The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time

Ambient Albums

By its very nature, a “best of” list presupposes and celebrates the immanent meaning and importance of a genre or time period without really questioning the conditions for the possibility of the music being examined. What does ambient music mean? What purpose does it serve? What aspects of social life drive listeners toward it? Only when these questions are answered can a work be determined as great, a failure, or somewhere inbetween. Pitchfork’s “The 50 Best Ambient Albums” list is thoughtful and well-researched when it comes to giving a sense of the style employed by these artists, on occasion dipping into what influenced a particular album, or what that album, in turn, influenced. The blurbs accompanying each album accurately describe what the music feels and sounds like, offering flowery accounts of the instruments used. And yet something feels safe about this kind of list. It doesn’t really pierce the veil when it comes to technique and musical theory, nor does it discuss the music in relation to bourgeois society. The reader is simply left to assume that ambient music is important, has always been important, and will always be important. However, if we want music (and music criticism) to be truly meaningful, to actually get at the essence of society and potentially transform it, we will have to change the way we think about it. That said, there is a lot to digest with this list, a lot of music to learn about, and a great deal of fine writing. Regardless of the ranking of each work, Pitchfork has consolidated 50 important ambient works in one place, which is an achievement in itself. It is the task of the reader to determine their meaning.