As the great Des'ree once said: "Life, oh life". Or if we're really going to be real and take inspiration from the selection of fridge magnets at the garden centre near our office: "Life isn't like a box of chocolates. It's like a litter box. Full of shit."
We all get it. Life is like a rollercoaster. One minute you're free-falling through a serotonin high, arms aloft with two drinks stuffed into each hand. Then you're back on a steep climb, weighed down with stress, anxiety and the general malaise that affects every human attempting to navigate the challenging maze of being alive. In these moments, it's important to find a tool to help you feel calm. An instrument that can evoke the mindset of a buddhist monk as he sits atop a peace garden on a serene mountain.
Music can help us achieve this goal. We've already triumphed the beauty of ambient music in this road to serenity. But wouldn't it be helpful if someone could provide a list of albums that are imbued with a sense of zen? Seeing as we're a music site, we're happy to do this job for you. This is our job, after all. So below you will find a list of 15 albums that will soothe the stress of being alive. Think of them as an auditory bubble bath in which one can soak away the long hours of the day. A gift, from us, to you. Thank you for being here. Namaste.
Midori Takada - Through The Looking Glass
This album is what is more commonly known as a banger. It was released on RCA Records in 1983, but could have been recorded during any period in history in which birds, a light breeze, and the gentle tinkling of wind chimes have combined. When I listen to it, I'm transported to a peace garden. All is right. I am centered; I am grounded. This earth is here to hold me. I will manifest my deepest desires and the source energy of the earth will wash me anew. God damn, this is some life-changing shit. When I leave Noisey to go and live in a Japanese temple, think of this record as a document of evidence. Ryan Bassil.
Listen to Through The Looking Glass here.
Subaeris - Dreams Love Chaos City
You might think vaporwave is for pretentious art grads who think 80s capitalism is a style aesthetic and always pay the extra pennies for Fiji Water, and you are right to think that. But since the genre first surfaced on Tumblr, Reddit and Last.fm in 2010, it's actually quietly morphed into something kinda great, something more than pitched down Diana Ross vocals over restaurant jazz. One of the best albums of this new vaporwave golden era is Dreams Love Chaos City by Subaeris, which conceptually conjures one of the most calming atmospheres you can imagine: the quiet city at night. What city? Fuck knows. Some futuristic metropolis by the sounds of it. The hi-hats sound like mechanical rattlesnakes, the synths are more comforting than the smell of your childhood bedroom, and the bass is massaging. If the replicant from Blade Runner made you a yoga mixtape it would sound like this. Joe Zadeh
Listen to Dreams Love Chaos City here.
Darkthrone - Transilvanian Hunger
All music is chill out music really – every record you like provides you with a sort of release that takes you down a notch or two. I'm not a medical doctor but I'm sure endorphins and serotonin are released whenever you hear anything you're into, and they're great for keeping aneurysms at bay. That said, if your definition of chilling out is basically "going to sleep", then you need Transilvanian Hunger. The drums might be fast, but the riffs are steady and cyclical. There's a real twilight atmosphere to the record; it's not really spooky but it is downbeat and sad sounding. It doesn't make me sad though. I fall asleep thinking about all the lank haired, malnourished, pale metal weirdos the world over, and that makes me happy, because they're great guys. Robert Foster
Listen to Transilvanian Hunger here.
Voices from the Lake - Voices from the Lake
As a man privileged enough to have a steady job in the media sector that basically involves me sitting on my arse all day refreshing Twitter "in case anything happens" and watching every video on YouTube as part of an extensive "research project" I'd like to make the following statement: work can be a bit annoying sometimes. Whenever I find myself sighing so deeply that it pings off the back wall of the office, smacking me directly in the mouth with which it escaped, I slip this incredibly lucid and pellucid slice of rainforest-ready ambient techno on and then start punching myself in the face for writing "lucid and pellucid slinky slice of rainforest-ready ambient techno," until my face resembles a lamb shoulder left to rot on a summer's day. After that I'm ready to submit to work again! Josh Baines
Listen to Voices From The Lake here.
The Virgin Suicides (Official Soundtrack)
The guy who composed The Virgin Suicides soundtrack (Nicholas Godin from Air) has said it's supposed to sound how death feels. Now, I'm not dead yet, but if passing away feels like a subtle configuration of bubbling synths, rolling drums and gentle whirrs and clicks that wash over you like a skin-temperature wave of serenity, then tell the grim reaper I am ready. Come, my devil-eared friend, and take me into your lair of soothing respite. Daisy Jones.
