream's Zeit.
Xu Cheng
Pluto
U-R-I = Ure Thrall. The Bone Tree Soundtracks accompanied a sculpture/installation by Dana Albany (I) for the Burning Man festival, actually made of bones.
U-R-I
The Bone Tree Soundtracks,
Volume One
(+) (I)
Has a very natural feel, both in the sounds used and in the way each track progresses; it’s rather dark, but only in the sense that it evokes dusk or a solitary place in winter — nothing scary or oppressive. Available as a free download!
Darren Harper
Descend
Melancholic dark jazz (clarinet, guitar and harmonium), recorded in an old church.
Asunta
Landscapes

Mandible Chatter
Food for the Moon

Lussuria
Standstill

Sleep Resarch Facility
Stealth


DarkestThe scariest, most macabre, most disturbing ones.


raison d’être
The Empty Hollow Unfolds

Lustmord
Heresy
“Dark jazz” a.k.a. “doom jazz”.

For more like this, check out Tartar Lamb II (1), The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble (2), etc.

Bohren & der Club of Gore
Black Earth
(1) (2)
Eerie, otherworldly, minimal and quite different from most other Nurse with Wound releases. Close to drone too.

I’ve listened to a bunch of Nurse with Wound releases over the years (between 25 and 30); if you want me to tell you more about them, check the (G) link below.

Nurse with Wound
Soliloquy for Lilith
(G)
Originally conceived as a soundtrack for the movie of the same name, partially released in various forms over the years (in 1990, 2009…). The 2014 version is the first “complete” one, with track titles and cover art. It’s a sort of synthesis of Nurse with Wound’s eerie and atmospheric sounds. Maybe because it was reworked many times, it sounds more polished and cohesive than most of his other releases, even though it's very varied.

Again, see (G) for more Nurse with Wound stuff.

Nurse with Wound
Lumb’s Sister
(G)
Fuzzy/noisy, with a breathtaking final track (which contradicts what I said earlier about not including anything too intense, but oh well).
Black Swan
Aeterna
Layered field recordings from abandoned rooms in Chernobyl.
Jacob Kirkegaard
4 Rooms

Asmorod
Derelict
Sounds like the soundtrack to a Japanese horror movie.
Shinkiro
Deep Blue
Takes inspiration (as well as titles and samples) from the Night of the Living Dead movie.
<1
17 Miles from Willard
Released in the wake of the 2016 Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub (benefits are donated to charity).

A very mournful piece; a contemporary lament. The sounds are abstract and the piece is rather short, but the feeling and meaning are all too real. No theatricals here — it's heartfelt and spot-on. (I've been listening to it a lot… there hasn’t been any dearth of tragedies, violence and anxiety lately.) Even without context, it would be a great dark ambient EP — but as far as I'm concerned, no account of “what 2016 sounded like” will be complete without this piece.

Pinkcourtesyphone
Under Chandeliers
Dark ambient from the depths of the earth: edited recordings from the “Pozzo del Merro” sinkhole taken at different depths.

(Note that there are two conflicting tracklists — one in which the tracks are ordered by depth, and another one which you can see on the CD scans over at Discogs. I don't know which is the correct one.)

Olhon
Sinkhole
Short, eerie, building up with electric tension.
Anji Cheung
Spirit as Creature
Based on field recordings taken in the city, but this city sounds like a monster in the middle of a black void.
Christopher McFall
The City of Almost



Other categories and links



These categories don’t cover the entire genre! These are still missing from my list:

    ⁘ New age
    ⁘ Dungeon synth (I still need to discover it, though Jääportit is sometimes tagged as such)
    ⁘ Industrial ambient (:zoviet*france:, Deutsch Nepal, Caroline K…)
    ⁘ “Desolate ambient”? I’m not sure about the name yet — lo-fi, sad ambient released on cassettes, not entirely unlike the quieter tracks in power electronics…
     If you’re interested, check out the Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. catalogue.
     [edit] aliensamadhi and TheScientist might have covered this already: see their list RYM Ultimate Box Set > Clinical Ambient?
    ⁘ Ambient jazz (except for that one Necks album)
    ⁘ “Historical ambient”? Based on reconstitutions of ancient music. This is a bit harder to find than I thought.
    ⁘ Uplifting ambient? (Though that would probably overlap with many other categories.)

Some cool lists and other links of interest:

    ⁘ SomaFM: Drone Zone (Free ambient webradio — good music and no ads!)
    ⁘ Post Ambient Lux (Tumblr)
    ⁘ A Closer Listen
    ⁘ ‡ Ambient Essentials ‡ 500+ albums ranked and ‡ Dark Ambient Essentials ‡ 650+ albums ranked by wilczur
    ⁘ Ambient? by charlie_manzata and nico_ragno (in fifteen categories)
    ⁘ warioman86’s Favorite Ambient/Minimal Albums by warioman86
    ⁘ Quiet Music: Albums to Relax To (Mostly Ambient) by Samourai1978
    ⁘ Ambient List by Nerva
    ⁘ Drone - Ambient by Hypnag0gue
    ⁘ Cold, Arctic Ambient by Samourai1978
    ⁘ RYM Ultimate Box Set: Ambientnoisegaze by TheScientist (What I call “power ambient”)
    ⁘ Slow Beats: Ambient Techno - Ambient House - Psybient - Psychill by Hypnag0gue
    ⁘ Dark Ambient Favorites by Zekk
    ⁘ Natural Anthems: Soundscapes, Field Recordings, and Audio Vérité by Monocle
    ⁘ NASA Techno & Voyager Atmospheres by wilczur, Xhi, jabr and kiszaj
    ⁘ In a Silent Way: Ambient and Minimal Jazz by dotadot


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