This is another entry ported over from my writeFreely blog. I thought it would have a better home here. Music tastes, as most things, are subject to change, so this blog may get updated here and there. I made some updates, especially focusing on my Bandcamp haul from 2020 (what a year for music, too!) Last updated 09 Jan 2021.
I was talking with someone earlier on Mastodon who was asking for obscure, strange music recommendations, and it made me think that I’d love to write something on my music tastes here. As an undergrad, I used to keep a relatively spartan webpage, which included a .txt file of all of the bands I listen to and love. I know, I know, it was somewhat nerdy and ridiculous. I hope this doesn’t come off like that, though. I’ll split things up by genre, which is probably the easiest way, although my idea of genre for some bands may differ from yours.
I like a number of classical artists, but the ones in rotation in my personal collection are the following:
Erik Satie: I heard his suite of Gymnopédies and absolutely fell in love with them, especially the first (“Lent et douleureux”). I used to know how to play that song on the piano, but don’t know that I could any more. I have a small CD of piano music by Satie that is lovely.
Robert Schumann: I heard Schumann’s “Träumerei” (Ger., “dreaming”) on an excellent 10-CD classical compilation when I was a child, and it always stuck with me. The song makes me think of old times, namely pre- or circa-WWI times, for whatever reason. I found a really nice collection of his suite Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) on the Internet Archive, but unfortunately the album isn’t there any more, or I’d post a link. A smaller collection of his music can be found here and easily downloaded.
Gustav Holst: I first heard about Holst in the early 2000s, and his suite The Planets is really very lovely. If you listen closely to “Mars, the Bringer of War,” you’ll see that John Williams seems to have cribbed not a small amount for “The Imperial March” in Star Wars. Also, it’s always fun to hear “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” in strange places like The Venture Bros.
I have a nice 10CD collection of classical music called Dream Melodies. It was actually one of the first sets of CDs I got, back in around 1996. I got rid of the physical discs, but ended up re-buying the collection on Amazon as MP3s (not an Amazon fan, but oh well). I’m not sure how accessible this now is, but you can check it out here?
My stand-up comedy collection has ebbed and flowed over the years, if you will, especially as I’ve become more conscious of what is and is not good comedy. I used to really like Chris Rock, even had a Dane Cook album (ack!), and some of Nick Swardson’s material, along with (way back in the day) some Adam Sandler. No longer, though. I can’t deal with racist, homophobic, or other bigoted standup, so I’ve often just turned specials off (Norm MacDonald is one particular offender in that regard that comes to mind). Here are my favorites, at least that I have in my collection. Others would include Mike Birbiglia, John Mulaney, Ken Jeong, Maria Bamford… can’t think of any others at the moment. We watched a Leslie Jones standup special recently that was hilarious too.
Longmont Potion Castle: Over 10 albums full of hilarious prank calls. I used to like Crank Yankers back in the day when it was in fashion, but this guy blows them out of the water. Super lo-fi, homebrew-ish, and anarchically gleeful. His name is a shoutout to Longmont, CO, and as far as I know, he’s based somewhere in Colorado. Great stuff.
Patton Oswalt: Not only is this guy hilarious, but he’s also very progressive, feminist, and seems like an all-around solid person. I’ve followed his comedy career for quite a while and really enjoyed his work overall. If you’ve not heard his comedy, you’ve likely heard his voice in a movie (Ratatouille is the main one that comes to mind, but he does a ton of live-action films and TV as well).
Dark ambient is a rather difficult genre to classify. My understanding of dark ambient is that it consists of harsh, atonal, creepy, horrifying ranges of sounds. However, I tend to throw anything slightly weird or obscurely related to that first definition under this umbrella. Feel free to disagree. My first exposure to dark ambient was in around 2008 or so when I stumbled upon a huge torrent with a ton of music. I had heard about dark ambient via Silent Hill, because the soundtracks to that game, by Akira Yamaoka, should definitely be classified as such. I wanted more, and wow did I find it.
For a time, I used to set up a playlist of dark ambient music as “sleep music” to see if it would influence my dreams. I don’t know that it ever did, but it was fun to try.I found most of the “dark ambient” below on a little-known MP3 blog called MUTANT SOUNDS, which I think is defunct at best these days. Seek it out if you can. Here’s a generous sampling of the “dark ambient” in my collection.
Abandoned Toys, The Witch’s Garden (2007): Creepy little album whose title evokes so many things. Tracks include “Where Red Shadows Slumber,” “Spiraling into the Sun,” and others.
Ah Cama-Sotz: Hard to describe this one. My favorite track is on their first (AFAIK) album, Terra Infernalis (1998), entitled “Look for Graves with Holes in Them.” Crazy, creepy stuff.
Ain Soph: Mostly creepy, occult-sounding chants. Fun fact: Ein Sof is a Kabbalist term for “God prior to any self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm” (op. cit.). I think the group is Italian but don’t know a ton about them.
Alan Lamb: Sparse, haunting compositions; notable albums include Primal Image (1995) and Night Passage (1998).
Alexey Tegin, Gyer (Sacred Tibetan Music of Bon Tradition) (2002): Tibetan throat-singing. Haunting stuff, and AFAIK these are field recordings done by Tegin, who is Russian.
Arecibo, Trans-Plutonian Transmissions (1994): Pseudonym of Lustmord (vid. inf.), and cobbled together from radio telescope recordings. Wonderfully terrifying stuff.
Big Fok, Black Lodge/White Lodge (2013): Nicely-done electronica variations on music from Twin Peaks, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.
Biosphere: Pseudonym of Geir Jenssen, a Norwegian musician whose early recordings included The North Pole by Submarine (another excellent album, with the earlier pseudonym of Bleep). Lovely electronic soundscapes. Highlights include “Phantasm,” which includes a creepy looped sample from the film The Krays: “I had a dream last night… we had the same dream!” Also, “Hyperborea” includes most of the Major Briggs “palazzo” speech from the Twin Peaks season two opener (2×01), which is one of my favorite monologues (at least on TV).
Black Phlegm, Muzak for Abattoirs (1986): Ostensibly composed of field recordings from actual abattoirs. Really bizarre little album that’s worth a listen if you can find it.
