Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ocean of Sound [Virgin, 1996]
This gorgeously segued 32-track tour of trad ambient radiates out from Eno's 1984 On Land to such pop-avant types as Terry Riley, Harold Budd, Pauline Oliveros, John Zorn, and "post-orgasmic" ethnofusioneer Jon Hassell. It includes Debussy and Satie and Cage, Asians of widely disparate cultural orientation, rain-forest Yanomamis, Sun Ra and Miles and Ornette and Herbie sounding not especially jazzlike, two dubmasters and a bunch of white "improvisers," howler monkeys and bearded seals, the Aphex Twin and My Bloody Valentine, Les Baxter and Holger Czukay and the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground. For Toop, it answers a need that's both postmodern and millennial, synthesizing insecurity and hope, "bliss" and "non-specific dread." His selections are microcosms to dive into, not magic carpets to escape on, and gently or subtly or harshly or esoterically or whimsically or just plain oddly they accommodate the disturbing and the chaotic. Those who've settled for the diverting sounds, swelling textures, and lulling grooves of the chill-out room may never buy another Quango collection again. A