I once read people identify with their own type of music to be part of a 'tribe'. Well, I guess I'm in a tribe of one! Anyway, here's a list of albums which still have a place on my long-since-turned-digital music collection.

Before you yawn and click away, a couple of questions:
Have YOU made the effort to keep up with some new music?
Are you still listening ONLY to music that was out when YOU were 20, or younger?

Having said that, be sure I know what I am with music. At age 20, I heard “Ricochet part 2” by Tangerine Dream. Sorry if you like Motown or Opera… I just don’t. Music is about expressing emotional intensity that cannot be put into words, walking along the “farthest shore”, or exploring perception. It's not an exercise in ego, or imitating Elvis Presley!

Still actively looking for that next inspiration…

Gary Numan: Savage (Songs from a broken world)
Released 2017
Most famous for his 1979 No.1 “Are Friends Electric?” Numan returned a few years ago with “Splinter” which turns his battles with shyness and Asperger’s syndrome into a record. But “Savage” takes the theme to a higher level. Especially on “My name is Ruin” it turns into waves of relentlessly bleak lyrics supported by Numan’s characteristic voice (he’s not a great singer but suits the material) and layers of distorted synth sounds.

Despite the war references there’s no statement here on any present day conflict, and the last track makes no mistake in clarifying that. “I’ve seen the oceans dry, I’ve seen the mountains fall”.

“Savage” is a concept album, with middle eastern motifs telling the story of the last few people living a wretched existence “where dust and death are neighbours”. Nothing quite like it has been done before, but it still manages echoes of “Tubeway Army” even his makeup in the album artwork is similar though he’s dressed in rags. Unlike most artists of his vintage, Numan resisted the temptation to go backwards an become a guitar strummer and moved forwards with technology.

This is an album he was born to make!

Autechre: Exai
Released 2013
This is the 2nd album from Autechre on this page, which shows how important they are, and keeps the faith into the second decade of the 21st century. As with their other recent output it’s long, dense, and unlistenable to most people.

The cover artwork hints at their (rare) live performance environment of playing in darkened rooms. The music needs your full concentration, it’s never going to be something played in the car!

In this completely computer generated studio album, Autechre sum up their previous material and have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek adventure in referencing the Dance Music genre. They could have done with more alien and threatening backdrops in the style of “Parhelic Triangle” from Confield, rather than the noise loop and Nord Modular stuff but we can’t have everything. The core sound of MAX/MSP is still prominent here.

I still haven’t listened to this enough after 7 years for it to make complete sense. The high points are probably the twisting “electro-biological loops” that form the centre of many tracks. Finishing with the incredible and semi-symphonic ’YJY UX’ to complete well over an hour of computers testing human perception. As with every album they did, it contains a some new directions yet seems to be a “greatest hits” summation of previous work.

The 2018 ’NTS Sessions’ 1/2/3/4 release is even more of a challenge, and not recommended for beginners. They have indeed continued to push the envelope after “Exai”. “Confield” is the most accessible starting point, then graduate to their later work.

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Ital Tek: Midnight Colour
Released 2009

This record which was undoubtedly made with only a computer and a little outboard gear, sounds fresh to my jaded ears. The title as with the best electronic albums, fits precisely. The track’s titles are suitably evocative.

Maybe Adam Myson AKA Ital Tek got the title from the amount of midnight oil burnt in making it? Anyway it combines ambience with 21st century frenetic drum beats. Yet the “step” (or beat?) aspect never becomes intrusive to the ambient moments. Very expansive synth textures have been used, and the overall tone is appropriate to the midnight sky theme. Indeed there are probably few dubstep albums you could listen to so late at night.

“Babel” may be the most immediately melodic track. “Moon Bow” is my favourite, re-introducing a vestige of the intro melody towards the end. “Talis” typifies the snaky melodies that find their way through this hour of music.

The only thing that could have been done better is the last track “Restless Tundra”. The female singer sounds nervous, and the song pattern is too fractured to impress melodically. Cleverly, snippets of the melody of the final track crop up throughout the album.

He moved on to do the minimalist
“Hallowed” (which I would rate 8/10) and the sci-fi influenced but rather patchy “Bodied” (which gets 7/10). As with several artists who move between dance and ambient, he falls down by trying to make it too minimalist, and then sounds like it took 5 minutes to do.

