Various Artists

Ambient Boxed: A Guide by Instinct

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Throughout the 1990s, the New York-based Instinct label released a dizzying amount of electronica, much of it ambient in nature. Perhaps more than anything else except their lock on Moby's early recordings, Instinct became known for their ambient recordings as they released one ambient compilation after another -- even if none of these compilations proved particularly landmark in the long run. Yet when Instinct eventually sorted through their cluttered back catalog of ambient releases and assembled this best-of compilation in 2001, Ambient Boxed, it became clear that they indeed had released some amazing ambient music in the '90s. Sure, there aren't many big names here -- notable exceptions being Moby, Sutekh, Terre Thaemiltz, and Taylor Deupree. In fact, many of the featured artists will be no-names to contemporary listeners; ambient was never a particularly accommodating genre for commercial-minded artists. Still, comprised of superstars or no-names, the music is what matters most, and Instinct assembled some quality ambient music for this boxed set. Most of what's here came about in the '90s before the glitch/laptop movement. As a result, nearly everything is very synth-based and in most cases characterized by an analog feel. This will be fine for most listeners, particularly those with a taste for melodic synth washes, but there will also be some who will find this music a little too dated, particularly those accustomed to the anything-goes approach employed by post-2000 laptop producers. Either way, though, there's no denying this collection's historical significance. It no doubt defines an important era in the quick development of electronica, the mid- to late-'90s era when electronica suddenly became "the next big thing" -- an exciting yet brief era before everything splintered at the end of the decade with the advent of the laptop culture. [The four-disc Ambient Boxed is also available in four separate one-disc volumes, none being particularly better than the others.]

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