//

25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

We polled journalists, DJs, and record-label folk to find out what they thought were the most important electronic albums of the 20th century.

25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

Five years ago, electronica was poised to save us from the grungy din of a dying alternative and an increasingly formulaic hip-hop. Detroit and Chicago had become adjectives, Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers were storming the charts, mainstream magazines began running monthly “What You Need to Know About Jungle” articles, and DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Sasha & Digweed were quickly becoming household names. By the time the bass kicked in, though, it seemed that the Great Electronic Hope had fizzled. Teen-pop and nü-metal came and went, New York’s superclubs were gradually dismantled, and rather than take the world by storm, electronica filtered slowly (but surely) into the mainstream by way of artists like Madonna, Radiohead, and Moby. In celebration of the coup that failed to overthrow the music industry (but continues to flourish on dance floors, headphones, and television commercials around the globe), Slant Magazine asked 300 music journalists, DJs, and record label-folk to tell us what they thought were the most important electronic albums of the 20th Century. Any subgenre was fair game (disco, house, drum n’ bass, trance, ambient, trip-hop, techno, etc.). Close to 200 different albums were mentioned and, since no list could possibly be entirely inclusive, we’ve whittled the raw data down to 25 key releases from the last 25 years.

Thank You: A.D. Amorosi (Style), Brad Anderson (Digital Artifact), Jayson Baron (Studio Distribution), Derek Beere (futurebpm), Lisbeth Cassaday (Virgin Records), Paul Dailey (411 Nightguide), D-Jam (a.k.a. Alex Moschopoulos), DJ Ray Velazquez (Nocturnal Transmission, KLZR), DJ Seven (Lo-Rise Recordings, SF), Hobey Echlin (Mixer/King), Robert Evanoff, Chris Galvin (f4 music), Alexis Georgopoulos, Adam Goldberg (Metrosource), David Gross (Warp Records), Justin Hardison (Hybrid Magazine), Laura Kayser (Warner Bros. Records), King Britt, Mark Knight (Studio Distribution), Kuri Kondrak (Resonance), Neil Lawi (Columbia Records), Shawn Muldoon, Linda Ng (Elektra Records), Alexa Offenhauer, Pias America, Kevin Reynolds (Transmat Records), Dwayne Royster (Arista Records), Rick Salzer, Dave Segal (Alternative Press), Rob Simas (BPM Culture), Doug Smiley (Studio Distribution), Jim Tremayne (DJ Times), Aidin Vaziri, Brion Vytlacil, and Peter Wohelski (Green Galactic).


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

25. The KLF, The White Room (1991)

Following the global success of “Doctorin’ the Tardis” from 1988’s Dr. Who, Bill Drummond and Jimi Cauty formed the KLF (“Kopyright Liberation Front”). After a foray into chill out, the duo found crossover success with 1991’s The White Room, an album that helped bring rave culture to the fore. Call it what you will (acid house, stadium house, rave), the album was pure dance-pop at its finest. Hits like “What Time Is Love” and “3 A.M. Eternal” kept the pair riding high on the charts while the single “Justified and Ancient” turned Tammy Wynette, “The First Lady of Country,” into a post-disco club diva. Filled with the utopian mythology of “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” and the duo’s ice cream van iconography, the album mixed breaks, samples and drum machines with dramatic vocals and other organic elements. The eccentric duo (they’ve staged pagan rituals, carved crop circles in the European countryside and burned money publicly) split in 1992, deleting their entire back-catalog. Other titles mentioned: Chill Out.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

24. Moby, Everything Is Wrong (1995)

Señor Moby’s albums have always been a bit schizophrenic and his 1995 masterpiece, Everything Is Wrong, is no exception. Once again, electronica’s pop ambassador calls on a multitude of sounds and a bevy of guest vocalists but this time it’s strung cohesively with techno-operatic ambition. From the quiet urgency of the album’s opening track, “Hymn,” to the aggressive tech-rock of “All That I Need Is to Be Loved” and “What Love” (it’s no coincidence that many ’80s metalheads turned to techno in the ’90s), it’s clear nothing was right in Moby’s world. It’s not until rave anthems like “Feeling So Real” and the piano-driven “Everytime You Touch Me” that he pumps up the celebratory BPMs. The album’s various textures are impeccably pieced together—elemental chord progressions are offset by Moby’s pristine production and flawless pacing. While Ambient pieces like “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” have become Moby’s trademark, “First Cool Hive” is the only track on Everything Is Wrong that directly hints at the cool, collected soul of his 1999 breakthrough, Play.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