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Nine Horses: Snow Borne Sorrow
Released 2007
Definitely Sylvian's best album since "Secrets of the Beehive", and appropriately was made with some of the former members of Japan. But there’s no trace of eastern music or cheap production here, its all crystal clear. In an extremely good vocal performance, Sylvian is capable of conveying the deepest emotional punch of any singer you will hear.

The lyrics are introspective and bitter, and the music sways more towards the darkness than the light. The technical aspects of the percussion sounds are bang up to date, with distinct Autechre leanings. Even the words of the songs hang together very well, which is remarkable because most don't have a verse-chorus structure. The only angle I don't like is the tendency for guest soloists to put longish improvised and irrelevant sections into the songs, particularly at their ends.

Let's give a paragraph each to the tracks I like best. "Atom and Cell" is a not-so veiled attack on the United States and especially the system that allows the poorest of the poor to live destitute in a land of riches for many. It was inspired by a woman who had only a carrier bag for clothes - in New York. Yet the politicians promote the growing budget deficit and greedy financial sector. "You drank all the water and you pissed yourself dry, you fell to your knees and proceeded to cry". Ouch.

"A history of holes" is a brilliant idea for a song. It's about a rich man reflecting on his life. Thinking of the bad things he had done to others and how he blanked them out from memory. So his life was a history of holes.

"Darkest Birds" reminds me of a particularly bad emotional episode I had once. The dark seems to press in on you from all sides in the early hours of the morning.

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Ryan Teague: Coins & Crosses
Released 2006
I discovered Ryan Teague through a programme called "Mixing it" that used to be on Radio 3. The music is close to what many would call classical but not entirely.

Where "Coins and Crosses" hits home is in it's delightfully dark mix of modern and orchestral textures. Far from previous unsuccessful attempts at doing that balancing act. Think of the general atmosphere of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for strings" being played by an orchestra of little grey men from Tau Ceti and you won't be far wrong!!

The musicianship displayed here is undeniably first class. And it still breathes 100% underneath the layers of electronic processing. For instance, the title track features both harp and strings playing against electronic 'ghosts' of themselves and a smattering of ethnic sounding percussion.

The overall texture of this album could not have been made until recently because the technology didn't exist. That’s except for "Fantasia for strings" which has a massed string orchestra playing right through. Unfortunately Ryan Teague lost his way on the later albums like “Causeway” which is a self indulgent load of acoustic guitar twanging.

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Plaid: Greedy Baby
Released 2006
This was the last album I bought on Compact Disc, and it came with a DVD of videos. The videos are extremely eclectic and bizarre. The music is similarly very strange on first playing, especially the chord sequence which has a particular character that is applied to most of the tracks. The first track "War Dialler" to my ears is just some mucking about, and doesn't really belong here.

Happily after the fluff of the first track we are hit with the menacing, grinding build-up of "I, citizen the loathsome". The video consists of spinning pictures of run-down housing estates at night. Not all the following tracks are as good, but they are all very imaginative. My favourites are "The launching of big face" which is a bit tinkly, and the last one "To" where they go for the big ending.

I think this was the best album the two guys from Plaid ever made. Their first one under the Plaid name (Not for threes) had some equally good ideas but too many fillers, which apart from the first track are not in evidence here. In fact "Greedy Baby" as a whole to me illustrates how far electronic music has come, and that it can be used to generate things that are still surprising and new.

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Múm: Summer Make Good
Released 2003

Based on the concept of being lost at sea, this is a very strange album that was largely made on electronics, but sounds nothing like techno or dubstep. Possibly the most organic electronic album ever made. Kristin's voice is very evocative, but I can't understand what she's saying!

The track titles themselves are very clever, e.g. “The island of children’s children”. The melodies are quite catchy and build nicely. Sensibly they put the most ear-catching track "Weeping Rock Rock" near the start. There are a number of short 'interlude' tracks which consist of weird noises, but they act to join up with the main tracks so are not fillers. Múm's later albums seemed to dispense with the vocals and I was not too impressed with them. But there was another album "Finally we are no-one" which came before this one, which I have only bought a few tracks from, but will buy more.

