Downtempo & "Chillout" Electronica on eMusic
Similar to calling electronica “dance music,” I don’t really like naming a subgenre by what you’re supposed to do when listening to it. Worse still is when people refer to pillars of the style like Bonobo, Boards of Canada, and Air as ambient music just because it doesn’t (usually) have a driving beat to invite one to cut a rug. Let’s say there’s a middle ground between this and ambient, an unfortunately underused term “illbient” that’s either too hard or unnerving and intrusive to be fully ambient. Whaddaya say?
Often times, adding electronics to jazz or lounge music will get one placed here. One hates to say this kind of music strives to be pleasant, just a more respectable electronic version of easy listening, but any experimentation had better enhance the chilling out rather than kill the mood, unlike the concurrent lists of IDM. At least one user appreciates the Ibiza and Buddha Bar compilations, so they should also be kept in mind for the sound I’m referring to.
Labels I recommend: Burning Witches; Death Waltz; Exceptional; Front and Follow; Ghost Box; King Deluxe; Ledokol; Lo Recordings; LOaF; Matraca; Moller; New State; Pedigree Cuts; Poker Flat; Power Vacuum; Rotters Golf Club; Sempre Musica; Shadow; Tummy Touch; WeGrowWax
Labels with at least a few OK titles: Cowshed; Enchufada; Future Funk; Gran Depot/Couch; Groove Butta; Ketama; Microcosmos; Mole Listening Pearls; MOR Records; Now Freedom; ONIONWAVE; Raftonar; Serafin Audio Imprint; Tactal Hots Environment; 12K; Tyco;
I’ve yet to appreciate these labels but can neither guarantee they’re no good or not just general electronica: Abstrasension; Aspire Higher; Audio Aashram; Audio B; Audio Kingz; Claremont 56; Clozetbeatz; Deugene; A Different Records; DUB Recordings; DubGestion; Ed Banger; Edmon; 81; Far Yards; Father & son Records & Tapes; Filigrano; Fremdtunes; Giallo Disco; Golf Channel; Idle Hands; Invisible Inc.; Kitsune; Love Love; North Clouds Collective; Nuages; Mystery Train; Palms Out Sounds; PeLo Productions; Pizzico; POST POST; Rough House Rosie; The Rust; Skoum Recordings; Slime; So Sound; Sonic Groove; Supertive AB; Triartum; Womblabel;
Ten fine Downtempo/Chillout albums
1. “Bow Wave” - Andi Otto (2018). Just a really nice listen, almost serene despite its beats, with more variety than average. In fact the rhythm hardly varies but is thankfully kept low in the mix, allowing the other elements to shine around it most adeptly. Pleasantly hypnotic but not without highlights, such as subcontinental strings and vocals on “Six.” The 99-cent remix EP is an ideal accompaniment, too.
2. “Elemental Themes” - Chrome Canyon (2012). Vintage synthesizers create sci-fi fantasy landscapes of the imagination with production from one who worked with Daft Punk. Smooth but never dull; not danceable, and this is a good thing. Unlike the previous entry, the remix album from a year later is just as pricey and destroys all that makes this album unique in pursuing that dubious objective.
3. “Samorost 3 Soundtrack” - FLOEX (2016). The closest comparison I can make is with the great Cinematic Orchestra if they traded their urban setting for a Puszcza. Orbital remixed some of FLOEX’s work and said they had a great time. An hour and a half of otherworldly electronica with what at least sound like organic instruments mixed in generously and seamlessly. Too interesting to be just background music, IMO, but it’s all really nice. Rarely does an album cover fit the music so well; might well be how Ents de-stress. Tapers off a bit in the last third, but by then you’ll have found bliss.
4. “Terra Incognita” - Blossom (2019). Quality and value on a longer 99-cent EP that takes clear cues from Bonobo and other luminaries of the chill. The first track is unimpressive, but it finds a nice groove thereafter.
5. “Yawn” - Düsüktempo (2018). Probably the most obscure album on this list, which is no small feat, I think it’s from Turkey and misfiled as hip-hop. Rapping over most of these would be a real challenge, and I think they work better as standalone grooves. Not the best value for just 19 minutes at $3, but there’s some interesting sounds here that you won’t hear in other electronica. Seven short tracks, most with a slow beat.
6. “Seoul” - Rainbow99 (2014) & “Telekid” - Rainbow99|NWIT (2017). Watch out for some louder, aggressive tracks on the former, but otherwise these are very nice, listenable examples of Korean downtempo electronica. The latter has some tracks with vocals and is generally more melodic and upbeat.
7. “Reverie Discomposed” - Goodbye Ivan (2019). If you heard the glacially somber original album and thought it needed a beat, this is literally just the thing.
8. “Night Drive” - Buspin Jieber (2014). Two of the three melodic EPs here are 99-cents, and I’d rather listen to any of them about a zillion times more than the unmentionable one he Spoonerizes.
9. “Summer Tape” - MeloDope (2019). No illicit substances are necessary to enjoy the easy flow of this 99-cent EP. Vocals peek in and out of pretty blissful swirls of synth melody, on the urban side.
10. “KUA” - Daniel Muerez feat. Maca Campos (2014). Potoco Discos are never wrong, so when the middle track shatters the vibe with rap en español and then an instrumental rock song, these are features rather than disqualifications from this list. For the tracks to that do conform to downtempo expectations, Neotropic is a clear point of reference. A bit short at 29 minutes but an interesting, Latin take on downtempo electronica overall.
On other lists but still fine and on the site: “Sisters” - Odd Nosdam (2016)…get the BoC remix too!; “Mono y Toro EP” - Son of Run (2012); “The Melody of Dust” - Hot Sugar (2017); “Kurayami” - Machinegewehr (2019)
Plenty including myself have recommended the remaining singles by Floating Points, but it pains me to do so when they’re just OK while Elaenia is so great and so gone.
Also notable: very little singing or vocals on most of these.