Editor’s Note: Following news that Daft Punk are hanging up their helmets, we’re revisiting several of our relevant features. That includes Allison Franks and Frank Mojica’s ambitious look at the 20 Best Sci-Fi albums, a list Daft Punk couldn’t help but land on. This ode to music and science fiction was originally published in 2013 and was last updated in September 2016.
“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.” –Isaac Asimov
“I grew up obsessed with science fiction, and when I was really young, I wanted to be a scientist.” –Moby
Since the age of reason, science fiction has bloomed inside our inquisitive minds — from ancient mythology to xenomorphs to The Age of Spiritual Machines. Over the last few decades, however, modern science and various technological breakthroughs have broadened the genre’s creative sandbox, bringing us startlingly advanced CGI graphics, headlines about cloning, the oddball resurgence of (gulp) steampunk fashion, and, of course, those “breathing” sex dolls that look like something straight out of Tales From the Crypt. Sometimes, it’s next to impossible to draw the line between fiction and reality.
Music’s no stranger to such a genre, of course. This week alone, we learned that Tame Impala’s “Eventually” curiously ties together with Stanley Kubrick’s landmark 1968 science fiction spectacle, 2001: a space odyssey. In light of this discovery, we decided to revisit our favorite science fiction-related albums. From Misfits to Radiohead, Pink Floyd to Iron Maiden, you’ll no doubt be thrilled by some of our choices. So, set your phasers to stun and buckle up for the ride of your life.
20. Misfits – Walk Among Us
Released: March 1982
Beam Me Up (Setting): A parallel universe where civilization has fallen and apes rule the world.
Danzig has always had a way of twisting his music to sound as if it’s been put through a meat grinder. With Walk Among Us, we find the horror punk band turning into martians, fleeing from astro zombies and fearful of otherworldly abominations such as the “rat-bat-spider” prominently showcased on the cover of the album. Perhaps not the band’s greatest work, but still a fun romp through a horrifying futuristic landscape filled with monsters and murder.
Prepare for hyperdrive (Climax): “I send my astro zombies to rape the land/ Prime directive, exterminate!”
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Planet of the Apes
19. Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
Released: September 29, 1986
Beam Me Up: A long time from now, in a galaxy far, far away.
Iron Maiden and guitar synthesizers? Must have infuriated quite a few fans back in the day. The metal legends made the right call, however, because the synths give an album with themes of surviving time and space an especially futuristic feel. And that cover? The ultra-meta piece featuring mascot Eddie the Head in the middle of a Blade Runner-esque dystopia loaded with references to the band’s other works is their greatest. Although not a true concept album, Somewhere in Time has the characteristic sci-fi look, feel, and sound.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Iron Maiden winning the guitar-synth debate in epic finale “Alexander the Great”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The aforementioned Blade Runner
18. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
Released: April 23, 2003
Beam Me Up: Deep inside an Egyptian temple in the 23rd century.
One can only dream of being enveloped in the strange aura surrounding Alison Goldfrapp. Between her Shirley Temple curls, outrageous stage appearances, and trippy vocals, you can’t help but find yourself entranced by the band’s out of this world glam meets synth pop electronica. Black Cherry marked a drastic shift for the band from soothing trip-hop to otherworldly energized dance music; a sound that has stuck with the band like glue. Just be prepared to have your brain poked and prodded like some kind of science experiment.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Get ready to freefall when you hear the muffled robotic echos of Alison Goldfrapp on “Hairy Trees” that simulate a gravity free prance upon the moon.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The Fifth Element
17. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Released: March 3, 2010
Beam Me Up: A universe similar to the real one, but more exciting. More specifically, on an island of floating refuse with pirate and demon antagonists.
Can a band get any more sci-fi than consisting of fictional cartoon characters? When it comes to monkeying around with Gorillaz, everything from videos to viral advertisements and hidden clues interweave with the albums to create a fictional reality with an immersive storyline. With Plastic Beach, the Gorillaz storyline veered into Lost territory full of mysteries for eager fans to solve, while an impressive array of contributors obliterated any genre boundaries still remaining after the first two albums.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Discovering the true fate of Noodle on the video for “On Melancholy Hill”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The Archies
16. Electric Light Orchestra – Time
Released: July 1981
Beam Me Up: In a perfect world of total pleasure.
Ever wonder what would happen if you suddenly woke up from a peaceful sleep to a strange, new world? Time will invoke this experience and send you into an Ursula Le Guin style sci-fi romp through human consciousness and psychological identity. This prog rock masterpiece tells the story of one man’s accidental arrival in the year 2095 with no hopes of returning to his own time and unable to accept or adapt to his new surroundings. It’s chilling, it’s unnerving, and more than anything, it’s scary as hell.
