Chances are, most of you love a great EDM track that gets the beat bumping and your heart racing. Of course I do too, but sometimes you just need an album to chill out to.
We can all use a little chill time right now, so here are a few of CULTR’s picks for the best chill electronic albums for you to do just that.
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
No better way to start this list than at the beginning; Scottish duo Boards of Canada really paved the way here for almost every other album on this list. A recent Pitchfork article called this ‘98 sophomore effort “the greatest psychedelic album of the ‘90s”, in case you needed more confirmation of its awesomeness. Boards of Canada were daring to be different with Music Has the Right; during this time, the trend was hyper-rhythmic, jungle-inspired, frenetic breakbeats, with densely layered and crisp production. Drums and bass were pushed to the forefront for most artists, but not for Boards of Canada. They purposely did the exact opposite of what everyone else was doing and focused on creating a mood with interesting and thoughtful melodies. Boards of Canada “used a mixture of analog and digital techniques to give their music a wavering, mottled quality redolent of formats like film, vinyl, and magnetic tape that are susceptible to decay and distortion with the passage of time”, Pitchfork mentions, which in turn really gives it a vintage, hazy feel that still somehow manages to sound timeless. Go back and give this one a listen to appreciate just where this style really started.
Burial – Untrue (2007)
While we’re talking classics, there’s no way I could have excluded Burial’s groundbreaking Untrue. UK garage, 2-step, and early dubstep was starting to crop up in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and was already making waves in the underground. But enigmatic producer Burial, aka William Bevan, was ready to shake things up with muddy, slowed-down productions. His 2006 debut self-titled album received critical acclaim from just about every corner of the music world. The next year, Burial released his now highly anticipated sophomore record Untrue, and boy did it live up to expectations. What makes this album especially influential and downright awesome was his use of vocal samples; tracks from various R&B artists such as Usher and R. Kelly get chopped up and recontextualized to become something entirely different and take on a whole new meaning. This is a style we see now in a whole slew of different genres, and Burial’s influence is seen this way everywhere.
Flying Lotus – Los Angeles (2008)
The year was 2008. Hip hop’s greatest producer J Dilla had just passed away two years prior, and with it, one of the greatest rappers Nas famously declared the genre to be dead. The hip hop beat production world was left reeling, wondering where the genre would ever go from here. Enter Flying Lotus, aka Steven Ellison. His 2006 debut had made some ripples, but no one yet knew what he had to come. This brings us to 2008’s sophomore release Los Angeles. On what is now considered one of the best experimental hip hop production records ever, Ellison crafted something quite similar to Burial above; he created something that purposely maintained early beat production’s grainy, staticy flaws and blended them with futuristic, glitchy electronic elements to create something that sounds just as fresh and forward-thinking today as it did 11 years ago. And that’s what makes this so deserving of a space here.
Bonobo – Black Sands (2010)
Realistically, I could have chosen a number of Bonobo albums for this list. 2013’s The North Borders comes to mind for housing personal favorite tracks of mine like “Cirrus”, “First Fires”, and the Erykah Badu-assisted “Heaven for the Sinners.” But if this list is highlighting some of the best works from our selected artists, the highly-revered Black Sands was a no-brainer pick. What this album, and Bonobo in general, does so incredibly well is drawing on a number of exotic, Eastern influences in his music. He avoids canned synths and MIDI samples in favor of organic, self-made analog sounds and takes little-used and unique instruments such as gamelans and other oriental sounds to build a gorgeous soundscape all his own. No better place to start with Bonobo than with what many consider his greatest piece of work.
Lane 8 – Little By Little (2018)
I simply couldn’t make a list like this without highlighting new forerunners of electronic music. Lane 8 is one of the most exciting newcomers this genre has at the moment, and this sophomore release and DJ Mag Best of North America award winner, “Little By Little”, proves why. Ok, I know what you’re thinking: “this album’s not really all that chill”. And while you’d be half right, you’d still only be half right. The album is full of pulsating beats and rhythms; the opener “Daya” evokes visions of strobe lights flashing in a crowded nightclub somewhere. However, even through the buildups and beats, this album is so great because of what it doesn’t do more than what it does. It never tries to be more than it needs to be. The tracks seem to breathe and exhale with each drop, rather than explode into frenzied fist-bumping loudness that most modern EDM seems to do these days. This album is defiantly chill, and that’s something wonderfully admirable in today’s scene.