Brendan Perry: He probably belongs more in “rock” or something of the like, but it’s dark and atmospheric enough that I found it akin to “dark ambient.” Perry is also a member of Dead Can Dance (see below), another excellent group. Highlights include “Utopia” and “Wintersun.”
Clara Rockmore, Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album (2006): Theremin is one of the most eerie instruments I’ve ever heard. Her rendition of Dvorak’s “Humoresque” (rendered as “Humoreske” on the album) is amazing.
Coil, How to Destroy Angels (Remixes and Re-recordings) (2000): Coil, apparently, is one of the pioneers in the field of dark ambient. The titular track is pretty creepy indeed. Worth a listen.
Dead Can Dance: Indie, atmospheric, Celtic folk music. Just lovely stuff. As far as I can remember, I first heard them on an obscure podcast called A Darker Shade of Pagan. Not sure if that podcast is still around or not, but thanks! One of my favorite tracks of theirs is a wordless chant called “Chant of the Paladin” (cf. Raison d’Etre’s “Chalixtins,” below).
Defuntos: Dreary, moody, murderous Portuguese death-metal. Growling lyrics in Portuguese over the backdrop of distorted, atonal noises. Wonderfully creepy stuff. I am guessing their name means “the dead” (cf. Lat. defuncti, “the dead,” lit. “those who have discharged their duty [in life]”).
Delia Derbyshire & Barry Bermange, Inventions for Radio: Dreams (1965): I can’t recommend this enough to everyone. Derbyshire carefully constructed a delightfully dreadful wall of electronic sound behind the voices of British people talking about their terrifying dreams of all kinds. I posted about this on Mastodon not too long ago, but the most chilling part is a child talking about dreaming of dying at the bottom of the sea: “The sea is very deep. I go into the sea and then I go right down to the bottom, and there’s some land there. I always die in the land, the land at the bottom of the sea.” Here’s a link for you if you want to listen.
Desiderii Marginis: Really desolate, atmospheric ambient music. Despite the bad Latin title, which translates to “of the margin of desire” (perhaps they wanted margo nominative, rather than marginis genitive?), the music is great.
Deutsch Nepal: Again, difficult to categorize. I really like their track “The Hierophants of Light.”
Do Shaska!: No idea what to make of these guys either. I am always amused by the track “Heilige Kakerlak” (Ger., “holy cockroach”) on their album Anaemische Taenze (2005).
Eyeshadow 2600 FM: The artist describes herself as “synthwave” and I really love her music. Heard about her music on Mastodon, and bought it not too long ago. Check out her Bandcamp!
Famlende Forsok, One Night I Had a Frightful Dream (2003): Spoken renditions of H.P. Lovecraft stories, read creepily by one of the members of this Norwegian group. Great stuff.
Hans Edler, Electron Kukeso (1971, reissued 2004): Innovative, glitchy, weird electronica from the ’70s. Well worth a listen.
Herbst7 vs. ZEV, Through Bleak Landscapes (2007): Very mechanical, industrial soundscapes. Creepy and great.
Isolrubin BK, Crash Injury Trauma (1993): One of the most disturbing albums I’ve ever heard. WYSIWYG. The album is an aural trip through multiple car crashes, with terrifying sounds and sparse narration. Side-project of Brian “Lustmord” Williams and Andrew “SETI” Lagowski. A unique, singular listening experience.
Ital Tek, The Speed of Darkness (EP, 2017): Delightfully dark ambient. Find it on Bandcamp.
J. G. Thirlwell: I’ve grouped a couple of his pseudonyms, including Steroid Maximus and Manorexia, under his real name. Lush atmospheric soundscapes, but also hellish, bass-heavy big band tracks here and there. Really great overall, and plus, he’s the composer for The Venture Bros., so that’s great too.
Jean-Michel Jarre: Might be more apt to put him under electronic music, but I find his album Oxygene (1977) unsettlingly lovely. His album Magnetic Fields (1981) is also really nice. Maybe it’s just me, but I first heard his track “Oxygene IV” on Pure Moods back in the late ’90s (yeah, yeah, I know).
Jeff Greinke: Really lovely, desolate soundscapes from the mid-to-late ’80s. Some of his albums include Cities in Fog (1985), Over Ruins (1985), and Places of Motility (1987).
Juno Reactor: Might be better-placed under electronic as well, but Luciana (1994), their album-length single track, is definitely dark ambient if nothing else is.
Library Tapes: Sad, but also exceedingly lovely piano music from Swedish composer David Wenngren. A Summer Beneath the Trees (2008) is excellent, for example.
Lightdreams, Islands in Space (1981): Trippy, psychedelic folk music with an ambient tinge to it. Kinda prog-rockish.
Lull: Starting with Dreamt About Dreaming (1992), Lull is a whole rollercoaster of bleak, dreary ambient music. Wonderful stuff.
Lustmord: One of the most prolific dark ambient artists, and one of the original players in the genre. Pseudonym of Brian Williams. He was once a member of the legendary S.P.K. (see below), and has made a great career for himself in sculpting eerie, otherworldly soundscapes. Apparently he’s done field recordings in crypts and caves, and well, listen to his stuff. Heresy (1990) is the first album I heard of his. He has a number of side-projects, for which he uses other monikers (e.g., Isolrubin BK, Terror Against Terror).
Lutz Rahn, Solo Trip (1978): One of my favorite dark ambient albums. Very synthy and moody. Rahn was a member of the ’70s Krautrock group Novalis, and set some time aside to crank out this bizarre little solo album. On the cover, his face is in a terrifying clown mask, and he is seated at an organ, surrounded by audio equipment. Highlights include “Galaxy Taxi” and “September.”
Mechthild von Leusch: May be a project of Werkbund member Asmus Tietchens, but I haven’t been able to independently confirm that. The albums, Rungholter Taenze: Erstes Buch* (1993, Ger., Rungholt Dances: First Book) and Rungholter Taenze: Zweites Buch (1993, Ger., Rungholt Dances: Second Book, are fascinating. They were apparently inspired by the legendary city of Rungholt in Frisia, Upper Germany, which supposedly was overwhelmed by a storm in 1066.
