Criteria: originality, influence, popularity among electronic music fans and critics (not necessarily raw popularity), musical range (I tried to pick greatest examples of major genres of electronic music), personal taste / experience.
Many of the albums where found from a very helpful and carefully constructed list by “darktremor”. However, some of the albums on his list are slightly outside the bounds of electronic music, for instance Music for 18 Musicians which he ranks as no.1 is actually instrumental classical. Also, Neon Golden and loveless are both great albums, but I found both too much akin to rock and pop for this list. I also considered the fact that there are electronic versions of Music for 18 Musicians, but from what I have heard they are either mediocre or take too many liberties with the material. I will pay my respects to Music for 18 Musicians by saying that I consider it one of the top 10 albums of the 20th century in any genre. The top ten albums of the 20th century is a much more difficult project. (some albums I think would include would be Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Kind of Blue, and Rite of Spring).
Also considered was this list, from “slant magazine”, there are several albums high on the list I have not listened to, which probably should be considered. One that I have listened to, which I was surprised to see on the list was Orbital 2 by Orbital. This is a masterwork of classic trance. However, while the song “Halcyon on and on..” is simply amazing, over all I think it lacks originality and influence. I believe most of the album was influenced heavily by underground German artists such as Oliver Leib and Sven Vath.
Some of these are a little hard to find by conventional means. I recommend the Soulseek P2P client.
I do not recommend just listening to these off Youtube. Sound quality is very important in electronic music, partially because timbre is very important, and because there is often a lot of layering, which is lost with lower bitrates. I also highly recommend you listen to all this music with fairly good quality stereo headphones. Timbre or the intrinsic quality of sounds is very important in electronic music. Also important is the layering of bass, mid-range and treble and their overlap and interplay. If one can only hear the mid and treble range, they are likely missing half of the piece. In Search of Sunrise, in particular, is an entirely different sensory experience with stereo headphones.
1: The Orb – Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
Electronic genre: Ambient House/Sound Collage**
Starting with the well known “Little Fluffy Clouds”, this album slowly brings you on several ambient adventures, ending at “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld”, which is one of the greatest ambient tracks ever made. This music is meant to be played in “chillout rooms” at clubs, and serves that purpose wonderfully. The album has grown in acclaim over the years, due to the use of experimental ambient sampling and music concrete tempered with some pop sensibility. . Some songs are somber and dreamy, others are more upbeat. Like most albums on this list, it gets better with each listen.
2: Spicelab – A Day on Our Planet
Electronic genre: Trance: Acid Trance / Classic Trance**
As online electronic music expert Darktremor says, “The first wave of trance was perfected here … Sci-fi samples, long ambient washes, an unqeildy length to the tracks, laser twerps, catchy melodies, unpredictable structure, and acid, acid, acid. However, A Day on Our Planet really transcends all that, to be something far greater, something far more beautiful. Lieb (as in OLIVER LIEB, > noob) has tapped into some otherworldy, alien atmosphere with the 4 tracks contained here, he’s managed to produce something not of the Earth. There is no rave reference point to this trance (something that really can’t be said for most other trance…): the beats are momentum (and you couldn’t dance to a lot of this anyway), this album is a fast-moving journey through another universe.” This scores low on popularity, but is representative of the influence of Oliver Lieb in a wider sense upon the development of trance and EDM. It may be the most biased ranking here, as it is a very obscure album.
3: DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…
Electronic genre: Abstract hip-hop
Endtroducing is important because it was the first albums ever composed entirely of sound samples. At first this didn’t seem like anything spectacular, but on my second listen I had acquired more taste for it. It is very postmodern, meaning that it incorporates old material in new ways. As DJ Shadow says this himself in one of the few lyrics : “the music is flowing through me”, ie. he is interpreting the music in his own way and presenting it in a novel fashion. It has several very sublime songs make for great chill out music.
4: Faust – Faust
Electronic genre: Krautrock/Musique-concrete**
This album is strange, horrible madness. As Darktremor says, it sounds like a journey through Hell. But it is never at one moment boring, instead it is “morbidly” captivating. Obviously the sounds here where influenced by the innovator Stockhausen, one of the great figures of Electronic Art Music. Yet I can’t include any of Stockhausen works in this list, because, although he drove for large changes in music, he never had any truly stand-out albums that took even semi-popular appeal outside his tight circle of advante-garde friends, and he is more associated with classic music. This album is different, it takes Stockhausen’s ideas and runs with them, and directly inspired many electronic musicians. This album was at the forefront of a deconstuctavist movement to totally demolish popular rock. In brief, this is truly a mind expanding album. It paved the way for the entire genre of industrial rock and a variety of German abstract rock called “Krautrock”. The Krautrock movement influenced Radiohead and other bands.
5: Massive Attack – Blue Lines
Electronic genre: Trip-hop
** “Blue Lines” is considered the first album of the British “Trip-hop” style. Its smooth, down-tempo, housey, basically hip hop with a lot of style. Also has some elements from reggae.
