I read once that 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 iPod touch.

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 21, I heard “Ricochet part 2” by Tangerine Dream. Sorry if you like opera or country & western... I just don’t. Music is about expressing emotional intensity that cannot be put into words, and walking along the “farthest shore”. It's not about singing in 18th century Italian or imitating Elvis Presley!

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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. ('Fess up Robbie... you only bought this on CD in 1987)

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 over 30 years later, and IMHO Tangram just edges out ‘Zeit’ and 'Ricochet Part 2' as their finest hour. Nobody seems to have a good word for 'Tangram' in 25 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 seems to recognise this, as several sections were used in their recent “Booster” remix albums.

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


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The Human League: Dare!
Released 1981


Spawning the UK No.1 "Don't you want me..?" which has been used in numerous adverts and played at cheesy discos. Listen beyond the naff female vocals to the intricate sequencing on that track, and forays into offbeat territory with 'Darkness' and 'The sound of the crowd'. This album does actually dare a little bit.

The 'New Romantic' style has since become a cliche and then a joke. I agree that Dare! is cheesy in many ways and the equipment used to produce it is now landfill. Many people though, forget the fact that this was a brave attempt at something new at the time. If you don't try to go into new areas, you end up being an Elvis impersonator. The nerve of the 80's was to be different and I'd rather be that than be the establishment. The rest of this page should confirm that assertion!


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Howard Jones: Dream into Action
Released 1984

His first album "Human's Lib" had several hit singles, and wandered off the standard pop formula to good effect. This second album was longer, wilder and frankly I'm surprised the record company gave such artistic freedom. Unfortunately Howard Jones went far too middle-of-the-road for my taste, especially on the 2009 release ‘Ordinary Heroes’. Though I did like the recent Ferry Corsten dance mix of “Into the Dark”.

A mash-up of every electronic music technology of the time, Dream into Action sounds like no other album. Perhaps it's the heavy use of (I think) the Aphex aural enhancer, or the true sincerity that pervades most of it.

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. Too many acts treat longer albums as an excuse for 'fillers'. Perhaps only one track could be described as a filler here, despite a longish playing time of 52 minutes.

This was the first album I ever bought on compact disc.



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Japan: Exorcising Ghosts
Released 1983

Cleverly titled reference to 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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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 gives god a major 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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Go West: Go West
Released 1985

Look at the album cover - they wanna be a boy band! Fortunately their 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 superb 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!


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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 bizarre precursor of history when Synth Pop became Dance Music.

One to play now the more high profile rubbish 1980s acts (Bros anyone?) have safely been forgotten. New Order lost their edge, then broke up a few years ago. But I think Bernard's voice got a lot better towards the end.




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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 ever trying 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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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?”. The KLF brought a sorely missed dose of originality to pop music.




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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 20 years later.





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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 signature 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 The 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.






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Autechre: Chiastic Slide
Released 1997

Chiastic flow is a term used in fluid dynamics for the transition between laminar flow and turbulent flow. 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 intricate alien-industrial stuff.

The best description I can give of the sound is "jazz-techno synthesiser melodies with fractured beats, wrapped in glassy digital processing". If you don’t like the first track, you won’t like the rest! "Rettic AC" is a wall of crashing noise with a melody somewhere in the background. Several tracks follow the pattern of melodies that grow and are crushed under waves of digital distortion and percussion.

This is not an easy album to listen to, and many will turn off after the first few seconds, but is more friendly than their later efforts! The beats are relatively simple time signatures and the melodies more recognisable. There is some early MAX/MSP generative stuff, but much more conventional manual keyboard playing than their later albums.

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!



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Protogonos: Strange Geographie
Released 1999

Another album which does largely what it promises on the cover. The picture is from a nuclear particle accelerator experiment. "Strange Geographie" goes on a journey far from the Earth to distant and unsettling regions of the Universe. Like the best electronic music it is closer to the nature of the universe than acoustic instruments can be.

Beginning with staring at a bright light at the start of the (first) 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.

This was a limited edition CD release on the DiN label which is probably no longer available.



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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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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 have success.



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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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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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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 listen a bit longer and the line between computer sound sculpting and the orchestral instruments become apparent.

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 'only' a massed string orchestra playing right through.

What makes me sad about this album is that there's so much good music out there now, that will any of it be remembered in 50 years time?



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Nine Horses (Japan): 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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Ital Tek: Midnight Colour
Released 2009

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

Maybe he 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 does not perform well, and the song pattern is too fractured to impress melodically. Hopefully for his next outing, he will get better vocals and inject some more straight-line songwriting. Cleverly, snippets of the melody of the final track crop up throughout the album.



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Autechre: Oversteps
Released 2010

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 previous records, its long, dense and complex and intimidating. But only electronic music can test human perception the way this does.

In some ways a vastly updated “Chiastic Slide” but they still manage to spring a few surprises. Some tracks seem to have traces of ethnic music influences, but as normal with Autechre the machines do the talking, and the whole thing is much the better for that. “Oversteps” will not reveal itself when played on cheap iPod earphones, or if you’re not paying attention. Nor is it good for listening to late at night, though it is more ambient on the whole than their previous efforts.

The only real criticism is the filter sweeps in the background get somewhat repetitive. They could have done with more alien and threatening backdrops in the line of “Parhelic Triangle” from Confield, rather than the Nord Modular stuff.


I will leave any readers to speculate on the common thread through the above listed recordings.
So... c’mon Robbie put the effort in to find another one good as the ones above!!