Model 500: This is the pseudonym of Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins. Lovely, gritty, grimy, glitchy techno music.
Olafur Arnalds: Lovely Icelandic piano and string music, happy but often with a sad tinge to it. His first album Eulogy for Evolution (2007) has one of my favorite tracks by him, “1440.”
Paddy Kingsland, BBC Radiophonic Workshop: Fourth Dimension (1973): Trippy compositions made for BBC Radio in the ’70s. Wacky and delightful but also dark at times.
Raison d’Etre: A French (AFAIK) artist who works in dreary soundscapes; many songs have a solemn, religious feel to them as well. A favorite of mine is the track “Chalixtins” (prob. = “chalice-bearers,” cf. Lat. calixtini, “bearers of the Grail”), a mostly-garbled, electronics-tinged chant.
Robert Rich: Another early pioneer in electronica and ambient music. His album Trances and Drones (2CD, 1994) is super long and, well, full of drones and repetition. Rich’s music is luxuriously languorous. Another highlight is Somnium (2001) (= Lat., “dream”), almost 9hrs of music, designed to be used in sleep-experiments. His “soundtrack” for Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, created in collaboration with Lustmord, is fantastic as well.
Seldom Family, Audrey & Laura (2017): This is a weird, trippy, Twin Peaks-themed album. Grab it on Bandcamp.
S.P.K.: According to some, the originators of dark ambient music. They never decided on a static definition for the acronym, but named it initially after a fringe group who advocated for the rights of people to remain (mentally) ill, the “Socialist Patient Collective” (Sozialistisches Patientenkollektiv). That was one meaning of the acronym, but they also used variations (“Surgical Penis Klinik,” “System Planning Korporation,” “SePpuKu”). Early albums include Information Overload Unit (1981) and Leichenschrei (1982, Ger., Scream of the Corpse). Later formations of the band turned to more ambient and less industrial/noise music (see Zamia Lehmanni (Songs of Byzantine Flowers) (1986)).
Stars of the Lid: Strange electronica/dark ambient group from Austin, TX. Really weird stuff, but great. Some Twin Peaks-inspired stuff, too, including “Gasfarming” and “Music for Twin Peaks Episode #30 Parts I-II.”
Staruha Mha: A cryptic Russian dark ambient project. I heard something about the artist completing suicide, but I am not sure if that actually happened or not. Very atmospheric stuff, especially the standout track “And the Trees Woke Up,” which sounds like walking through the brush of a deep, dark forest.
Svarte Greiner: Pseudonym of Erik Skodvin, a Berlin-based dark ambient artist. Just generally creepy music, and the cover for Kappe (2009) is straight-up terrifying.
Tangerine Dream: Pioneers of electronica and trippy music from the ’70s until today, much of their catalogue could be called dark ambient. My favorite album of theirs is probably Tyger (1987), which mostly consists of William Blake’s poem “Tyger” set to music. Bask in the weirdness here.
Terror Against Terror, Psychological Warfare Technology Systems (1992): Ahead of its time, glitchy, industrial-sounding electronic music. Favorite tracks include “The Only Good God is a Dead God” and “By Any Means Necessary.” Also, another Lustmord side project.
The Unquiet Void: Almost exclusively H.P. Lovecraft-inspired dreary, otherworldly, unsettling dark ambient. He really has crafted some very lovely stuff indeed. As far as I know, now, he has a Bandcamp.
As I said, the line between dark ambient and electronic is pretty grey, so perhaps you might want to shuffle some of these between genres. ID3 doesn’t have a Dark Ambient tag, though, so I’ve tagged 90% of it as “Ambient” either way; the electronic, though, is mostly tagged “Electronic.” Enjoy.
Actress, R.I.P. (2012): I can’t make head or tail of this album, but it’s quite interesting. One track is called “Shadow From Tartarus,” which is cool.
Air: Pioneers of ’90s and early-2000s electronica and dance music. I used to have more of their albums, but my favorites really include their debut, Moon Safari (1998), and their excellent soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides film (2000). Highlight tracks include “Kelly, Watch the Stars” and “La Femme d’Argent,” inter alia.
Aphex Twin: No electronica fan’s list is complete without some Aphex Twin. I really like his Selected Ambient Works albums best (1992, 1994), but the rest is great too. Haven’t gotten to his bleeding-edge newest stuff, but I will eventually.
Bleep, The North Pole By Submarine (1990): Early album by Geir Jenssen aka Biosphere. Great, glitchy electronica, and the track “Sure Be Glad When You’re Dead” is hilarious.
bl1p, Person Place Thing (2020): Wonderfully glitchy, chiptune-sounding delightfulness. Check out their Bandcamp.
Boards of Canada: Another ubiquitous and esoteric electronica group, about which almost nothing is known for certain (they’re very secretive). Scottish duo of brothers. One of my favorite tracks is “The Beach at Redpoint,” but “Roygbiv” is also really awesome.
Broadcast: Perhaps more aptly “rock,” but there is an electronic tinge to their sound. Strange group, and AFAIK the lead singer died very young. Very interesting stuff though.
Cybotron, Enter (1983; expanded edition, 2013): Early Detroit techno project by Juan Atkins of “Model 500” fame. “Clear” (Detroit Mix) is an excellent track; I heard this randomly on Pandora and loved it.
Halsey: She’s pop, but I’ve classified her under electronica since her songs are very electro. Pretty cool in general if you haven’t heard her, and also proudly and openly bi, which is great.
Jason Tiffany, Azoth-9 (2020): Heard about this album and artist on Mastodon. Very spacey, great stuff. Check out his Bandcamp.
lastfuture, Signal to Noise (2020): Really wonderful, glitchy electronica. Check out their Bandcamp.
Orbital, The Middle of Nowhere (1999): I first heard this when it was passed along to me by someone on IRC in the late ’90s, and rediscovered it probably 10 years or so ago. It’s a strange album and definitely a relic of its time. I think I was playing a lot of N20 and listening to a lot of The Crystal Method, too, at that time.
Ratatat: Guitar-heavy, glitchy electronica, lots of instrumentals, just fun in general. A friend of mine got me into them and they’re great.