6: DJ Tiesto – In Search of Sunrise 1
Electronic genre: Commercial Trance – Epic trance/ Uplifting Trance/ Ibiza trance/ Vocal Trance / Anthem trance**
ISOS is a album that takes you on a powerful aural journey. A journey which perfectly captures all the wonderful sounds of commercial “epic” trance. The album is generally described as smooth, uplifting, sensual, a tad spooky/nocturnal, and just plain uber-cool. Perhaps there is nothing special in the mixing, but this does not detract from the albums value, which is in its track selection: basically hit after hit after hit by the best artists in commercial uplifting trance. The track selection is done to insure lots of tension and release, both in the macrostructure of the album and the internal emotional power of the tracks. Songs include “Walhalla”, “Far From Over”, “Sparkles (Magikal remix)” composed by Tiesto himself (under different aliases), and others by big names in the genre like Yahel Sherman, Lange, BT, and Billie Ray Martin. Highly Recommended, especially for beginners !!!
7: Amon Tobin – Bricolage
Electronic Genre: “Electronic Jazz”/ Intelligent Dance Music / Ambient Dub** **
It was hard to choose between “Bricolage”, “Supermodified”, and “Out from No Where”, three great albums by Tobin. Supermodified is my originally my favorite, and is more popular then his earlier works. It was a very successful album, and contains some very remarkable sounds, no doubt. The same can be said for “Out from No Where”, which is a further development of his style. However, Bricolage wins high points of originality and influence. A lot of movie soundtracks have a similar sound. Additionally, “Bricolage” has started to grow on me, and every time I hear it I like it more and more. It is smooth electronic jazz at its finest. His later works are more rough and complex, by comparison. This, by contrast, is more sublime and beautiful. I also recommend the other two aforementioned albums as a continued evolution of this music.
8: Kraftwerk – Autobahn
Electronic genre: Early techno / electro
This receives such a high ranking for originality. It is one of the first albums to use synthesizers to create catchy melodies and other interesting sound effects, meant to convey a trip on the Autobahn. Previously electronic music had been mostly abstract experimentation in highly academic circles. Due to their overall influence on the development of electronic music, I could not leave Kraftwerk out of the top 10. A lot of people say “Trans-Europe Express” was their opus magnum, and I have listened to it, and perhaps it is true. Either way, it scores lower points on originality and influence.
9: Sasha & Digweed – Northern Exposure (Double Album)
Electronic genre: Progressive house / Ambient trance__
** This is my favorite mix album (granted I have not listened to that many, so this may be biased), but it considered by darktremor as one of greatest of all time, among a few others DJs. The original version was a double album, which contains two CDs, North and South, which was only released in Europe. I believe they were released separately in the United States. “North” is more well known, and in my opinion, the better part as well. ( it contains amazing songs by major artists such as The Orb, William Orbit, Banco de Gaia and Apollo 440). I have also heard much high praise for another Sasha and Digweed production called “Renaissance: the Mix Collection”. Apparently, it one of the Opus Magnums of ambient house. I have listened to some or it, but have not been able to get a full copy (which is pathetic, I know). Sasha & Digweed also produced the opus magnum of progressive house : Renaissance : The Mix Collection : a 3 CD collection which is an
impressive mix of progressive house at its finest. It is highly recommended if you have never listened to progressive house before.
10: Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports
Electronic genre: Ambient (?)
This is one of the undisputed greats in electronic music. For me this is like meditation music, especially the first track. In fact, it was meant to be relaxing music for people waiting at airports. It scores high points on originality and influence. It earned Eno a respectable place in the history of western music.
Runners up (these where chose to cover some other genres)**
Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht
Electronic genre: Electronic Space Music/krautrock
Highly recommended for the curious! Personally, I couldn’t make it
all the way through this, but it was very interesting.
Cybotron – Clear
Electronic genre: TECHNO
Arguably the first techno album ever produced, and
one of the greatest. Highly Recommended if you can find it.
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Electronic genre: Ambient Techno
Most people call this Aphex Twin’s opus magnum.
Gets better with each listen.
Aphex Twin – The Richard D. James Album
Electronic genre: Drillcore / IDM
This is a hard style of techno almost unique to Aphex Twin.
I don’t really like this album, but its quite influential, apparently.
I felt bad about not including Aphex Twin anywhere on the Top 10.
Phillip Glass – Einstein on the Beach
Electronic genre: Minimalism
c.f. Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians was much, much
more influential, but is not electronic.
Infected Mushroom – Classical Mushroom
Electronic genre: Psychedelic Trance
This is a really cool album: a mixture of classical
and psychedelic trance styles.
Pink Floyd – The Wall
Electronic genre: Psychedelic Rock/Musique Concrete
Radiohead – Kid A
Electronic genre: Electronic Rock / Art Rock
(I wanted to include this on the main list, but was trying to restrict the list to pure electronic)
Darude : Calm Before the Storm
Electronic Genre : Stadium House / Rave
This scores high points on popularity and a few on influence.
Most of the songs arn’t very good, but a few like “I can feel the beat”
Daft Punk – Discovery
Electronic genre: various house
This is a fun album.
The KLF – The White Room
Electronic Genre: Stadium House
Another fun album.
Akufen – “My Way”
Electronic genre: microhouse
This is interesting. Microhouse is music made from short sound samples (<1sec).
Robert Miles – Dreamland
Electronic genre : Dream Trance
This is the alpha and omega of Dream Trance. It is all dream trance was meant and will ever be. Sweet heavenly bliss.