23. Black Dog Productions, Bytes (1992)

Black Dog Productions’s Bytes, the third installment in Warp Records’s Artificial Intelligence series, was a watershed in what has become known in the U.K. as IDM or “intelligent techno.” The album is a headphone-friendly collection of tracks by Andy Turner, Ed Handley, and Ken Downie (a trio of producers who have taken on various incarnations over the years, including Plaid, Balil and Xeper), most noteworthy for its elaborate beat structures and rhythms. The odd time signatures of tracks like “Yamemm” and “Focus Mel” are offset by splashes of rich harmonic tones and striking, alpine melodies. Influenced by early Detroit techno artists like Derrick May, Black Dog, in turn, went on to stimulate later waves of electronic music in Detroit as well as European ambient and hardcore techno.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

22. Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children (1998)

Nestled somewhere in between the warm hues of 1970s flocked wallpaper and the sleek electronic sheen of the future lies Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children. The warm patter of “Open the Light” and the stuttering hip-hop beats and lulling synth chords of tracks like “Telephastic Workshop” are juxtaposed with short vignettes like “The Color of the Fire,” a minimalist composition not unlike Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. A child’s voice is sampled, disfigured and looped to form a creepy, somewhat detached, one-sided conversation. The avant garde Children is invariably connected with nature, from the languid introduction “Wildlife Analysis” to the distorted seagull caws of the album’s final track, “Happy Cycling.” Happy cycling indeed—depending on your drug of choice.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

21. Tricky, Maxinquaye (1995)

Tricky’s lascivious solo debut, Maxinquaye, stands alongside Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and Portishead’s Dummy as one of the most influential trip-hop albums of the ’90s. Maxinquaye takes the glistening electronic soul of Blue Lines and smothers it in far-grittier textures, exploring the destructive nature of love (“Now I could just kill a man,” he says on “Suffocated Love”) and sin (the devious “Abbaon Fat Tracks”). Tricky’s vocals play back and forth with those of singer Martine, whose hypnotic, slippery phrasing opens the album on the sexy “Overcome.” Samples abound, of course, from Smashing Pumpkins (on the appropriately-titled “Pumpkin,” a moody track featuring Alison Goldfrapp) and Issac Hayes (“Hell Is Around the Corner”) to snippets from films like Bladerunner and Rapture. If there was ever any doubt about the sonic lineage between hip-hop and trip-hop, “Aftermath” and “Brand New You’re Retro” blur the lines to the point of undeniable extraction. These are beats Timbaland and Dre have only dreamt of.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

20. Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses (1987)

In the 1980s, the influence of Kraftwerk and New Wave took the shape of radio-friendly post-punk synth-pop like Depeche Mode. In 1987, the band released Music for the Masses, an album that revealed a darker side of the movement. The album is steeped in high drama, each track spilling into the next like a pop-rock opera. From the sampled radio broadcast of “To Have and to Hold” to the chamber choirs of “Sacred” and “Pimpf,” voices play an integral role in the album’s theatrical aura. With its themes of repentance and redemption, the album wasn’t exactly “for the masses,” but it was a commercial and critical landmark for the band, spawning hits like “Strangelove,” a track that is home to classic Martin Gore lyrics (“Pain, will you return it/I won’t say it again”) and David Gahan’s timeless vocal. Other titles mentioned: Black Celebration, Speak & Spell.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

19. Leftfield, Leftism (1995)

One of the first techno crossover acts, Leftfield’s music has been a pop-culture staple since the English duo’s 1995 debut, the apocalyptic Leftism. (Most recently, the trance anthem “Song of Life” was used in the film Tomb Raider.) From the tribal dub of its opening track, “Release the Pressure,” to the ambient “Melt,” Leftism eschews mainstream categorization and manages to reside in the leftfield of almost all the electronic genres it propagates. Leftfield’s happy home, though, is the progressive house of tracks like the epic “Afro-Left,” “Black Flute” and the tribal “Space Shanty.” The now-disbanded Leftfield’s biggest crossover success came with the punk-techno track “Open Up,” featuring ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