Múm is pronounced 'moom' I think. It's because they come from Iceland. The CD sleeve looks like it was made 50 years ago!

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Amon Tobin: Out from Where
Released 2002

Made from a mash up of old records, allegedly. But it doesn’t sound old-fashioned, even years later. The production style is very “big”. Very difficult to describe this record. It is commercial-ish but would never ever have made the charts.

My favourite tracks are the manic “Triple Science” and the last, rather reflective and grandiose “Mighty Micro People”. The tracks do go on a bit long. They are heavily based on sample mangling, but it is so clever it sounds like live playing. I heard a radio interview with Amon Tobin once, and he seems to have a very similar mindset and outlook to me with music. But he has done miles better with this than I ever could. And is Canadian.

After this he went more towards background music for games, which is more bland, but still very good to see such an adventurous musician make some money.


Robert Rich & Ian Boddy: Outpost
Released 2002

The Dawn Chorus is a radio signal of unknown origin, which is sometimes heard on special radios which tune right down to audio frequency. That is, listening to the VLF electromagnetic spectrum between 100Hz-15kHz. This sound (which is like a cross between frying bacon and birds waking up) introduces "Outpost".

Ambient, but never bland or predictable, this album has a sound like nothing else. Some of the Ian Boddy sequenced sections get a little repetitive, but the swooping "alien-voice" parts elsewhere more than make up for that.

"Edge of Nowhere" is a track that will frighten small children, with it's drifting pads and alien voice effect crying out in loneliness. “Tuning-in” and “Tuning-Out” blur the border between the radio noises and straight synth voices. A good album to listen to
very late at night by those with a high fear tolerance. One that really does try to walk along the “farthest shore”.

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Protogonos: Strange Geographie
Released 1999

Another album which does largely what the cover promises. The picture is from a nuclear particle accelerator experiment. "Strange Geographie" goes on a journey far from Earth to distant and unsettling regions of the Universe. Like the best electronic music it’s closer to the nature of the universe than acoustic instruments can ever be. They even largely avoid the intrusion of sounding like it was played with a keyboard.

Beginning with staring at a bright light on the title track, it then turns firmly away from the light into nearly an hour of alternately harsh and smooth ambient textures. The harsh and smooth balance is rather like the chill/beat ratio of Vocal Trance. They have been heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream here, but it is TD from the “Zeit” and “Phaedra” era, done with technology circa 1999.

The continuously glittering central core and wordless voice of "Lixivium" (18 minutes long) probably represent the high point. "Amaranthine" is just a bit too long and slow for my taste at 27 minutes. Neither of these two tracks turn back to the light seen in the first track.

This was a limited edition CD release, but eventually became available as an Amazon and iTunes download. Despite many years of searching I never found a “space ambient” album to better this one. On YouTube there are hundreds of albums of digital synth washes, of which there are many on “Strange Geographie”, but this one just goes a step further.


Autechre: Chiastic Slide
Released 1997

Chiastic flow is a term used in fluid dynamics. That describes this album accurately, as it marks a turning point between the early Autechre sound of simple drum beats and techno style melodies, and their later alien-industrial stuff.

“Awful”, “garbage”, “not music”, “shite” are words applied to Autechre’s music, but that’s only by those that don’t listen! This is not an easy album and many will turn off after the first seconds, but is more friendly than their later efforts. The beats are relatively simple time signatures and the landmarks more recognisable. There is some early MAX/MSP generative stuff, but much more conventional manual keyboard playing than their later albums.

There are many great tracks on here. “Rettic AC” is a wall of noise, “Chichli” shows what hip-hop might have been (inspiring a whole separate EP), “Nuane” fades out to wandering glitch loops. Prepare for super-cool jazz inspired synth melodies and harsh-as-the-90s-get distortion.

A small criticism would be that some tracks go on too long, but that's minor compared to the originality and intelligence shown on this album. It was the one that really put them on the map. ‘Confield’ is a better album than this, but Chiastic Slide was their first one I heard so goes on this list.

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The Future Sound of London: Dead Cities
Released 1996
From the horrifying death mask on the front cover to the terrifying alien face elsewhere in the artwork, "Dead Cities" is an album which lives up to its artwork. The whole thing sounds like computer generated images towering over derelict and decaying industrial sites. Lifeforms was a precursor for this, but I prefer the lack of repetition on this harsher sounding, but less 'beat-y' album.