Listen to The Virgin Suicides (Official Soundtrack) here.
Deafheaven - Sunbather
Sometimes I wake up and am gripped by an intense feeling of misanthropy. And when that happens I do two things: go straight back to bed or listen to Deafheaven's Sunbather and find some weird form of beauty in my ability to hate every living and inanimate object in my immediate vicinity. Listening to this is what I imagine it would feel like to be sucked into a whirlpool after taking two valium. It's catastrophic and devastating but somewhere between those two feelings, there's an overwhelming sense of calm about such present predicaments. Ryan Bassil
Listen to Sunbather here.
Lubomyr Melnyk - Illirion
I first saw Lubomyr Melnyk perform in an old 13th century church on top of a mountain in rural Italy. A newly married couple had flown him to the little village especially to play their wedding, and the Ukrainian composer sat hunched over the church's old piano, his long grey hair the only part of him visible under the low lights, shyly acknowledging the small audience as they took their seats. Then he started to play, and that is the first time I've ever hallucinated without having to first meet up with someone called Andy on a road in a Bethnal Green.
Melnyk is one of the fastest pianists in the world. He plays using a technique called continuous piano, which essentially means he creates one everlasting, unbroken stream of sound. The effect of this on your mind is just nuts – you can barely think properly; small to medium sized thoughts that usually clutter your skull are forcefully overpowered, liberating your thought trail to visit whatever deep and unusual places Melnyk's choice of notes provokes them to. You feel serene and you also feel like you aren't actually really there anymore. I thought about my sister's unborn baby. The guy next to me said he found himself in a Japanese steam room he visited ten years previously.
Afterwards, Melnyk very humbly asked if anyone would like to buy his CDs, and laid out a tatty cardboard box of various albums, most of which had a picture of him on the front looking kinda pensive. I bought one called Illirion. It's also on Spotify. Now, whenever my brain feels crippled by a honking traffic jam of urgent meaninglessness, I put it on and go places. Joe Zadeh
Listen to Illirion here.
Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
I know what you're thinking: Broken Social Scene have three lead guitarists and a brass section. They are a small orchestra in skinny jeans, without any of the components required for compilation CDs with names like 'pure tranquility'. Yet the cacophony of noise created by these lads on You Forgot It In People is exactly what makes this record an ideal remedy for stress. It has a similar effect to standing in the ocean on an angry day and feeling relief in your sudden powerlessness as it batters you with wave after wave. It totally wipes your brain - kind of like jogging, but better because you don't have to get dressed or move. Emma Garland
Listen to You Forgot It In People here.
Band of the Irish Guards - Marching With the Beatles
I'm not sure how this album ended up in my house, but it did. And until it got lost or thrown-away, it was about the only thing I listened to. Recorded in the mid-sixties, it covers the early years of The Beatles' career; tackling love and loss with all the subtlety you'd expect from a military marching band. It's not exactly "soothing", but if you're looking to drown out every other thought in your head; leaving you composed and able to march for hours and hours without sleep, then this is your jam. Robert Knaggs
Listen to Marching With the Beatles in your mind (or attempt to find it at your local charity store) because Rob has picked an album so obscure it doesn't exist on the internet.
Hiroshi Satoh - This Boy
This album doesn't lull me into a meditative state in the traditional sense, in the way that some washy synths and the distant ringing of a tubular bell might, but something about the chintz, the muted groove, and the heart-on-the-sleeve tackiness of This Boy pulls me into a blissful embrace all the same. The album is the work of Japanese keyboard player Hiroshi Satoh, born in the small town of Chiran in 1947, and is a collection of innocent, strangely sexless love-songs as carefree as they are dreamy. When I need reminding of the good things that can and do constantly happen in the world, I listen to these gentle romantic meanderings, largely sung in a language I don't understand. Like watching an old flickering video of a birthday party from 1982, or switching off in front of a schlocky straight-to-tv rom-com, it is totally charming and completely disarming. Angus Harrison
Listen to This Boy here.
