This post introduces my Essential Selections project, a sprawling series of lists of music I enthusiastically recommend, or at least find interesting and noteworthy. The scope of the project is quite broad: it spans the entire history of underground electronic music from the late 1980s to present and includes any sort of music I might play under the name Basilisk, namely psytrance, techno, progressive house, IDM, downtempo, and an eclectic assortment of adjacent styles. This project is not intended to be authoritative nor definitive; I’ve put a lot of work into making and maintaining these lists, but they are merely a reflection of my personal taste in music, and music taste is highly subjective. Expect my selections and rankings to change over time as I discover new music and reconsider existing choices.
The idea for this project grew out of thousands of discussions I’ve been involved in over the years, particularly on Psynews, Isratrance, the Goa/Psytrance Group at Discogs, TRiP (pre-2000), the #goa channel on EFNet, and the 604 and CGT (Classic Goa Trance) mailing lists. Recommendations are the basic currency of exchange in online communities like these, and at some point I started keeping notes rather than always writing something off the top of my head.
Over time these notes became more formalized and were eventually distilled into the first iteration of my Essential Selections project, which launched in 2008 with recommendations for every year from 1995 to 2008. This was followed by a hall of fame (with five top releases from every year) and an all-time top ten. Ultimately this iteration of the project featured more than 500 releases—but it was arduous to maintain, and I took it offline sometime in the mid-2010s.
Since launching From Earth Orbit, a blog dedicated to my activities as a DJ and electronic music enthusiast, I decided to revisit the original project, informed by everything I’ve learned about music and blogging in the intervening decade. From this point forward I will be publishing revised lists of the best albums of each year. These lists will be based on the old ones but vastly expanded, with descriptions of each release, as well as an explicit ranking. This expanded format is partially inspired by the music blog Pitchfork, which regularly publishes similar lists with little blurbs justifying their picks, and Discogs, an essential resource for all music lovers.
Some important points to note about this project:
- Focusing on full-length albums introduces some unavoidable bias into this project. Electronic dance music isn’t always conducive to the album format, and plenty of brilliant producers and amazing songs won’t be represented as a result. Obviously I should get around to compiling lists of the best tracks for each year at some point, but for now I’m starting with full-length releases.
- What constitutes an album or compilation anyhow? I am focusing on releases containing more than an hour in length, but shorter releases might be included if they’re packed with quality music and feel substantial enough.
- For compilations, I am mostly interested in original and exclusive material, with rare exceptions. Plenty of good compilations will not be featured in this project simply because they’re loaded with previously released tracks licensed from other labels. Similarly, I am unlikely to include commercially-released DJ mixes in this project (unless they included an unmixed version).
- Date of release can also be ambiguous at times. For the purposes of this project I will tend to use an estimate of the first year of widespread availability to determine where a release belongs. There are cases where the vinyl LP was released in one year, and the CD the next. In cases like these I’m just going with my gut feeling about where a release should be featured.
- The music industry is far from perfect, and it isn’t uncommon for music to be released years or even decades after it was originally produced, which can introduce a disadvantage in ranking a release. To give one example, Trippy Future Garden was released in 1996 but contains music produced (and sometimes released on vinyl) several years prior to that. Compared to other releases from the same year it sounds dated, and might be ranked lower as a result, but there’s really no avoiding this without introducing even more subjectivity into the process.
- I have no plans to adhere to any particular quota for these lists (e.g. a top ten, or top fifty, or whatever). Every list will consist of however many releases I feel like adding and writing about. Most years will probably end up having an odd number of releases listed.
- These lists will change over time. Rankings may shift around, new releases may be added, descriptions may be modified. Nothing here should be considered completely static.
- Most of these lists will also include comments made on the original version of the project, excluding some that are no longer relevant. These comments were submitted anonymously but may contain identifying information. If anyone out there wishes to have an old comment removed please feel welcome to contact me.
- I welcome comments and feedback on every list—generating discussion is one of the primary aims of this project—but please keep it informed and topical. Forms are available at the bottom of the page for each year; feel free to reminisce, lend support, criticize my choices (politely, please), or suggest a few of your own. I will be active in responding to comments on this project and also look forward to discovering new music in the process.
May these recommendations lead you to new and interesting musical discoveries!