10 Best Ambient Pop Albums to Get You Through Quarantine
Article by The Natural Music Team
Artwork by Eric Couture

As quarantine continues to persist with no end in sight anytime soon we recognize the power of art and music to keep our spirits high. This week we’ve added a number of new contributors to the Natural Music team and we are excited to keep bringing you the best new music we can find. If you’ve enjoyed this quarantine series or our regular Instagram content we would be extremely grateful if you would consider donating a few dollars to help us keep the lights on and support our growth ❤️

Laurel Halo - Quarantine (2012)

An aptly named project that seems beamed in to represent our current state. A series of disguised pop cuts attempt to knife to the forefront but there's a cold sombreness pushing them back. We must learn to relish in the limbo state.

Fishmans - 宇宙 日本 世田谷 (Uchū Nippon Setagaya) (1997)

Well composed, dub influenced dream pop that is dragged from the corner and stretched out. An oft risky artistic decision, but when done right, you're treated to effortless grooves and pure comfort in sound form that could continue for hours as far as I'm concerned.

Air - Moon Safari (1998)

The opening track, “La Femme d’Argent” is a winding lounge track that subtly fades in new atmospheric layers, followed up by “Sexy Boy”, which leads with a thick synth bass that sounds like it’s talking. On Moon Safari, the line between human and synthetic is a fine one, as vocoders are featured alongside airy vocals, and thick basses made of envelopes and saw waves trade space with acoustic guitars and pianos. These songs are dynamic, driving and beautiful.

Favorite Tracks: "Sexy Boy",  "Kelley Watch the Stars", "Talisman"

Frank Ocean - Endless (2016)

Endless is much less celebrated than Blonde, or Channel Orange, but it’s possibly Frank’s most abstract and artistic creative work. As the album cover might suggest, there is a lot of negative space, synthesizer pads and acoustic guitar arpeggios guide you through the reverb laden atmosphere, punctuated by brief moments of raw energy. These moments are ephemeral, and brief, like “Commes des Garcons”, a minute long banger with some of Frank’s most playful lyrics.

Favorite Tracks: "Commes des Garcons" "Mitsubishi-Sony", "Slide on Me"

Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000)

This album recently turned 20, but it is timeless. Though it borrows elements widely from genres throughout history-- lounge, surf rock and even doowop-- it isn’t pastiche because Yo La Tengo makes it their own. The vocals often sound like a candid conversation, and at other times are soaring and triumphant. The organ and synth and subtle guitar strums often provide the ambience, while drums and bass anchor the songs in reality, just barely.

Favorite Tracks: "You Can Have It All", "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House", "Our Way to Fall"

Low - Double Negative (2018)

I wish I were more equipped to describe what goes on in this album, but the obscure sounds often don’t have a clear origin, or a reference point. On “Fly”, a vocal sample (possibly a mellotron) underlies the operatic vocals and sparkling guitars. The instruments seem to blend into a monolithic whole at times. With close listening the different elements can be picked apart and identified from the ambient soup, but like any good soup the rich flavor comes from the mixture and interplay of the individual flavors.

Favorite Tracks: "Fly", "Always Trying to Work it Out"

Tirzah - Devotion (2018)

To be fair a lot of this album doesn’t really fall under the “ambient pop” moniker as there are certainly some bangers here that lean heavily into R&B. Devotion is, however, a beautifully skeletal and stripped back pop album. It’s intoxicating and often sounds as if it was recorded underwater. Tirzah’s vocal performance is stunning and along with producer Mica Levi the melodies go in directions you wouldn’t expect but are instantly memorable. An incredible debut and one of my favorite albums of 2018. [Alek]

Favorite Tracks: "Fine Again", "Affectionate", "Guilty"

Stereolab - Dots and Loops (1997)

The sound of elegance -- dim lighting, sleek black furniture, a glass of champagne in hand. Lounge music of the future. 
Listening to Dots and Loops is like having your nerve endings flayed before being dipped into a vat of lemonade. The tightly wound maximalism of Stereolab reaches its zenith on their fifth studio full-length, a scintillating melange of breezy exotica, psychedelic 60’s pop, crunchy motorik, drum and bass, and so, so much more. The counterpoint “ooh-ah” melodies of singers Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hanson prove to be the final piece to the puzzle, providing an element of human warmth to Tim Gane’s dense, ever-shifting soundscapes. Listening Dots and Loops is what it’s like to chew 5 Gum.

Favorite Tracks: “Brakhage”, “Diagonals”, “Contranatura”

Arthur Russel - World of Echo (1986)

A record so undeniably adventurous by a man so undeniably mysterious. Though going blind at a young age has to be a devastating event to cope with, donning a viking outfit and loitering on NYC streets for years on end seems like an unconventional response. I somehow feel like we have everything to learn from him nonetheless.

Favorite Tracks: "Soon-to-be Innocent Fun/Let’s See", "Being It", "Let’s Go Swimming"

Grouper- A I A: Alien Observer

Sitting at the intersection of dream pop and ambient music is Grouper’s lonely masterpiece, Alien Observer. Released as part of a two-album “A I A” suite (the sister album, Dream Loss, is noisier and harsher,) Alien Observer marshals fuzzy electric piano arpeggios, soporific guitar figures, and most crucially of all, Liz Harris’s airy, hushed voice, wafting around the vast lo-fi landscape in billowing spirals of self-harmonization. The album shifts between atmospheres of crushing melancholy, peaceful solitude, and claustrophobic fear within a humble 40 minutes, and although the lyrical content is oblique and spare, Alien Observer is an album which allows you to bear witness to another’s solitude like no other I’ve ever heard.

And a couple of honorable mentions from the rest of the Natural Music Team:

Beverly Glenn-Copeland - Keyboard Fantasies
Julia Holter - Tragedy
Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place
Nicholas Jaar - Space is Only Noise
Kelly Lee Owens - KLO
Oh, Yoko - I Love You...
Magical Cloudz - Are You Alone?
Triad God - Triad
Eartheater - RIP Chrysalis
Sweet Trip - You Will Never Know Why

If you enjoyed this piece make sure to check out the other articles in our quarantine series, 10 Ambient and Drone albums to get you through quarantine, and 10 Modern Classical Albums to get you through quarantine.

And follow us on Instagram and Twitter where we post daily, or take a peek at our Best of March 2020.

10 of the best Ambient Pop albums

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