R3(tronaut): Both albums I’ve bought are amazing, chiptuney goodness, and would be right at home as video game soundtracks. Check out their Bandcamp!
Ricky Eat Acid, When They Align Just So, Memories of Another Life Bleed Into My Own (2020): Not sure about the rest of his music, but this is the perfect soundtrack to a game that never got made. It reminds me of a soundtrack to a wonderful SNES RPG. Check it out here.
Sam Aleums: Really nice ambient electronica. Heard about and met him on Mastodon. Happy I bought his albums! Check out his Bandcamp.
Secret Mommy: The definition of glitch electronica, and the pseudonym of Vancouver’s (Canada) Andy Dixon. Great stuff and well worth a listen.
The Avalanches: Really great Australian electronic music group. Their album Since I Left You (2000), with an alternate, extended version called The Album, is pure fun. The standout track for me is “Frontier Psychiatrist,” which I heard randomly while listening to college radio in a friend’s car one night; I was thankfully able to track it down later on. Check out the bizarre must-see video here.
The KLF: I only got into these guys in the last year or so, and wow was it a bizarre rabbit hole to go down. This British duo started as The JAMs (“The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu”), a name inspired by Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! Trilogy books. The “JAMs” are a secret society in the book; I tried to read through it but got stalled out and gave up because it was too bizarre. KLF stands, apparently, for “Kallisti Liberation Front.” “Kallisti” comes from Greek καλλίστῃ (kallistei), “to the most beautiful,” referencing the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, to which the goddess of discord, Eris, was not invited, and the subsequent Judgment of Paris which precipitated the Trojan War. Crazy stuff. Highlights include “Justified and Ancient” (the video is bonkers, especially the one with Tammy Wynette), and “Last Train to Trancentral.” “It’s Grim Up North” is also worth checking out.
Time’s Up, Obsolete (1999): Very glitchy sound collage ranging from Pac-Man to Dawn of the Dead samples. Super weird stuff and well worth checking out. No relation to the modern “Time’s Up” movement, though.
Some highlights of my collection of game soundtracks. I’ve been collecting video game soundtracks since high school, so for over 20 years now, and they’re lovely. If you haven’t checked it out, there is an excellent video game music podcast called Singing Mountain. I’ve heard about some wonderful stuff on there that even I hadn’t heard of before. OK, here goes.
BAD DUDES, Chronotorious (2009): A strange but nice tribute album of music from Chrono Trigger. I have quite a few of these, because why not?
Final Fantasy soundtracks: I have soundtracks for FF1–FF8; I think my sister has the FF9 soundtrack but I don’t. All of them are great in their own ways; the first I ever bought was the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack. Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI are also very dear to my heart. I also highly recommend Final Fantasy: Pray (1994), a collection of vocal tracks that is quite fun.
Kingdom Hearts soundtracks: I have the soundtracks for Kingdom Hearts I & II only, as those are the only ones I own in the main series. Great fusion of Disney and Final Fantasy music.
Michiko Naruke, Wild ARMs Soundtrack (1999): Great Wild West-themed soundtrack for a great game; “Lone Bird in the Shire” is a shameless rip-off of Ennio Morricone’s “L’Estasi dell’Oro” (“The Ecstasy of Gold”) from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but it is amazing in its own right. Apparently there was an expanded, more “complete” edition of the soundtrack, but I never got around to getting that one.
Michiru Oshima, Legend of Legaia Soundtrack (1998): An underappreciated gem on the PSX, Legend of Legaia was really a great game, despite its occasionally-weird graphics. It also happened to have a fantastic soundtrack. Highlights include “Light of the Town” (the theme from Octam), and “Earth of Joy (Mist-free World Map).”
Nathan Wang, Return to Zork Soundtrack (1993): Return to Zork was one of the CD-ROM goodies that came with my first computer back in 1993, and I always enjoyed the soundtrack to the game. Of course, it’s on the CD, so is easy to rip and listen to later. I was only 9 at the time, and it was a great way to introduce me to computer gaming.
Osamu Sato: Composer for the game soundtrack to LSD Dream Emulator, a bonkers Japanese-only PSX game that is terrifyingly great. See here for more info. Lucy in the Sky with Dynamites (1998, “with” “Out Ass Mao” [anagram of Osamu Sato]): Main soundtrack to the game. Highlights include “LSD Choir” & “Neurons Firing.” LSD & Remixes (2CD, 1998): Remixes of the game themes.
Various OverClocked ReMix projects: OverClocked ReMix (OCReMix) is a lovely group that does various game music arrangement/remix albums. Check out their site here. Here are a few of the albums that I really enjoy:
- Chronopolis: Music Inspired by Chrono Cross* (2CD, 2019): A Chrono Cross remix album. Can’t go wrong with this one.
- Chrono Symphonic (2CD, 2005): Another Chrono Trigger remix album, and the songs are orchestral/symphonic arrangements of the originals. Really lovely.
- Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption (3CD, 2009): A really nice remix album of Final Fantasy IV music, with some great tracks and variations on the originals.
- Final Fantasy VII: Voices of the Lifestream (4CD, 2007): A massively expansive Final Fantasy VII remix album. Excellently done.
- Hometown Heroes: Town Themes Arranged (2018): A great collection of town themes, mostly from RPGs. The standout track, which is absolutely wonderful, is Earth Kid’s “Dream Until Tomorrow,” and you must check it out here. She wrote original lyrics for “Kids Run Through the City Corner” from Final Fantasy VI, and it’s just perfect.
- Mirror Image: A Link to the Past ReMixed (2017): Excellent remix album of themes from A Link to the Past.
- Radical Dreamers: Thieves of Fate* (2008): Radical Dreamers (Nusumenai Houseki) is an underappreciated gem on the SNES peripheral SatellaView that never came to the USA. It was basically the prototype version of Chrono Cross, but has some important differences from that game. Great soundtrack, especially DrumUltima’s “Summer’s End (Epilogue),” which resembles the main thread running through much of Chrono Cross* (beautifully culminating on the CC soundtrack in “Time of Revealing Dreams”).
- Super Metroid: Relics of the Chozo (2003): I only got into Super Metroid later on, but this album has some great remixes from an already-great soundtrack.