18. Daft Punk, Homework (1997)

Well-versed in Chicago house and Detroit techno and taking a nod from disco maven Giorgio Moroder, Parisian duo Daft Punk (DJs Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter) helped blaze a trail for French techno with their 1997 debut, Homework. Led by hits like the unrelenting “Da Funk” and the dizzying “Around the World,” the album is a savory mix of borderline-cheesy filtered loops and super-simple drum machine beats and basslines. The duo’s influences are revealed sonically (“Oh Yeah” references Kraftwerk) and literally (everyone from Brian Wilson to Dr. Dre are name-dropped on the aptly-titled retro feast “Teachers”). While a few tracks are more daft than deft (“Rollin’ & Scratchin’” is a rather soulless thumper), the crunchy guitar licks of the aquatic “Fresh,” and the sampled vocals and horny horns of “High Fidelity” prove that more recent groundbreakers like the Avalanches could never exist without Da Funk.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

17. Utd. State 90, Utd. State 90 (1990)

By the time the residual sweet swirl of disco and the harder edge of Chicago house had dribbled its way into England via New York and Europe’s booming rave scene, acid house was born. At a record shop somewhere in Manchester, a group of future acid house pioneers (Martin Price, Graham Massey, and Gerald Simpson) formed 808 State. The group’s first domestic release, Utd. State 90, was a drastically revised version of their 1989 album 90. The hit “Pacific” (here in three incarnations) is the album’s standout track, its slinky, synthesized sax and tropical chirps laid on a bed of percussive electronic beats. The album shifts moods quickly yet seamlessly, from the poppy, lyric-driven “Magical Dream” to the industrial edge of “Kinky National” and the epic grind of “Cübik.” Utd. State 90 even enters Ambient territory with “Sunrise,” a track in which 808’s impact on artists like Moby is beyond palpable.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

16. The Art of Noise, Who’s Afraid Of? (1984)

As subtly influential as Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, the Art of Noise’s Who’s Afraid Of? is a brash blend of experimental rock and new wave that was way ahead of its time. With its staccato beats, erratic vocal samples and found sounds, the album is at times irksome but always groundbreaking. The proto-political “A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid)” kicks things off with portions of broadcasts from the U.S. invasion of Grenada, building to crunchy programmed beats and a minimalist sub-bass that most certainly informed the likes of future pioneers like Björk and Tricky. The album’s biggest hits, “Close (To the Edit)” and “Moments In Love,” are about as dissimilar as can be; “Close” is a signpost of the era, replete with vintage ’80s samples, car engines and the oft-sampled vocal “hey!” while “Moments In Time” is utterly (and ironically) timeless. The ten minute-plus epic is to electronica what Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” is to Baroque. The album ends with a trio of off-kilter experiments including the organ-imbued “Momento.”


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

15. Global Communication, 76:14 (1994)

Of all popular genres, electronica has always been one of the more globally conscious, crossing oceans and transcending cultural boundaries in a wordless communication of rhythm and melody. Influenced by Detroit techno, early Tangerine Dream and Eno’s Ambient, Global Communication’s 76:14 became one of several universally celebrated Ambient house records. Though it was released in Europe at the height of the ambient techno movement in 1994 and later garnered critical acclaim in the U.S. when it was distributed in 1997, the album’s 10 tracks (titled by number to avoid “pre-defining images”) were recorded as early as 1991. Each track is its own spacey symphony, etched with ticking clocks, soft piano lines, and tidal white noise not unlike that on the Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. Now considered a neo-classic, 76:14 samples nine different languages throughout, making it a truly global communication.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

14. Derrick May, Innovator (1997)

Schooled by techno pioneer Juan Atkins in the early ’80s, Derrick May became one of the most influential of Detroit’s wiz kids (the “inventors” of techno as it were). Though he was not as prolific as Atkins or fellow-DJ Kevin Saunderson, May’s label, Transmat (inspired by the Atkins track “Time, Space, Transmat”), continued on through the ’90s, releasing singles by Carl Craig and Stacy Pullen. Innovator, a double-disc set released by Transmat in 1997, celebrates May’s innovations like the early rave staple “Strings of Life” (two versions are included here) and “It Is What It Is.” With his frenetic beats, string samples, and gradual buildups (check the nearly beatless “Strings of the Strings of Life”), it’s clear why he’s been called the Miles Davis of techno. May’s creations paved the way for later Detroit artists like Plastikman as well as rave culture as we know it.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

