‘Chill out music’ may summon up visions of ambient house and whalesong, but relaxing music doesn’t necessarily mean aural wallpaper. If you need some audio help to realign yourself – be it meditation music, sleep music or study music – then plug in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and press play on our pitch-perfect relaxing music playlist. It’s sequenced for three hours of continuous listening, with super-chill chapters dedicated to cool jazz, acoustica and more. We reckon it’s the best way to keep your head in the city.
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Here’s what’s in our relaxation playlist:
‘Exchange’ – Massive Attack
Simply put, this is what Bristol’s finest vibe-merchants do best: take an Isaac Hayes loop, add some soft beats and the vocals of Horace Andy and work it into a blissed-out masterwork.
‘Bug Powder Dust’ – Bomb The Bass (Kruder & Dorfmeister Dub)
Deep bass and gloopy synth loops pervade this satisfyingly chill slice of downtempo hip-hop, remixed by Austrian duo Kruder and Dorfmeister.
‘Soldissimo’ – Etienne De Crecy and Air
In this cut from ’90s concept album ‘Super Discount’, a jazz-funk bassline wanders through a landscape of sweet trilling synths and wah-wah textures as Nina Simone doomily intones: ‘I used to see pleasure…’
‘Nova’ – Amon Tobin
This woozy effort from Brazilian electronica producer Amon Tobin is enough to calm the nerves of even the stressiest of stress heads. Anchored by a trance-inducing bassline, ‘Nova’, the last track on 1998 album ‘Permutations’, slowly but surely ascends into the stratosphere, borne aloft by a borderline-cheesy sax line and heavenly vibes. Amen.
‘Autumn Leaves (Irresistible Force Chill Mix)’ – Coldcut
The haunting and much-covered jazz standard (Frank Sinatra, Mark Lanegan… er, Patricia Routledge) gets an ambient makeover. The duo tease out the breezy melancholy of the original with mesmeric strings and rippling synth patterns.
‘Age of Consent’ – New Order (Howie B remix)
Dance-rock gone rogue. The original’s twanging guitar riff and itchy drum patterns are replaced by a two-note synth dirge, deep bass and – Jesus Christ almighty – bongos, to monged out effect. What would Ian Curtis say?
‘Time Has Told Me’ – Nick Drake
Assuming you can resist becoming all reflective on life, a listen to ‘Time Has Told Me’ or indeed any Nick Drake song will infinitely help lower those stress levels.
‘Say’ – C Duncan
Who knew one Scottish guy in his bedroom could make something so rhythmic and understatedly complex? It’s like a choral massage.
‘Canadee-I–O’ – Nic Jones
Expertly tuneful guitar picking and an old school folk tale could be nothing but relaxing.
‘Running on Fumes’ – King Creosote & Jon Hopkins
It’s got birdsong and a stream in the background, for God’s sake!
‘Over the Hill’ – John Martyn
A nice bit of optimism and fresh air never failed to help bring out the daydreaming.
‘Chicago’ – Sufjan Stevens
A comforting mix of strings, trumpets and twinkly sleigh bells – peppered with dulcet, self-deprecating man tones – make this story of a young man driving to Chicago in a van a soul-soothing ode to alt-folky freedom.
‘Round Midnight’ – Wes Montgomery
The warm, honeydew-sweet jazz guitar pluckings of Wes Montgomery are a thing of absolute wonder – and demonstrated in fine form here.
‘After the Rain’ – John Coltrane
‘Petrichor’ is a beautiful word that describes the pleasing scent that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell. Perhaps jazz supremo John Coltrane had it mind when he recorded this blissful convergence of questing sax lines and shimmering hi-hats. ‘After the Rain’ feels like an aural twin to this earthy, human sensation.
‘Poinciana’ – Ahmad Jamal
Recorded live in Chicago in 1958, this version of a jazz standard by pianist Ahmad Jamal radiates cool and chill in equal measure.
‘Everything In Its Right Place/Maiden Voyage’ – Robert Glasper
A veritable two-for-one from the modern jazz pianist hero, who sublimely integrates classics by Radiohead and Herbie Hancock.