Keith Hudson - Playing It Cool & Playing It Right
Keith Hudson's early 80s period resulted in some of the dustiest, psyched out and experimental dubs ever recorded. And from this collection of whacked-out grooves comes his masterpiece, the 1981 album Playing It Cool & Playing It Right. From the faded plain sleeve that simply states "Playing It Cool", to the deep rhythms mixed with reverb, filters – and all that other shit that is bound to get all you tech-heads out there sweating with anticipation – this is an album that literally reeks with the dank, relaxing scent of an evening spent puff-puff-and-passing. Smoke up, sit down, and chill the fuck out with this pinnacle of serenity. Tim Scott
Listen to Playing It Cool & Playing It Right here.
Half Man Half Biscuit - CSI: Ambleside
If the very idea of "chilling out" with a "really nice ambient album" sounds as pleasant as a wet weekend on Rhyl with Theresa May, then you need to sink into the terrifyingly verbose work of four lads from Wirral instead. Because it is the exact opposite of ambience. Any album will do, but this one features the world-beating "National Shite Day" – a song best heard during one of those shifts at work that has you feeling positively homicidal. Then everything's OK again. And then you remember the existence of Primark FM. Josh Baines
Listen to CSI: Ambleside here.
U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
It feels like every track on this album has been used to soundtrack a time-lapse of a bustling street, a rainforest in rapid bloom, or satellite shots of clouds coagulating over earth. In some ways, it reminds me of that three month period at the start of this century when it seemed like the millennium would bring with it clean air, electric cars, nature documentaries and a Bono-led end to global poverty. With lyrics ranging from "I am not afraid of anything in this world," to, of course, "IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY", it is absolute screensaver rock, and I treasure it. Thank you, Bono. Thank you, the Edge. Thank you, the other ones. Thank U2. Angus Harrison
Listen to this on a streaming service, or something.
Lil Ugly Mane - Mista Thug Isolation
If there's one thing this collection of relaxation jams is missing, it's a rap album. Depending on the cut of your ear, there's a couple of these that may appeal: Jay Electronica rapping over the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack, the back catalogue of The Soulquarians, maybe some Eric B & Rakim or the collective work of the Hieroglyphics crew. Damn, even Lil Yachty got me retreating into a permanent state of zen these days. But if it's got to be one album, it's got to be Lil Ugly Mane's Mista Thug Isolation. Don't ask why. Just roll up a luxurious looking blunt and put this record on, take all these here problems and breeze 'em out, killa; breeze them out. Ryan Bassil
Listen to Mista Thug Isolation here.
Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport
The best thing in the entire world is to get the window seat on a long-distance train that is galloping at pace through the spindly twigs and cold grey leaves of the English countryside on the cusp of autumn to winter, ideally at that perfect time of night – hard to say when because it gets earlier every day, isn't it setting in now, isn't it getting colder? – but ideally at that exact time of night where the sun sets, first orange then pink and glassy against the sky, and the train keeps going – ker-thunk, ker-thunk, ker-thunk – at a perfect rattling pace, and perhaps you have warm knitwear on and a steaming cup of crap train buffet cart tea, whatever, but generally your heart rate is lowered and you have nothing on your phone to attend to and you are gazing out longingly at the world whipping by around you and, crucially, you are listening on big headphones to the song "Flight of the Feathered Serpent" by Fuck Buttons.
I did this once, the exact parameters above, on a train from England to Scotland, and I got to tell you that is one of the most chill moments of my entire existence. I've tried to capture it again since – I have looked out of cars and planes and I was on a boat once but didn't have my headphones so had to hum it – and it's more or less a straight synthesis of chillness.
The entire album is perfect to sink into. Tarot Sport was the first time the spiky sounds of Fuck Buttons' melted a little at the edges and made sense to me, and "Flight of the Feathered Serpent" is its crowning glory – a nine-minute romp through soaring string sounds and pounding organs and synths that sound like cold drops of water falling gently off the end of the stalactites they melted from onto soft-skinned drums below. Just everything about it is right. Everything. You can sit and listen to every beat of the record or you can put it on in the background and get some writing done. You can have it front and centre or you can tuck it away in a corner, always thrumming away, quieting down a part of your mind that only music seems to be able to turn off. I'm not saying you need to get a train from England to Scotland every time you need to chill out – honestly, fucking hell, the tickets were north of £100 and that didn't even include a bed; it was a horrible experience otherwise in every possible way – but I am saying that a bang on "Flight of the Feathered Serpent", a cup of tea, a lean back in a comfy chair and nine little minutes of calm can really sort a fella out. Joel Golby
Listen to Tarot Sport here.
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