So I got my Spotify Wrapped and while there are a lot of stats that I’m not too happy with, there is one that I liked:
This isn’t as fluid as some people’s, but I still like it. I think all of these genres are well known with the exception of one.
Intelligent Dance Music (or ‘brain-dance’)
Despite the cringey name, IDM is one of the most impressive genres I’ve ever listened to. Simply put, it is made up of ethereal, electronic beats and soundscapes with no (or minimal) vocals. Sometimes it gets pretty abstract, sometimes it gets pretty atmospheric, and the best pieces do a blend of the two. The most well-known artists in the genre are Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and maybe Bonobo.
I consider it to be a versatile genre. My personal IDM playlist has become my soundtrack for studying, writing, and especially tripping. If I’m taking a psychedelic or dissociative, then I always find myself listening to IDM.
It is a wide-ranging genre with a huge space for growth and uniqueness. While there are a ton of IDM albums which sound similar, there are just as many that push the boundaries of what music usually sounds like, creating soundscapes that really bring about an abstract grouping of emotions. Because of this, it makes it pretty hard to compare certain albums to each other. That’s why I could never do a top 10 list.
Instead, I’ve decided to make a graph, allowing me to group them against different parameters.
On the X-axis, I am comparing them against whether each album sounds “earth-like” or “space-like”, and on the Y-axis whether they sound “soothing” or “abrasive”. I recognise these are extremely subjective parameters, but that’s where the fun of making one of these things comes from. This graph isn’t meant to be objective or anything!
On this graph I have only included IDM albums that I like, with the albums listed in bold as ones that I either love, or that I think are important to the genre.
For those albums I’ll give a little bit of a review.
What the hell are these parameters?
I wanted a way of separating certain albums from others without being too rigid. I also used these parameters because often times I am looking for something that fits into at least one of them.
Plus, I thought it would be a fun way of separating them.
A word about album art
IDM is genre where album art (or cover art) is of a huge focus. The album art is often deeply deliberate and extremely important for setting the tone of the project. For this reason, it is one of the very few genres where I am comfortable choosing to listen to an album specifically because of its artwork.
Abrasive and Earth-like
Igorrr — Hallelujah
Starting at the top left, this graph kicks off with what is perhaps not exactly an IDM album. Rather, it’s a mix of metal and classical with IDM elements thrown between them. This album brings a type of chaotic energy which no other album can really do. Many of its tracks begin with a melodic structure only to break down into heavy electronic instruments and vocal screaming. It is not the easiest album to listen to (none of the albums at the far edges of the graph are), but it is enjoyable. On Hallelujah, Igorrr manage to marry together rage and pleasantry in a way that I have never heard before. The music is abstract and angry and it feels perfect for a well-controlled moment of mania. [maybe save this album for after the trip, though!]1
Future Sound of London — Dead Cities
This is a classic IDM album, dating back to 1996. Dead Cities is an apocalyptic and cinematic collection of tracks that depict a world in decay. It is haunting and it is uncomfortable. It might also have the best sampling of this collection. Future Sound of London do a fantastic job of sparsely using samples to build atmospheres. It is one of those albums that (successfully) tries to create a feeling of nostalgia, despite not presenting anything to be nostalgic about.
Children of Alice — Children of Alice
This album of four tracks is one of the most uncomfortable pieces of music I have ever heard. It gives off very “demon-worshipping cult at 3am” vibes. I would say that over half of the album is made up of beautifully disjointed samples of generally unmusical sounds, overlaid with some creepy melodies. It feels like its trying to hypnotise or manipulate you.
Fila Brazillia — A Touch of Cloth
This is a lo-fi jazz infused album which does a great job of creating an oddly welcoming environment. I only discovered this album recently, but I’m sure it will feature heavily in my next trip (whenever that will be in the distant future).