13. Underworld, dubnobasswithmyheadman (1993)

Though Underworld reached its commercial peak with “Born Slippy,” a track featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack, dubnobasswithmyheadman, the group’s first album as a trio (members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith recruited DJ Darren Emerson in 1993), stands as their greatest overall contribution to electronic music. The album blends acid house, techno, and dub into a refined, epic headrush. Opening track, “Dark & Long,” is indeed dark and long, mixing a throbbing House beat with sticky reverb, while the mixtape anthems “Cowgirl,” “Mmm Skyscraper I Love You” and “Surfboy” loop stuttering computer bleeps over fields of staccato percussion. “Tongue” features a lulling guitar riff as robust as anything on Jeff Buckley’s Grace, which was released later that same year. Hyde’s vocals are processed to the point of undecipherability on tracks like “Spoonman,” but his lyrics are so stream-of-conscious that it doesn’t really seem to matter an hour into the album. dubnobasswithmyheadman, a dirty epic to the very last moment, cools down with the funky “River of Bass” and the piano-laced “M.E.” Other titles mentioned: Second Toughest in the Infants.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

12. New Order, Substance (1987)

Born out of the post-punk ashes of Joy Division, the artfully titled New Order began their reign as one of new wave’s leading synth-poppers. In 1987, the group released Substance, a collection of their greatest singles reconfigured for the dance floor with a second disc of rare B-sides and instrumental extended mixes. Though undeniably a product of its time, the album stands as proof positive of the band’s influence on the then-burgeoning rave and house cultures. Kraftwerk-style synthesizers and disco drum machines were married with singer Bernard Sumner’s hesitant yet charming vocals, classic rock riffs and timeless pop melodies that helped bring ’80s club subculture into the public’s bedroom and car stereos (whether the public was aware of it at the time or not). While New Order’s biggest hits are all here (“Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Blue Monday,” which would be transformed into drastically different versions years later by Frente and Orgy, respectively), Substance also offered up two new tracks, the bustling hit “True Faith” and the introspective “1963.” Other titles mentioned: Power, Corruption & Lies.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

11. Orbital, Orbital 2 (1993)

It’s no surprise that Orbital became one of the first electronic acts to bridge the gap between techno and rock audiences. With their second full-length release, the aptly-titled Orbital 2, brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll incorporated the improvisational feel of their famous European live shows with live guitars, bass keyboards and sampled horns and voices. And even if tracks like “Monday” and “Impact (The Earth Is Burning)” weren’t actually “live,” the duo still gave one grand attempt at creating the illusion that it was, in a sense, organic. Techno goddess Kristy Hawkshaw lends her angelic voice to the ethereal vintage-drug anthem “Halcyon + On + On” while tracks like “Remind” and “Lush 3-1” are home to spiraling sirens which seem to soar skyward with catchy pop hooks. “Planet of the Shapes” features a shower of cascading synths and worldly textures that produce a “techno symphony” that was much warmer—even “wiser”—than the hard, four-on-the-floor techno that dominated in the mid ’90s. Though the album is structured like your average mix CD, the multi-textured Orbital 2 offers much more. Other titles mentioned: Orbital, In Sides, and Snivilization.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

10. Björk, Homogenic (1997)

From her politically-charged days as a Sugarcube to the Stockhausen-esque “Headphones” (from 1995’s Post, an album that, on any other day and in any other mood, could have made this list), Björk has always been on music’s cutting-edge. But with 1997’s Homogenic, the singer took the groundbreaking sonics of the electronic maestros before her and gave it living, breathing humanity. Like a floating cell, the listener travels through the body of the album accompanied by the beat of the heart, the rush of blood and Björk’s sudden mood shifts: on the flawlessly melodramatic “Bachorlette,” she likens her body to a fountain of blood from which her lover drinks; “Joga” is adrenaline, summoned by the singer’s lovelorn “state of emergency”; and on the quiet “Unravel,” a pipe organ laments the death of a love that is continually spun into a ball of yarn and then stolen. Björk’s crisis culminates with “Pluto” (an aggressive techno number in which the singer’s primal screams mark literal and figurative death) and, of course, the sublime rebirth of “All Is Full of Love.” Simple intervals build to a breathtaking, ice-capped orchestration amidst industrial beats that flutter like the wings of locusts. And through all of Homogenic, Björk navigates with harmonies and words (“I thought I could organize freedom/How Scandanavian of me!”) that only she could conceive. Other titles mentioned: Debut and Post.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

9. The Chemical Brothers, Exit Planet Dust (1995)

The Chemical Brothers’s first two albums, Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole, were two of the first electronic albums to break the mainstream mold. Exit’s banshee Big Beat “Song to the Siren” and thumping house number “Three Little Birdies Down Beats” displayed a developing sound (breakbeats, samples, and an onslaught of screeching guitars) that remains the duo’s signature to this day. From the fucked-up beats of “Fuck Up Beats” to the more atmospheric, measured rhythms of “Chico’s Groove” and the angelic dream pop of “One Too Many Mornings”, the eclectic Exit set a standard only the Brothers could match, surpass and conquer.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