That's not to say ‘Dead Cities’ is all gloom, because there are some beautiful and even silly sounds on here. The 3/3 drum beat of "My Kingdom" leading up to the sampled vocal melody. Animal noises lead up to the immense vocal choir on "Everyone in this world is doing something without me". Balancing melody with harsh and off-the-wall sounds is an area where this album hits home.

Garry Cobain who was the main force behind Future Sound of London went off on a trip (both literally and figuratively) after Dead Cities, and returned to become "Amorphous Androgynous" which is completely different and absolutely dreadful.

The Orb: U.F.Orb
Released 1992

Another album tagged as "ambient house" back in the day, though there's very little house influence on this, and nothing in common with "Chill Out" which was supposed to be of the same genre. Actually U.F.Orb is far more reggae. Their top 10 hit "The Blue Room" came from a remix of a track off here, and the only thing missing is the single mix of Blue Room, which would have been much better to include than the mucking about that takes up the last minutes of U.F.Orb.

The “mucking about” is the main thing that lets it down, even if the telephone bit is funny, they should have taken more time after releasing “Adventures beyond the Ultraworld”. If they had more Blue Room type stuff this would rate a lot higher. Still the production sounds good and clear over 27 years later.

The Orb returned to semi-form more recently with ‘Moon Building 2703’ which does manage to combine their characteristic silly samples into a more interesting and musical format.

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The KLF: Chill Out
Released 1990

Moving into the 90s but before the KLF hit the big time (at least under that name).

Really there's little on here that hasn't been done before or since by others. But they did it at the right time, and 'Chill Out' is a strangely effective piece. I think the secret is the pace is slow, but it moves through a lot of changes, so never gets boring. So many 'ambient' albums have many minutes of one thing. Well, "Chill Out” doesn't do that.

It’s a concept album based on a journey across America, though they ran out of definitively American sounds near the start. Only on this album will you hear house style synthesiser riffs alongside steel slide guitar. The whole thing runs to 45 minutes, and 45 minutes well spent, once in a while.

The last 5 minutes are a meltdown of sounds from previous phases of the album, with the line 'Rock radio into the nineties and beyond' playing at the back, and being progressively slowed down. Which resonates now as much as it did at the time.

Samples from this album were recycled for their chart hits, such as “What time is love?”.


Erasure: The Innocents
Released 1988

The Innocents combines the Roland D-50 sound with the extensive analog synthesiser collection of Vince Clarke. In contrast to 'Substance 1987' this shows how to write songs that really sit together well as an album. The songs really shine and flow with upfront melody without trying hard to be commercial. The band I go out with still play "A little respect" and it always goes down well.

I remember 'Ship of Fools' playing on the radio on my old workplace when I was an apprentice. Every song on here is well structured and produced, with no fillers. As well as the more up tempo tracks, I particularly liked "Hallowed Ground"... "the children meet, got the world at their feet, not knowing what's around the corner, are we living for an uncertain future?"

Such a shame acts like Erasure have fallen out of favour, when much older 'dinosaurs' (e.g. Rod Stewart) with less talent still attract the media spotlight. Still I guess they made their money from it, and Andy Bell deserves some punishment for the “Little Respect” video.

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New Order: Substance 1987
Released 1987

This is both a remix and compilation. Except for a couple of the tracks that were new (I think). Never mind, at the time "True Faith" was a big hit and one of the best known songs from the 1980s. The twin-CD release Substance has some strange material from their early post Joy-division days alongside obviously bigger budget and more sophisticated later tracks. The later tracks are really what sell this compilation, in particular the angst filled “State of the Nation”, and “Subculture”.

Of course they had to include "Blue Monday", the marker of history when Synth Pop became Dance Music.

One to play now the more high profile rubbish 1980s acts (Bros anyone?) are safely forgotten. New Order lost their edge, then broke up a few years ago and reformed. Having seen them live, Bernard’s voice just about copes with the material, but the band were never about polished vocals.

