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The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2003

The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century.

Reader comments

GregMay 20, 2003 at 1:52PM

What? No Plaid? Sigh.

jkottkeMay 20, 2003 at 2:35PM

You’re right, that’s a bit of a weird omission. Black Dog is on there tho. (And what’s with the *2* Chem Bros albums on there?)

katyMay 20, 2003 at 3:06PM

yup, I’d dump ‘dig your own hole’, though it is a fine fine album. I’d have liked to see fatboy slim’s ‘better living through chemistry’ up there (though I’m biased, cos my boyfriend engineered and mastered it). sad to see no prodigy (the fat of the land) included either.

billyMay 20, 2003 at 3:33PM

This list is a little too pop/dance-friendly. Significant omissions: Philip Glass, Steven Reich and Walter/Wendy Carlos

MarcusMay 20, 2003 at 4:47PM

Billy: Once you go there, you’ve really got apples and oranges on your hands: Stockhausen, Xenakis, Boulez, etc. I can’t see The Chemical Brothers and Stockhausen in any sort of company on any kind of list.

billyMay 20, 2003 at 5:01PM

Marcus: Yes. This is probably true to an extent with Philip Glass, Stockhausen and their ilk. However Wendy/Walter Carlos would merit this list due to the impact of albums like Switched-On Bach and the Clockwork Orange soundtrack (despite Switched On Bach being merely an adaptation of Bach’s work, it certainly put Bach back on the charts!)

I can’t see The Chemical Brothers and Stockhausen in any sort of company on any kind of list.

To take this point even further, it seems Brian Eno is somewhat odd company to most this list (Depeche Mode?), as he is more in the vein of Philip Glass and Steven Reich anyways. Both Reich and Eno were electronic pioneers who had notable influence on modern acts (Sonic Youth has adapted at least one Reich peice on recording, Eno with his producing for U2), yet they are both equally anomalous on such a list.

MikeMay 20, 2003 at 5:39PM

I would have liked to see Reprazent’s “New Forms” or Goldie’s “Timeless” on there but most of it seems pretty accurate. I’m not too sure about Daft Punk’s “Homework” however. Does Nine Inch Nails count?

jkottkeMay 20, 2003 at 11:11PM

Careful, Homework is a great album. Well, take away 3-4 songs, and it’s a great album. But Around the World is a masterpiece…it’s my desert island song.

GregMay 21, 2003 at 12:05AM

Desert island? That’s an awfully small world to go around. :-p

What I’m looking for is a top 25 list that has Broadcast in there somewhere. They’re probably too obscure to be on the same list as The Chemical Brothers or Moby, but, see, I do not need this justification.

Also, while I’m hyper and all: I haven’t heard anything about the Plaid mix CD, “Parts in the Post.” I’m hoping it’s good, because I just ordered it imported from England.

BillMay 21, 2003 at 1:54AM

If you find a list with Broadcast on it, send it my way. I’m having a hard time finding decent music lists, especially anything that doesn’t end up being crowded by top 40 dreck. This was one of the few good music lists I could find, but it’s still not perfect.

marcusMay 21, 2003 at 9:32AM

Around the World is a masterpiece…it’s my desert island song.

Haha. Agreed. Or maybe track 4, “Da Funk.”

StewartMay 21, 2003 at 11:41AM

The problem I see with this list(and others like it) is that it seems to have been chosen by people who know very, very little about electronic music. I mean, come on…Trans-Europe Express?? Sure, the title track is killer…but aside from “Europe Endless”, that album is monotonous and dull, especially compared to REAL Kraftwerk gems like The Man-Machine or even Computer World, for crying out loud.

This list predictably showcases groups that either have massively-promoted, major-label albums that sold millions (*cough* Chemical Brothers, Orbital) or shameless self-promoters and scene-suckers like Bjork or, worse, Derrick May. Where’s Juan Atkins(Model 500) or Kevin Saunderson on that list? Hell, even Plastikman had better “Detroit” techno than May…and he’s from Canada. Where’s lesser-known, but far more important or innovative acts, like Biosphere, Autechre, or any of the Apollo Records artists?

Now, if by “Greatest” they meant “Top-selling”, I could see that. But artistically, there’s no way that half these albums should even be on here.

…In my opinion, of course. :)

BillMay 21, 2003 at 12:58PM

Stewart hit the nail on the head as far as the music lists go. Most of the music lists I could find were “reader” chosen lists, and not critic’s lists. The readers’ lists are dominated by albums that are more popular rather than ablums with more artistic merit. Critics list seem to mix the popular with the occasional obscure selection. Now, while no single list will please everyone, I’ve found it hard to find a music list that’s really any good at all. It’s been very interesting going through all the various “best of” lists out there.

alokemMay 22, 2003 at 2:52PM

i guess electronica != techno, but still most of these acts are european which is weird considering the birthplace of techno is detroit. i guess the brits were better at packaging the stuff for mass consumption.

that said - where is lfo’s frequencies?!?!?! TELL ME WHERE?

StewartMay 23, 2003 at 12:20PM

Hell, where’s Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach?? I mean, if you wanna talk about albums that REALLY brought electronic music to a whole new audience, you’ve got to talk about Carlos’ stuff. Not to mention the “Tron” soundtrack. ;)

That’s not to say this stuff is inherently BAD(to be honest, I LIKED Orbital 2 when it came out)…but there’s not really much beyond the surface in a lot of these recordings. My hope is that people will become curious about what else is out there and do some exploring beyond what they’re familiar with, and discover the REALLY meaningful acts. I’d like to be able to point Bill towards lists that highlight more interesting and artistically diverse recordings, but, like Bill, I keep coming up pretty much empty-handed. If I find better ones I’ll post them here.

A few good resources for information about electronic music:

Discogs, a huge, volunteer-driven effort to catalog every release by every electronic musician ever. :) Many releases have reviews included.

Hyperreal, the great-granddaddy of electronic music sites. A lot of it is crap, but there’s good info if you dig deep enough.

Sonomu, a small, eclectic site of reviews and news.

Grooves Magazine, from Chicago with lots of great reviews.

I even like All Music, if only for the cross-referencing they’ve got. A lot of the information, release info, etc. is totally wrong, but the reviews are pretty solid and the cross-referenced info is great.

saikatbDec 19, 2003 at 10:52PM

I hope none of you are really serius about your comments. We are talking about electronic albums out here, the music that seems to be more ephemeral the gadflies. Enjoy what you lay your hands on but please not to take electronic music seriously.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.