- Wild ARMs: ARMed and DANGerous (4CD, 2011): A great, very expansive Wild ARMs remix album. What a treatment.
- Xenogears: Humans + Gears (2CD, 2009): Fascinating takes on Xenogears music (another of my favorite soundtracks).
- I also cobbled together a number of my own unofficial “OCReMix” albums, including my own for Chrono Cross, Chrono Trigger, DuckTales, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VIII, and Xenogears.
Silent Hill soundtracks: I have the first 3 Silent Hill soundtracks, composed by Akira Yamaoka, and they are terrifying and brilliant. As I mentioned above, they were my gateway to dark ambient.
Spencer Nilsen, ECCO the Dolphin CD OST (1993): I heard snippets of the ECCO the Dolphin soundtrack on Singing Mountain and thought it sounded delightfully strange. Great soundtrack for a really odd game.
Suikoden I & II soundtracks: Two of my favorite games for the PlayStation, and they have excellent soundtracks to boot. For whatever reason, Suikoden II has its soundtrack split into 2 volumes over 4 discs total, which was weird, but oh well. Suikoden has a 2-disc soundtrack.
Tsukasa Tawada, Ihatovo Monogatari OST (1993): I’ve gushed elsewhere about how amazing the game Ihatovo Monogatari, or Stories of Ihatovo, is. So too is its soundtrack.
VA, Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne OST (2CD, 2012): If you’re a Community fan, I’m sure you remember Digital Estate Planning, the 3-part finale for Season 3, where the gang had to play an awesome-looking 8-bit video game. Someone recreated that game in the game-engine LOVE, and wow was it fun. I don’t think my version of LOVE will play it any more, but the game was really cool. The soundtrack was all delightful chiptunes. Grab it here.
VA, MYTH: The Xenogears Orchestral Album (2011): Really lovely orchestral arrangements of Xenogears music.
Xeno game soundtracks, including Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade Chronicles:
- Yasunori Mitsuda, Xenogears OSV (2CD, 1998): One of my favorite soundtracks ever. Full of memorable songs and just perfectly suited to the game.
- Yasunori Mitsuda & Millennial Fair, Creid (1998): Celtic re-arrangements of Xenogears music. Very cool.
- Yasunori Mitsuda, Xenosaga Episode I OSV (2CD, 2002): Another excellent soundtrack for an excellent game. Sadly, Mitsuda didn’t continue on for Episodes II & III, but they were both great as well.
- Yuki Kajiura, Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse Movie Score OST (2CD, 2004): In some ways, highlights from the soundtrack, but still great.
- Shinji Hosoe, Xenosaga II In-Game Rip (2004): More from the soundtrack, apparently ripped off of the disc itself.
- Yuki Kajiura, Xenosaga III OSV Best Tracks (2CD, 2006): Xenosaga III also had a wonderful soundtrack. This isn’t all of it, though.
- Yuki Kajiura, Xenosaga III OSV Unreleased (2006): The missing tracks (as far as I know).
- VA, Xenoblade Chronicles OSV (4CD, 2010): Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii has an excellent soundtrack — especially the world map themes, which are breathtaking (e.g., “Eruyt Sea,” “Mt. Valac,” and others). Wonderful stuff.
Various Chrono soundtracks:
- Yasunori Mitsuda, Chrono Trigger OSV (3CD, 1995): Another of my favorite soundtracks ever. Full of memorable tracks and wonderful music.
- Yasunori Mitsuda, Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time (1995): Jazzy re-arrangements of Chrono Trigger music. Very fun.
- Yasunori Mitsuda, Chrono Cross OSV (3CD, 1999): Chrono Cross also had a wonderful soundtrack. You really can’t go wrong with Mitsuda.
Music from Yume Nikki: Yume Nikki is a really creepy adventure game for PC, almost like a creepypasta made into a game. It is utterly bizarre and fun, and has some really unnerving music to boot. I have a few albums of its music:
- KIKIYAMA, Yume Nikki OST Gamerip (2004): Ripped right from the game itself, as the name implies. Most of the music was .ogg format, IIRC.
- KIKIYAMA, Yume Nikki Selected Tracks (2017): Remastered tracks released by the original composer. Still creepy as ever.
- Silent Cicada, Yume Nikki Reimagined (2014): Fan re-workings of Yume Nikki music. Lovely stuff.
I don’t do much with jazz any more, but I have a decent collection of the big names. I used to listen to it a lot more than I do now.
Billie Holiday: Ken Burns’ collection of Billie Holiday’s music (2000) is really well-done.
Bob James, One (1974): An interesting little curiosity, and sampled like crazy — at least “Nautilus,” which Ghostface Killah used to great effect in “Daytona 500.” “In the Garden” is a great little rendition of “Pachelbel’s Canon,” too.
Charlie Parker: Ken Burns’ collection of Charlie Parker’s music (2000) is also quite nice.
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (1964) is excellent stuff, and so too is Blue Train (1957).
Louis Armstrong: Again, Ken Burns’ collection of his music (2000) is great.
Miles Davis: A must-have in any jazz fan’s collection (or maybe I’m just super basic). Highlight albums include Aura (1985), a really trippy, psychedelic album that always unnerved me; Birth of the Cool (1957) is a classic; Sketches of Spain (1959) is also really great.
Norah Jones, Come Away with Me (2002) is a really nice little album. I remember when I first heard it, I hated it, but it really grew on me over time.
Thelonious Monk, The Very Best (2005) is a great collection of Thelonious’ greatest hits.
This is under “Misc” in my own collection, as it wasn’t easily categorizable elsewhere. Here goes:
Apocalyptica, Cult (2001): Very guitar-heavy rhythmic metal-ish stuff; a highlight is “Hope.”
Atom and His Package: Weird synth-punk that is just kooky and fun. I have A Society of People Named Elihu (1997), which includes the fabulous “Me and My Black Metal Friends,” as well as “Punk Rock Academy.” I also have his self-titled album (1997).
VA, Closed On Account of Rabies: Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (2CD, 1997): Strange, strange album, and the title is self-explanatory. Many famous people reading Poe stories.
