Best Library Music of 2022

The 10 Best Library Music Albums of 2022

The following ten best library music albums are bursting with largely instrumental, deeply cinematic tunes that’ll suit a gamut of possible occasions.


Castle If
From the Sea

Following up her well-received reimagined soundtrack to the Sean Connery b-movie Zardoz from 2019 and her 2020 cosmic space disco effort Beyond!, Canadian synth-sorceress Jess Forrest took it upon herself to begin building her own library by issuing monthly imaginary soundtracks near the end of 2022. Her second installment in the series, From the Sea, is a collection of moments made using Moog, samples, and digital synths intended to be used as “Aquatic Themes & Underscores” (according to the cover).

Living up to its promise, these nine ambient synth selections evoke the kind of deep-sea diving feel of Fabio Fabor’s 1980 effort Aquarium, but landing less on the camp end of the spectrum and more down on the serious end, evoking a sense of quiet awe in ambient numbers like “Diving Bell” and “Mariner’s Lullaby.”

For action-based scenes, “Nautical Miles” and “Water Park” evolve to include the kind of murky, lo-fi psychedelic downtempo beat and proto-hauntology atmospheres that could be confused for early Boards of Canada. The title track “From the Sea” is one of the trip-hoppiest of them all, with its skittering, pinched percussion, and warm pads droning angelic tones to soothe the beat. If Forrest has one of these in her every month, she’ll have a hell of a library all her own in no time.


The Pattern Forms
The Scenic Route
(Belbury Music)

This album was technically self-released digitally in 2021, but the permanent vinyl version wasn’t issued through Ghost Box subsidiary Belbury Music until 2022, so I’ll count it. The Scenic Route is the second album by Ed Macfarlane and Edd Gibson of Friendly Fires and Cate Brooks of the Advisory Circle under the banner of the Pattern Forms. Following up Peel Away the Ivy from 2016, which was released on Ghost Box proper, their sophomore effort utilizes Tom Moth on harp, and digs deeper into 1980s library music releases from the Bruton BRD and KPM Records 1000 Series, perhaps unconsciously channeling a bit of Windham Hill new-age acoustic ambient too.

The impact of Moth’s harp cannot be understated. Its unearthly elegance balances light synth melodies, with traces of piano, strings, and percussion, adding a crisp brightness with angelic decay that counterpoints the softer attack of the warm, vintage synths. As the album’s tasteful, elegant gestures drift by, the mind unwinds with visions of pastoral countryside, slightly blurred as viewed through the window of a passing train. Listening to this practically counts as meditation.


Monster Rally
Botanica Dream

Ted Feighan is something of a renaissance man. His “Winston Smith goes to Palm Beach” style of collage work, myriad exclusive prints of which are available through his website, adorns his album covers. It perfectly captures the surreal yet accessible essence of his tropical instrumental releases under the name of Monster Rally.

Feighan’s eighth album, Botanica Dream continues his feverish mining of the classic early 1960s exotica of Martin Denny and Les Baxter. As a genre, exotica was more related to big band swing music with a distinctly Polynesian inspiration, but it was certainly a cinematic, mostly instrumental genre, and Baxter did record Bugaloo In Brazil (or retitled and remixed African Blue) for KPM Music in 1970, so it had a foot in library music.

Partially inspired by MF Doom’s Metal Fingers Special Herbs beat tape series, Feighan does not make exotica in the traditional sense, but he does heavily use that summery lounge sound palette to create a soul-soothingly smooth style of downtempo beats. In peak Monster Rally form, Botanica Dream is the kind of camp rave-up that would have easily flown on Emperor Norton Records alongside DJ Me DJ You, Takako Minewaka, and Pepe Deluxé. 

The ping-ponging rain that opens “Imaginary Palms” brings to mind the Project 3 recordings of Enoch Light, before giving way to a harp-laden beat that sounds like mermaids having a water fight. Layered with record crackles and tape hiss, “Fever Dream” has an elegant string section and warm bassline, with an uptempo breakbeat like Nujabes or early Bonobo, while “Willows Hymn” takes on a Morricone-like Spaghetti Western cinematic sound with a mournful, feminine chorus cooing a melody of woos and Latin-tinged acoustic guitar. Each track paints a scene, yet it’s the kind of album you can put on in the background on a loop, and happily lose several hours.


