Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is 26 years old and still holds its own as a classic of electronic music. It manages to carve its own path whilst also being a precursor to many other electronic music genre. Made with a limited collection of instruments and large chunks of it recorded to cassette tape, it has a lo-fi sound that really adds to the overall aesthetic by adding rough edges to the very straight sound of synthesis.
Although Ambient is in its title this doesn’t correlate to other artists in the genre with many percussion led tracks that fit more into a club sound than the sparse, slower evolving work of other acts. What it does demonstrate is Richard D James’s ability to do a lot with very little. A small handful of synthesizers and samplers are used to create the album and yet he always manages to make tracks that remain compelling. This shows a creative talent for composition and arranging at the very beginning of his career that has continued for the past quarter of a century.
Xtal opens the album with flair. The simple opening drum machine manages to take a 808 hi-hat sound that’s been used countless times and yet with processing and reverb turn it into something iconic. It provides a perfect summery to all the sounds on the track, which somehow manage to be both recognisable and yet unique. An understated piece that has stayed compelling this many years later.