VA, The Ghost Orchid: An Introduction to EVP (1999): Supposedly recordings of EVP (electronic voice phenomena), “ghosts caught on tape.” It’s a strange listen.
Rap & Hip Hop
This is quite a large collection, so it will be a little more highlight-y here than elsewhere. I’d like to highlight especially-obscure (at least IMHO) things in particular, and underappreciated (again IMHO) groups.
Binary Star, Masters of the Universe (2000): Great underground hip-hop album by a duo comprising One Be Lo and Senim Silla. Full of memorable tracks such as “Honest Expression.”
Cadence Weapon: First heard of this Edmonton rapper through his mixtape Cadence Weapon is the Black Hand (2005), via Myspace back in the day. He’s since released a few more albums, of which I have two. Check out “Black Hand,” which is a good sampling of his earlier material (sorry, the video is censored; find uncensored audio elsewhere, but the video is hilarious).
Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf, Big Shots (2003): Super-underappreciated old-school hip-hop album, recorded in 1993 before Charizma’s untimely death, then ultimately released in 2003. Highlights include “Methods,” “Red Light Green Light,” and “This is a Smirk.”
Cunninlynguists, Will Rap for Food (2001): Really strange, Southern-rap album with an insane amount of wordplay and pretty decent production. I enjoyed this a lot back in the day, and don’t listen to it as much now, but it’s pretty good.
dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip, Angles (2008): Trippy, British, mostly spoken-word rapping style; highlights include “Letter from God to Man” (which features a massive sample of Radiohead’s “Planet Telex” for the backing track) and “Thou Shalt Always Kill.”
Del the Funky Homosapien & Deltron 3030: Del, part of the West Coast crews Souls of Mischief & Hieroglyphics, is extremely talented (and also happens to be Ice Cube’s cousin). His early stuff, such as on I Wish My Brother George Was Here (1991) and No Need for Alarm (1993) is great, but later on, he really shines on Deltron 3030 (2000). Deltron 3030 was, if you don’t know, a supergroup of Del, legendary producer Dan the Automator, and DJ Kid Koala. I had the pleasure of seeing Deltron 3030 reunite a couple of years ago and it was magical. A second album, Event II, came out in 2013. It’s good, but not as good as the original.
DJ Jester, River Walk Riots (2001) and Heavily Booted (2002): DJ Jester is known as the “Filipino Fist” and is a talented turntablist from San Antonio, TX. River Walk Riots is a relentlessly fun mix, and he blends all sorts of genres together; who would imagine that a DJ would mix in “The Yellow Rose of Texas” on a hip-hop record?
DJ Shadow will always be a favorite of mine, but I really stopped listening after The Private Press (2002). I love Endtroducing (1996), which got me into turntablism and scratching, and same with Preemptive Strike.
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist’s Product Placement (2001): This album is bananas. It’s a mixture of all sorts of old commercials, ’60s and ’70s music, and other weirdness. It’s an hour-long aural assault and it’s wonderful. Product Placement Breaks (2003) is worth checking out to hear the source material as well.
D-Styles, Phantazmagorea (2002): A very interesting turntablist album; “Hamburgers & Chocolate Ice Cream” is an effectively creepy prelude to “The Murder Faktory,” for example.
Dynomite D, By the Way (2000): a great lo-fi, b-boy, graffiti artist kind of album, and is a real classic worth checking out.
Eric B. & Rakim, Paid in Full (1987): a great old-school hip-hop album. Recorded quickly, Rakim demonstrates a wide range of rapping skills and wordplay, and the production is also top-notch by Eric B.
GZA, Liquid Swords (1995): A must-listen for Wu-Tang Clan fans. I first heard about this album after I learned that Cage’s “Agent Orange” intro samples the intro to the title track (“People said his brain was infected by devils…”).
KMD: A great old-school hip-hop group, comprising Zev Love X (who would later become MF DOOM [R.I.P.!]), DJ Subroc, and Onyx the Birthstone Kid. Only two albums, Mr. Hood (1991) and Bl_ck B_st_rds (recorded earlier; unreleased until 2001), and both are great in different ways. Subroc’s untimely death cut the group short, and was the catalyst, many think, for Zev’s transformation into MF DOOM.
Kool Keith & his many aliases/side-projects:
- Dr. Octagon, Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996): This is sort of the sister project to the later Deltron 3030. What a bizarre album. Dr. Octagon is a space-faring, terrifying doctor, and wow is this a strange album but I love it. Back in undergrad, I had “I Got to Tell You” as my answering machine message (people hated it, I’m sure). A must-listen album.
- Dr. Dooom, First Come First Served (1999): After the “death” of Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom takes his place. Highlights include “Apartment 223” and “Body Bag.”
- Kool Keith, Thee Undatakerz (2003): Really, really weird album where the members are part of a twisted group of undertakers. A minor hit with “Party in the Morgue,” which, IIRC, was featured in one of the Blade movies. Highlights include “Reverend Tom” and “Dark Space,” the latter of which reminds me, unfailingly, of the movie Event Horizon (that is a compliment!).
- Masters of Illusion, self-titled (2000): Kool Keith & Motion Man unite to make an album together. I saw these guys perform live in around 2001-2002, and they put on a great show. At the time, I had no idea who they even were, but bought their album on vinyl and enjoyed it.
Mcenroe & Birdapres, Nothing is Cool (2004): Nerdy Canadian white rappers, but quite fun. My favorite track is probably “5000 Watts.”
MC Paul Barman: Super nerdy Jewish MC from New York; I have two albums, Paullelujah (2002) and It’s Very Stimulating (2000). Favorite tracks include “Salvation Barmy,” “The Joy of Your World,” and “Vulture Shark Sculpture Park.”
MF DOOM (& various aliases/side-projects): MF DOOM, for a long time, was my favorite rapper ever. I still really like his stuff, but not as much as I used to. R.I.P. to him in 2020, however; he was a legend! Operation: Doomsday (2001) is a near-perfect album, and Viktor Vaughn: Vaudeville Villain (2003) is also excellent. Other aliases include King Geedorah, Madvillain (with Madlib, 2004), Dangerdoom (with Danger Mouse, 2005), JJ DOOM (with Jneiro Jarel, 2012). I also highly recommend the Ghost Whirl EP he did with Jonathan Toth from Hoth; the remix of the title track is amazing, and so is Jonathan Toth’s solo “I 4give U 4 The Truth” (which samples “Questions in a World of Blue” from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me).