Lymbyc Systym — Split Stones
Split Stones is an upbeat album. It’s the type of piece that I would love to listen to on the first day of a holiday. It emits an optimistic vibe, which is a rarity on this graph. In a sea of darker and more brutish albums in my collection, this one sticks out like a sore thumb.
Earth-like and Soothing
Daedelus — Baker’s Dozen
This album mixes instruments such as pianos, guitars, and violins with sharp electronic tones. The tracks have a somewhat chaotic sound to them, but often the further you listen the more relaxed they become. It has a “big band” sound while still retaining its electronic roots.
Kettel — Smiling Little Cow
I think of this as a pair along with A Touch of Cloth. This is both due to their cover art and the types of soundscapes they produce. Despite its name, Smiling Little Cow is a cold album. While it is relaxing enough to sleep to, it presents itself as something with an “eye-of-the-storm” vibe to it. Things sound peaceful, but you’re led to believe that this is merely temporary.
Amon Tobin — Foley Room
I consider this to be essential IDM listening. This album is like a futuristic Lynchian horror in slow-motion. I also think it has the best looping of any album in this collection.
Bonobo — Black Sands
This was one of the first IDM albums I ever heard. It uses more physical instruments than electronic sounds, and it leans heavily towards Eastern influences. Black Sands was played a lot during my past trips.
Space-Like and Abrasive
Roly Porter — Third Law
Moving to the top right of the graph, we have Third Law. This album is like the Inception sound track on steroids. It has a surreal and cinematic quality to it; I believe it would fit perfectly into a more gory 2001 A Space Odyssey style film.
Bernard Parmegiani — Sonare
Sonare is a unique album. The best way I can describe it is as a sordid love-letter to classical music. The album is extremely jarring and punishing, and frankly, I’m not a huge fan of it. However, I had to include it because I’ve never heard anything like it before. It’s like a Frankenstein of genres. The ideas presented are brave and, while they don’t work, I still would like to hear more music of a similar style.
Oneohtrix Point Never — R Plus Seven
This is one of the more popular albums on this graph. R Plus Seven takes you on a strange and disjointed journey into a realm of harsh yet complimentary sounds. It is a vibrant project that can uplift as easily as it can dismantle.
Orbital — In Sides
Despite being on the opposite side from it, In Sides shares a lot with Foley Room. They both evoke the same atmospheres for me, however separated by various other factors. In Sides is much more punishing than Foley Room, and displays less unique ideas, but it makes up for that in its ability to seamlessly meld other genres together. Additionally, this is one of the few albums on the graph that I could imagine actually being played at a rave or party.
Space-Like and Soothing
Spacetime Continuum — Sea Biscuit
This corner of the graph is for the albums that you could easily fall asleep to. To me, Sea Biscuit is what I imagine it feels like after the initial shock and fear leaves your body after you’ve been abducted by aliens. You’re in an unfamiliar and visibly dangerous place, but you’re sleep deprived so you don’t have enough energy to fight back. Very “drifting into the abyss” vibes.
Board of Canada — Tomorrow’s Harvest
This might be my favourite album on this list. Tomorrow’s Harvest is a journey into an uncomfortable sunrise. It’s like waking up and knowing it’s going to be a bad day, but never fully knowing why. This has probably been played more than any other album on this graph.
Emeralds — Does It Look Like I’m Here?
With the name, artwork, and the first track, this album makes the best first impression on this graph. Does It Look Like I’m Here? tells a sad story that only gets sadder as you follow it further. If Tomorrow’s Harvest is perfect for Sunrise, I think this is perfect for sunset.
Carbon Based Lifeforms — World of Sleepers
This was the very first IDM album I ever listened to, and it got me hooked. I played this album on repeat countless times when I discovered it. It is a masterpiece of peacefulness. This is the type of album that would fit perfectly for when you’re drifting in the water or when you’ve fallen under the current. It is haunting but not intrusive. It’s amazing with dissociatives.
For further critical discussions on the psychedelic experience, visit my website. I am currently crafting a magazine comprised of topics just like this one!