8. The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole (1997)

Hole did just that, fashioning techno with a rock fervor that landed it in Billboard’s Top 20 and earned Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons a Grammy nod for Best Rock Album. The album’s runaway hits, “Setting Sun” and “Block Rockin’ Beats,” featured more of the Brothers’s trademark sirens, grinding electric guitars and sampled blips found who-knows-where. Hole could have been the soundtrack to, if not the inspiration for, the rave-culture flick Go as well as your average suburban teenage car-chase. “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Don’t Stop the Rock” are Daft Punk’s bad-ass brothers, dipping its audience into an acid-bass-propelled K-hole just in time for the comedown (here it’s “Where Do I Begin,” a dreamy ode to the morning after as sung by folktronica chanteuse Beth Orton).


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

7. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing… (1996)

Trip-hop, Europe’s alternative of choice in the second half of the ’90s, can, perhaps, be defined as the merging of hip-hop and electronica until neither genre is recognizable. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…, however, so constantly changes pace that such a definition is rendered insufficient. Tracks like “Changeling” prove that sampling can be art, not just commerce (a murky line America’s mainstream hip-hop acts continue to walk). And DJ Shadow is indeed an accomplished changeling, shifting from jazz aficionado to film composer to magnum turntablist in a matter of moments. “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” is constructed with a collage of stuttering beats, organ riffs, and bits of sampled narration while “What Does Your Soul Look Like” and “Midnight in a Perfect World” blend smooth, loungy jazz into seemingly fluid original pieces. Similarly, the cinematic “Stem/Long Stem” builds several classically arranged movements around a sample of Nirvana’s “Love Suite,” creating an ominous and multi-textured masterpiece of hip-hop postmodernism. According to Shadow, the album “reflects a lifetime of vinyl culture.” Tracks like “Mutual Slump,” which features a sample of Björk’s “Possibly Maybe” and a young girl’s naïve confession (“Came to America, saw Xanadu, that’s all I wanted to, rollerskate”), insist it reflects a whole lot more.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

6. Brian Eno, Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978)

With his 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports, English musician/producer/conceptualist Brian Eno coined the terms “discreet music” and “ambient” as “music designed to induce calm and space to think.” The album, comprised of four dissimilar yet completely cohesive movements, was created with simple keyboard melodies, serial tape loops, and embedded voices. The effect is sheer weightlessness, the disc’s soft ebb and flow of synthesized patterns imbued with live brass and strings. More than just spatial white noise, Music for Airports is the sonic equivalent of visual art. Eno’s sculpture of sound has inspired numerous imitations, briefly fulfilling its postmodern destiny as an audio installation at NYC’s LaGuardia Airport. Other titles mentioned: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

5. Portishead, Dummy (1994)

Back in high school a friend of mine made me a tape, the contents of which seemingly scooped up the residual pubescent angst left in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death and sculpted it into something horrifying and tangible. The spine read: “PORTISHEAD DUMMY.” This was what was bubbling up in Europe while Americans were drowning themselves in Seattle scrunge. “Nobody loves me, it’s true,” singer Beth Gibbons declared mournfully, then adding, “Not like you do.” Though her voice would evolve into something far more sinister on Portishead’s equally brilliant eponymous follow-up, here Gibbons is at once despondent (“It Could Be Sweet”), coquettish (“Glory Box”), and dismally uplifting (“It’s a Fire”). Geoff Barrow’s film noir collages embody snatches of sampled cinema, hammond tremelos, rolling basslines, and rich analogue tape loops. Adrian Utley’s guitar quietly plucks its way betwixt hiccuping turntables and quivering organs on tracks like the menacing “Wandering Star.” Dummy, an album which undoubtedly conjures the thought of a person, place or sour time for its every listener, sounds just as groundbreaking today as it did eight years ago. Other titles mentioned: Portishead.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