Cosmic Analog Ensemble
Expo Botanica

Similar to how Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra is actually just Shawn Lee, the Cosmic Analog Ensemble sounds like a Middle Eastern psychedelic collective, but it is actually the work of Lebanese multi-instrumentalist Charif Megarbane. All of the electric, acoustic, baritone, bass, and 12-string guitar, the bandolim, vibraphone, piano, electric sitar, Moog, Farfisa, Mellotron, keys, drums, drum machine, percussion, and vocals were recorded by Megarbane himself between Beirut, Lisbon, and Paris in 2020-2021. And yes, like Ted Feighan (Monster Rally), he created the cover art too.

Megarbane considers Expo Botanica to be part of a trilogy, including 2017’s Les Sourdes Oreilles and 2018’s Une Vie Cent Detours, but it has such specific inspiration. With each of its 16 tracks representing the life cycle of an imagined plant, Expo Botanica follows in line thematically with the likes of Plantasia by Mort Garson and Plant Material by Castle If, though the sound brings to mind the pluckier 1960s and 1970s productions of Italian composer Piero Umiliani or France’s Francis Lai. Every track has that psychedelic fuzz fringe, an analog kitschiness that would work as stock music for the elevator to heaven. The album has such easy energy, effervescent yet calming, like the funkier moments of Swedish composer Sven Wunder. It grows on you too.


Oh No
Dr No’s Lost Beach
(OFFAIR Records)

Brother to Madlib, with whom he forms the duo known as the Professionals, American rapper/producer Michael “Oh No” Jackson has produced a few different Dr. No imaginings over the years. Released in 2007, Dr. No’s Oxperiment leaned heavily on samples drawn from Turkish psychedelic folk-rock, while Dr. No’s Ethiopium from 2009 delved deep into Ethiopian funk, jazz, and soul.

For Dr No’s Lost Beach, Oh No was given the keys to the Sonor Music Editions catalogue. Founded in 2013 and based in Rome, the home of so many legendary mid-century soundtrack composers, Sonor has churned out an impressively well-curated selection of classic cinematic fare and library music releases, repressed on quality vinyl. Oh No must have felt like a kid at a buffet’s ice cream station, picking the best bits to sprinkle on his beatsmith alchemy. 

Oh No envisioned the album “to feel like going on a vacation across the sea to a remote beach island. This record is a journey, straight from the beach, falling down a waterfall and looking up. Each song is a chapter or a scene; it’s like a game where you follow the light air with the wind and you jump off the cliff into the water, enter digital oasis and adventure.” When these summery downtempo beats wash over the listener, taking that Stones Throw aesthetic deep into cinematic territory in a way rarely seen since Madlib’s Beat Konducta Vol 1-2: Movie Scenes from 2006, it is hard to imagine anything other than what he described.


The Diasonics
Origin of Forms
(Record Kicks)

Perhaps victims of unfortunate timing, the Diasonics is the work of five young rare groove worshippers from Moscow, Russia. Reading the room post-invasion, they reissued the album’s closing track “Balance” as a free download on Bandcamp along with a message saying they stand for peace. It wouldn’t be fair to blame drummer Anton Moskvin, bassist Maxim Brusov, percussionist Anton Katyrin, guitarist Daniil Lutsenko and keyboardist Kamil Gzizov for a war they had nothing to do with. However, they are certainly to blame for creating one of the most dramatic, sensual, evocative instrumental funk albums of the year.

Origin of Forms delivers everything that Khruangbin promises, an Eastern European mystique wrapped in sprawling, summery soulful funk jams tinged by CAN and Jean-Pierre Melville soundtracks. The quirk factor is high, the sonic palette expansive, and the execution flawless. It’s the soundtrack for this and every season.

The drum break that kicks off “Affair” already sounds like it’s been sampled by hip-hop luminaries for decades, that snappy boom-bap that quickly gives way to a plucky, exotic string melody and what sounds like a mouth harp. The countryfied guitar twang and whistles on “Origin” lend it that Morricone feel. Even the simplest compositions here are laden with sonic variety, evoking all manner of imagined scenes. These boys dug deep, and came up with a relic that one hopes may have a Bill & Ted effect in Russia, and possibly save the human race.