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Go West: Go West
Released 1985

Look at the album cover - they wanna be a boy band! Fortunately Cox and Drummie’s music was heavy and dark enough to mark them out as different to dreadful droopy money machines like Westlife. Produced by a who's-who of 80s experts like Julian Mendelsohn to top notch standards of musicianship and sound quality (at the time).

From the singles of "We close our eyes" and "Don't look down" to the slower 'SOS' the only thing this lacked was the single mix and 12" mixes of "We close our eyes". Listen to those biting keyboards and hear how sounds that wouldn't even be considered in today's pop could be commercial. This album (and Bangs and Crashes which is based on remixes and some live tracks) encapsulates the sound of the mid-1980s and shows how far synth-pop music advanced from the LinnDrum sounds of Dare! and basic bleeps of early Depeche Mode stuff. Music never advanced so far in sound in just 4 years... that was what was good about the eighties!

Go West returned a few years ago with ‘3D’ which has strong songs, but lacks their sharp edged production.

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Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward
Released 1984

Depeche Mode for me define the 'edge' music of the 1980s more than any other group. Unlike Japan they carried on through the years and are still together today. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Containing the singles "Master and Servant" and "People are People", but this was unfortunately an album with some fillers. The songs are dominated by the sound of the Fairlight series II sampler. As a result the industrial noises often intrude into the song structures in a way that would never even be considered today.

Martin Gore and Dave Gahan give god a ticking-off in "Blasphemous rumours". "Somebody" is not what it seems to be - a love-song with a piano melody is hit with the sound of explosions and crowds. With today's computers having thousands of times more sampling power than the Fairlight, we should be producing something thousands of times more original and clever than this... but we're using them to produce authentic cover tracks instead... what nonsense!

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Japan: Exorcising Ghosts
Released 1983

Titled to reflect the break-up of the band combined with their most famous track. Japan combined far-eastern references with excellent musicianship and very subtle technology. 'Ghosts' itself is their most well known purely electronic track, but listen to their attempts to make 'organic' sounds even on that.

Such a shame they split up with such unfulfilled promise. But they did reform numerous times (I suspect because one of the other members is Sylvian's half-brother) as Rain Tree Crow and Nine Horses.

Listen to the deft synchronisation of keyboards and drums on "My new career", which has some great lines; "way down south they're having minor ups and downs, but they're moving on ahead in leaps and bounds"; "They're playing our song, outside where no-one can hear".

The orchestral backing of "The other side of life" was a pointer to Syvian's later work. Perhaps it was meant to be that such creativity took them down so quickly. Exorcising Ghosts is a compilation album.

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Howard Jones: Dream into Action
Released 1984

The first album "Human's Lib" had several hit singles, and wandered off the standard pop formula. This 2nd album was longer, wilder and rather surprisingly the record company gave such artistic freedom.

Tracks like 'Automaton' (about discovering an alien robot) or 'Hunger for the flesh' get quite away off the pop tracks which are carefully placed at either end. IMO that's the way to do a pop album, have the commercial tracks on the ends and some interesting stuff between. It is best when he drops the left-wing rhetoric and goes into philosophical territory.

Unfortunately Jones went very middle-of-the-road and boring on later releases like ‘Ordinary Heroes’. Though I did like the Ferry Corsten dance mix of “Into the Dark”.


Tangerine Dream: Tangram
Released 1980

Way back when, TD spent a year in the world's most expensive electronic music studio. Many expensive record albums fail, but not this one. (I’m too young to have bought this when it first came out)

Ignore the teutonic prog-rock stuff and listen to the overlapping melodies and dense polyphonic sequence of Part 1. Some of the sounds on here are like dance music of the 21st century. Then there's the ‘dream section’ near the end of Part 2, featuring the PPG Waveterm synthesiser, harking back to their other high point of ‘Zeit’.

The sound quality of 'Tangram' still stands up 4 decades later, and IMHO Tangram equals their other finest hours, of which there are many. Nobody seems to have a good word for 'Tangram' in 38 years, but nobody - even ARC - have done anything so melodic with such rich and warm synth sounds. The textures on Tangram really shine out even after all this time. In fact Edgar Froese (now dead) recognised that, with sections used in their more recent “Booster” remix albums.

Shame they didn't spend some money on their cover artwork...