Missy D: A rapper from Vancouver BC; I found her music on Black Bandcamp. Listened through and really enjoyed it. I haven’t heard many female rappers and would like to listen to more (if you have any recommendations, let me know!). Check out her Bandcamp.
Non Phixion: I really used to love these guys a lot more than I do now. Ill Bill (brother of Necro, another rapper I used to like a lot), Goretex, Sabac Red, and DJ Eclipse made up the group. They focused on fringe and conspiracy theory topics, as well as science fiction. The Future is Now (2002) was their “debut,” but the earlier The Past, The Present, The Future Is Now (2000) mixtape is a great introduction as well.
RJD2: RJD2 is an excellent DJ and producer; his debut, Dead Ringer (2002), was very well-received. His EP The Horror (2003) was also a great album. I lost track of his career after Since We Last Spoke (2004), but I am sure he is still making great music.
Souls of Mischief, 93 ‘Til Infinity (1993): Part of the Bay Area supergroup Hieroglyphics, Souls of Mischief put out some great music, especially this album. It came out on Jive Records of all places, strangely, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out if you haven’t already.
Ultramagnetic MCs: Old-school hip-hop group where Kool Keith (see above) got his start. Debut album was Critical Beatdown (1988), with hits such as “Ease Back” and “Travelling at the Speed of Thought.” Kool Keith went on to have a really strange career after this, but I don’t know about the others.
UNKLE, Psyence Fiction (1998): I have no idea how I even heard about this album first, but I was really excited to check it out when it came out. DJ Shadow united with producer James Lavelle to form a supergroup called UNKLE. Notable guests on the album included Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Kool G Rap, Richard Ashcroft of The Verve, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead, of all people. Yorke’s track “Rabbit in Your Headlights” is nearly perfect, and includes a lovely sample from the movie Jacob’s Ladder.
My definitions of rock may be a little loose at times. Often I’ve included pop in my rock section. Your mileage may vary. Here you go.
A Fine Frenzy: I found out about her on, IIRC, Stephen Merchant’s radio show The Steve Show, and really enjoyed her single “Almost Lover.” I think the artist, Alison Sudol, is mostly doing acting these days, but her two albums (that I know of) are pretty nice: One Cell in the Sea (2007) and Bomb in a Birdcage (2009).
Alaska in Winter: I have no real good way to describe AIW (aka Brandon Bethancourt). I got into Alaska in Winter after learning that Brandon is friends with Zach Condon of Beirut (more below), and wow. Synthpoppy Balkan-folk goodness, abounding with vocoders and lasers. Most of his music is free on YouTube, as he has sadly quit the music business. Seriously, knock yourself out, it’s amazing stuff. Highlights include “Streetgang [parts 1-3],” “Berlin,” “A Love Note from Your Piano,” and “Staring at the Sun.”
Arthur Brown, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (1968): My favorite part of this very ’60s, very psychedelic album, is “Fire”: “I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you… FIRE!” Extremely weird stuff but great.
Bat for Lashes: I heard about her music on The Steve Show as well, and the two albums I have, Fur and Gold (2006) and Two Suns (2009) are nice, but I don’t listen to them as often as I should.
Beirut: I used to be obsessed with Beirut, and I confess I don’t listen to them as much as I used to. Beirut is fronted by Zach Condon, a multi-instrumentalist who hails from New Mexico, and has a generally-rotating group of backing musicians. Basically, Condon made the first album in his bedroom, and it’s heavily inspired by Balkan folk music, French chanson, and other world music. Just lovely stuff. I learned about Beirut on The Steve Show, and “A Sunday Smile” really blew my mind when I first heard it. My wife adores them too. Listen to whatever you can find. This live version of “The Penalty” is fantastic.
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone: Really lo-fi, soulful, often-emo music about everyday troubles, lost love, and loss of innocence. The brainchild of Owen Ashworth, who grew up in the South Bay (Redwood City, CA, if I’m not mistaken), this is some lovely stuff. Highlights include “Young Shields,” “Nashville Parthenon,” and “Cold White Christmas.”
Gasoline Lollipops: Founded in Colorado, they are sort of alt-country and really rock hard. I’d definitely like to hear more of their stuff, and thankfully they have a [Bandcamp](https://gasolinelollipops.bandcamp.com/)! The first album I heard was Soul Mine (2017). My favorite song of theirs is probably “Burns”; check out a lovely live version here.
Hello Saferide: A Swedish journalist-turned-singer-songwriter, Annika Norlin does some really fantastic music as Hello Saferide. Really down-to-earth songs about love lost and found, and oddities of life in general.
Johnny Flynn: I heard him first on The Steve Show as well; his album A Larum (2008) is really excellent. British folk rock at its best. Check out “Shore to Shore,” “Cold Bread,” and “The Wrote and the Writ.”
Nicole Yun, Paper Suit (2019): Really nice indie rock. I think I heard about her on Mastodon. Check out her Bandcamp.
Nuda Veritas: A really interesting female singer-songwriter; the band name means “Naked Truth,” which is a fitting name for the subject matter within. Well worth listening.
Oh Fortuna, The Fireworks of Electric Human Love (EP, 2009): Strange but delightful little album by a band out of Gainesville, FL. “Faces I Can See” is a standout track here.
Peggy Seeger, Almost Commercially Viable (2000): A really lovely British folk album. I heard this on the radio late one night, in particular “Night Song,” which was just a wonderful little song. I haven’t been able to find her music anywhere on YouTube, but I got this album off of her Bandcamp; do check out “Night Song” if nothing else, as it’s lovely.
Powderpaint: Absolutely wonderful synthpop by an amazing duo from the UK. Found out about them on Mastodon and can’t get enough. One of my favorite artists I discovered in 2020. Check out their Bandcamp!
Radiohead: Radiohead were my absolute favorite band for ages and ages. They’re still pretty high up there, but there’s a lot more competition. Anything Radiohead is pretty great.