‘Harlem River Drive’ – Bobbi Humphrey
While jazz flute has become the subject of abject parody (thanks, ‘Anchorman’! Thanks, Will Ferrell!) there’s no disputing the majesty of Bobbi Humphrey and her calling card – this wistful, almost eight-minute tribute to cruising along a stretch of road in north Manhattan.
‘Mister Magic’ – Grover Washington Jr
There’s a sackful of uber-relaxing songs to pick from the catalogue of this ’70s sax man, but this 1975 release is truly ‘peak Grover’.
‘Snooze 4 Love’ – Todd Terje
The Norse synth maestro works up a blissful Balearic beauty on this gorgeous 2011 release.
‘Valentine’ – Jessie Ware & Sampha
Two British singers construct a chiming bass lullaby, as warm and welcoming as a velvet blanket.
‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ (Cumulonimbus Mix) – The Orb
Everyone knows the seminal, Steve Reich-sampling original. But this alternative, slow house remix by The Orb is perhaps even more engaging and soothing.
‘Untitled (Cliffs)’ – Aphex Twin
A restless spirit and fearless creator, Richard D James can bounce from gabba to ambient at the drop of a beat. Released in 1994, ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume II’ is a towering achievement: a drifting, many-hued trip and Aphex at his most sublimely chilled-out. ‘Cliffs’ is a standout track.
‘Take It Easy My Brother Charles’ – Jorge Ben Jor
Who is brother Charlie and why is he so uptight? God knows, but if this breezy little Brazilian jazz number doesn’t turn him horizontal and happy then there’s no hope. Three minutes of aural sedative sunshine.
‘Lovely Today’ – The Sixth Great Lake
If the sunset could sing, it’d sound like this: a plucked campfire lullaby to soothe the soul.
‘Laughing’ – David Crosby
From countercultural walrus-emperor Croz’s stupendously dazed 1971 masterpiece ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’, this is a heavenly drone-hymn to the Gods of oblivion.
‘Lazy Calm’ – Cocteau Twins
The title says it all: a beautiful mix of heavenly saxophone and chiming guitars from the Scottish band’s ‘Victorialand’ album.
‘Small Hours’ – John Martyn
John Martyn began his musical career as one of the late ’60s’ many sensitive folkies. Later, with the help of his trusty echoplex and liberal doses of high-quality marijuna, he experimented with jazz-tinged reveries, Jamaican dub, and proto-ambient sound washes – of which ‘Small Hours’ is a blissed out, pulse-slowing highlight.
‘1/1’ – Brian Eno
The birth of ambient. Critically derided by many on its release in 1978, Eno’s landmark recording ‘Music for Airports’ uses tape loops to create a soothing, ever-evolving series of instrumental patterns. Opening track ‘1/1’, written with the help of musical polymath and former Soft Machine man Robert Wyatt, delights with its naggingly beautiful piano melody. It’s still the ambient benchmark.
‘New Grass’ – Talk Talk
Talk Talk’s 180-degree turn from so-so synth poppers to sculptors of transcendent post-rock is one of Eighties rock’s most unlikely stories. So much so that ‘Laughing Stock’, their final (hilariously uncommercial) album, almost gave the suits at their record label Polydor a joint nervous breakdown. The rest of us are carried away by its unhurried grace – especially the hypnotic, luminous ‘New Grass’.
‘No.2’ – Clube Da Esquina
A downright gorgeous track from Brazilian legend Milton Nascimento and his multi-talented collective. The strange, beautiful vocal chatter that dances around its exquisite bass line is enough to make you swoon. Add in heart-stopping melodies and swelling strings and, well, you’re on Cloud Nine. Blissed out bossa nova – who would have thunk it?
‘It Had to Be You’ – Harry Nilsson
Seventies pop maverick Nilsson was way ahead of the curve when he reinterpreted the Great American Songbook on his lush, hypnotic ‘A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night’ LP. Rod Stewart, eat your heart out. No, seriously.
Written by Michael Curle, Clare Vooght, Stephen Farmer, Tom Huddleston, Oliver Keens, Ashleigh Arnott and Jon Cook.
Main image by Thomas Havell. Waves: KotomiCreations, Rain: Jackie O, Smoke: Joe Plocki, Lightning: John Fowler, Night sky: Julien NKS.