4. The Orb, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (1991)

Inspired by Brian Eno’s ’70s ambient inventions and the post-disco club culture of the ’80s, the Orb became the premier ambient house act of the early ’90s. Mixing loping house beats and shades of reggae-dub with atmospheric sampladelia (film dialogue, wildlife, radio broadcasts, strings, and choirs), their first full-length album, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, was seemingly designed to take its listeners progressively farther and farther away from their respective spots on the planet. The album’s 10 tracks were intended to stand as a collective whole and not individually, though they certainly can and do. The set begins with the famous “Little Fluffy Clouds,” inspired by composer Steve Reich and containing a sample of Rickie Lee Jones recalling childhood images and ideals from an episode of “Reading Rainbow.” “Backside of the Moon,” which conjures early Pink Floyd, is a slice of lunar heaven “programmed 25 miles above the Earth.” Ultraworld closes with the definitive ambient house track, a live mix of the epic, 18-minute-plus “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraword.” The piece, composed and produced with KLF member Jimi Cauty, is an elegant tapestry of babbling brooks, crashing waves, crickets, chants, roosters, church bells and various other modes of white noise, all set as a backdrop for a sample of Minnie Riperton’s 1975 gem “Loving You.” Other titles mentioned: U.F.Orb and Orblivion.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

3. Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

Long before he became associated with the nihilistic drum n’ bass of “Come to Daddy,” Richard D. James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin) was a pioneer of what would become known as “intelligent” dance music. His critically-lauded Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is, along with the Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and Global Communication’s 76:14, considered one of the preeminent signposts of early-’90s ambient techno. The album begins with the ethereal female coos and soft breakbeats of “Xtal,” and flawlessly segues into the muted thump and crisp pitter-patter of “Tha,” a track imbued with the echo of distant conversation. Diffusive synth chords gush through each song, from the congested aural space of the aptly titled “Hedphelym” to the bass-heavy “Ageispolis.” Most striking is James’s pop sensibility, apparent in the concise momentum of “Pulsewidth” and the utterly infectious “Ptolemy.” Influenced by post-classical composers like Philip Glass and Kraftwerk, James created a collection of minimalist House more refined than anything that has come before or after. Other titles mentioned: Come to Daddy and I Care Because You Do.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

2. Massive Attack, Blue Lines (1991)

While C+C Music Factory was doing their thing in New York, Bristol’s Massive Attack was inventing a sound that, though labeled “trip-hop” years later, was pure, unadulterated soul, a culmination of American black music filtered through European dance culture. Blue Lines is an impeccable amalgam of house, R&B, and hip-hop, transplanting blues into slick, electronic pop packages like the classic “Unfinished Sympathy” (singer Shara Nelson laments: “Like a soul without a mind/In a body without a heart/I’m missing every part”). Reggae legend Horace Andy lends his skills to the uplifting anthem “Hymn of the Big Wheel” and the dub-infused “Five Man Army” yet Massive Attack can certainly hold their own. The sublime “Daydreaming” is an ode to the beat, 3D-Del Naja’s cool rhymes interwoven with those of a then-unknown Tricky Kid. The album’s title track nimbly alternates between samples of “Slippin’ in the Back Door” and James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turn It Loose,” creating a rich, recycled tapestry on which the group lays its tight rhythms and live bass guitar. While resistant to categorization, Massive Attack are the undisputed godfathers of trip-hop and Blue Lines remains the genre’s most influential masterpiece. Other titles mentioned: Protection.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

1. Kraftwerk, Trans-Europe Express (1977)

Thanks to continental drift, Americans must cross an ocean to experience the luxury of trans-European travel. In 1977, Germany’s robot-pop manufacturers, Kraftwerk (translation: “power station”), celebrated these cross-country jaunts with their landmark release, Trans-Europe Express Ripe with unlikely hooks and hypnotic, minimalist arrangements, tracks like the bright, crisp “Europe Endless” and the existential “The Hall of Mirrors,” were (and are) the sound of the future, employing sounds similar to the video games and sci-fi films of the era and informing an entire generation of music-makers. T.E.E.’s influence in unprecedented, reaching as wide as rock (Radiohead’s Kid A), hip-hop (Afrika Bambaataa’s classic “Planet Rock,” Jay Dee’s recent “Big Booty Express”), and pop (Madonna’s Drowned World Tour, which incorporated samples of “Metal on Metal”). Kraftwerk’s meditative T.E.E. is a sonic poem to Europe, a continent that has proven, time and again, to be the birthplace of musical innovation and, well, the Eurorail. Other titles mentioned by this artist: Man Machine, Computer World, and Autobahn.

Sal Cinquemani

Sal Cinquemani is the co-founder and co-editor of Slant Magazine. His writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, Billboard, The Village Voice, and others. He is also an award-winning screenwriter/director and festival programmer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Interview: Margaret Cho Talks Notorious C.H.O.

Next Story

“This Product Contains Previously Released Material.”