Rap, Rap (199X): Early side-project of Brandon Bethancourt (Alaska in Winter) and his friend Hari Ziznewski. Strange, glitchy synthpop. Highlights include “Sega Song” and “Keytar Love 1986” (a distorted precursor to AIW’s “A Love Note from Your Piano”).
Sharon Van Etten: Great singer-songwriter; I’d like to check out more of her stuff. She has a Bandcamp as well. My favorite song is probably “Whirlwind.”
The Knife: Might be better-classified as “electronica,” but this odd brother-sister duo from Sweden is great either way. Highlights include “Pass This On” and “Silent Shout.”
The Low Anthem: A friend recommended I check these guys out, and they are really pretty great. I only have their first three albums, and I really enjoy What The Crow Brings (2007), which has the great track “Ballad of the Broken Bones.” 2009’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin also has the excellent track “To Ohio.”
The Magnetic Fields: Stephin Merritt, frontman for The Magnetic Fields, has been extremely prolific over the years, and has a bunch of side-projects as well. He produces some really lovely, sometimes sad, songs about love and life and everything else.
Travis, The Man Who (1999): Friends of mine gave me this album around the time it came out, and, very reductively, they’re kind of like the Scottish Radiohead. It’s a great album but I haven’t listened to it as much as I used to; ack, it is over 20 years old now!
Warren Zevon: My ex got me into Zevon’s music and wow, he was brilliant. His career spanned from the late ’60s up until his death in 2003. Some of my favorite songs include “Frank and Jesse James,” “Excitable Boy,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “The Hula Hula Boys,” and “For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer.”
Yazoo: I only learned about this ’80s New Wave group via Fringe‘s S5 premiere, in which “Only You” plays; later I realized that “Only You” showed up in Napoleon Dynamite in 2004 as well. Lovely song.
The final section. I’ll try to limit it to highlights and odd soundtracks that you may never have heard of before.
Babylon 5 soundtracks, mostly by Christopher Franke (erstwhile of Tangerine Dream!): excellent all around! Give them a listen sometime here.
Basil Kirchin, The Abominable Dr. Phibes OST (1972): One of my favorite movies, and it has a lovely soundtrack to boot. “War March of the Priests,” the opening track, a version of Mendelssohn’s “Kriegsmarsch der Priester,” is chilling.
Battlestar Galactica soundtracks, mostly by Bear McCreary, are also quite lovely. The Apollo and Adama themes are some of the best, with some wonderful Celtic themes. S1’s “Wander My Friends” is gorgeous, with poignant Gaelic lyrics, and S2’s “Reuniting the Fleet,” S3’s “Admiral and Commander,” and S4’s “Farewell Apollo” are especially lovely.
Disasterpiece, It Follows OST (2015): What a terrifying soundtrack for an equally terrifying movie (one of my favorites). Favorites include “Old Maid” and “Father.”
Disney soundtracks: I have a ton of Disney music, mostly from the Disney parks (Disneyland Official Album, Disney World Official Album, A Musical History of Disneyland [6CD]), and also Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair (5CD). An especially interesting album is Another Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World, an effort by a Disney World fan to reconstruct the experience of a day at the parks. You can find that here for free.
Howard Blake, The Changeling OST (2007): The soundtrack to a terrifying haunted-house horror film with George C. Scott, this is definitely worth checking out.
Ilan Eshkeri, Stardust OST (2007): What a great movie Stardust was. It’s a shame that the advertising campaign wasn’t so great, as I would have seen it much sooner. Great soundtrack as well.
John Gale, Dr. Phibes Rises Again OST (2003): The soundtrack for the sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Fun fact: all of the track titles, for whatever reason, the composer put into Latin. Bonus, too: Vincent Price singing a lovely rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the end of the film).
John Murphy, Sunshine: Music from the Motion Picture (2008): Sunshine was an unexpectedly terrifying film, and had a great soundtrack.
The Matrix soundtracks (all three of them) were also excellent and fun.
The Life Aquatic OST (2004): I have a soft spot for this soundtrack as well, especially the Portuguese renderings of David Bowie songs by Seu Jorge.
Philip Glass, The Music of Candyman (2001): I love the (first two) Candyman films, and the music is top-notch, especially “Helen, It Was Always You” and “Helen’s Theme.”
Rainer, Petscop OST (2019): The official soundtrack album for the utterly creepy and compelling YouTube webseries Petscop. The series came out a few years ago and was presented as a Let’s Play series of videos for a supposedly-unfinished/unreleased PlayStation game from 1997. It’s so good.
Shuki Levy & Haim Saban, Inspector Gadget OST (1983): I grew up watching Inspector Gadget and loved it, and especially its music. When I came across this, it brought back some great memories. One of the best tracks is Penny’s theme, which is called Fais Gaffe (“Look Out!”).
The Star Wars soundtracks go without saying; I have the 2-disc special editions that were released when the special editions of the original trilogy came out.
Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks for the “Dollars” trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) are timeless and amazing.
I also have a ton of Twin Peaks music: the original soundtracks for Seasons 1 & 2 (1990, 2007), the Fire Walk with Me soundtrack (1992), the soundtrack for The Return (2017), and of course, the 200+-track The Twin Peaks Archive (2012).
VA, A Charlie Brown Christmas (3CD, 2007): My parents got this box set for me and it’s really quite enjoyable. I’ve always loved the Christmas special, and the music is an integral part of that enjoyment.
Vangelis, Blade Runner OST (Esper Edition) (2CD bootleg, 2002): This is one of the most complete Blade Runner soundtracks I’ve come across. Some others may have more, but I really enjoy this version of it. If you find a copy, it’s totally worthwhile.
Wendy Carlos, Clockwork Orange Original Score (1972): Wendy Carlos is a pioneer of electronic music and also transitioned male-to-female at a fairly early period, so she is a trailblazer in more ways than one. I absolutely love the score to A Clockwork Orange, and this is a nice version, including the full version of “Timesteps,” which was excerpted on the official film soundtrack.
Alright everyone, that’s it for now! I hope that you’ve gotten some good recommendations from here and enjoyed the read. Sorry it ended up so long! Cheers.