Prepare for hyperdrive: From the moment you pop this record in you’ll be rocketed into the future and left to tread through its electronic disco melodies for the rest of time.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Logan’s Run
15. The Bryds – Fifth Dimension
Released: July 18, 1966
Beam Me Up: 2022 at the Chelsea Towers West.
Welcome to The Fifth Dimension; a wild LSD trip bringing its listener to question the existence of alien life forms, find peace during war, and ask 101 unresolvable questions. The Byrds have often been given credit for creating the genre of psychedelic rock thanks to this experimental album featuring everything from droning guitars to aviation sound effects. It’s an experience for both the mind and the body that will lead you on a surreal rocket ride to the edges of the universe.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Amidst the simple country twang of “Mr. Space Man”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Soylent Green
14. Björk – Homogenic
Released: September 22, 1997
Beam Me Up: At a remote Antarctic research station surrounded by rocky ice boulders and surreal icescapes.
Quirky Icelandic musician Björk has always been known for her unique musicianship and ability to master a plethora of sounds with items as simple as playing cards. Which is why the chilly strings and abstract percussion found on Homogenic not only paint a picture of the icy domain in which she was raised, but also form to create an eerie and bleak artistic vision of the unknown. It’s abstract, it’s highly complex, and it’s kept adrift by the heartbeat of its own unique landscape.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Inside the cold metallic probing of machines and the familiar touch of another female robot on “All Is Full Of Love”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The Thing
13. Air – Moon Safari
Released: January 16, 1998
Beam Me Up: If it were made of ribs, would you eat it?
Air’s Moon Safari pays homage to ’60s French pop while taking a dream voyage in space with chilled out, otherworldly electronica. It’s the sound of what it would be like to make out in a vacuum. Unsurprisingly, Air would later go on to soundtrack the world’s first science fiction film Le Voyage dans la lune for its 2011 restoration.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Air blasts off early with the irresistible danger of the slightly sinister sounds of “Sexy Boy”, then it’s smooth sailings.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon
12. The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium
Released: June 24, 2003
Beam Me Up: A psychedelic acid adventure through time in space within the reaches of the Twilight Zone.
Since their inception, The Mars Volta have successfully altered time and space around their reality bending guitar work, drug-inducing lyricism, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s high pitched screams. An hour-long epic illustrating the lucid dreams of a man in a coma, loosely based on the death of friend and artist Julio Venegas, De-Loused in the Comatorium questions everything absolute and registers with the mind as a test on the existence of the individual and the true nature of the whole. It’s compact with illusory perceptions one may struggle to understand for generations to come. The question is: Will you go mad on the quest to enlightenment?
Prepare for hyperdrive: Within the rolling drums of “Cicatriz ESP” that lead you further and further into the clutches of mind melting guitar solos and reality bending wah-wah pedals.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: 2001: a space odyssey
11. Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age of Wireless
Released: March 1982
Beam Me Up: Crime ridden Detroit, MI
Synthpop pioneer Thomas Dolby struck gold with The Golden Age of Wireless. Showcasing Dolby’s strange fascination with radio and the modern world, the album features everything a high register synthesizer can produce and more. While not a concept album technically speaking, one can’t ignore Dolby’s fascination with booming technological developments, time travel, and a new wave sound.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Within the echoes and transcending electronic sounds of “Europa & the Pirate Twins”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: RoboCop
10. OutKast – ATLiens
Released: August 27, 1996
Beam Me Up: The real world has aliens among us.
After the success of their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Andre 3000 and Big Boi still found themselves to be outsiders in hip-hop, so much so that they were booed as they took the stage at the Source awards. Subsequently, the duo embraced their outsider status and abandoned the self-aggrandizing typical of southern hip-hop for something even further out there. Drawing inspiration from Parliament’s space fixations, OutKast cast themselves as the ultimate outsiders on ATLiens, but with a laid-back style that favors dub and vintage soul over funk.
Prepare for hyperdrive: OutKast fully embraces their inner weirdness on the beat-less, intergalactic “E.T. (Extraterrestrial)”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The Brother from Another Planet
09. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Released: July 16, 2002
Beam Me Up: A reality more dangerous than this one, but also with greater fun. Imagine a world with killer robots and interrogative sentences are always asked with double question marks for added emphasis and enthusiasm.
Admittedly, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is less of a concept album than Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Embryonic. In fact, the narrative dissipates after four tracks. Yet, the idea of Yoshimi P-We of Boredoms and OOIOO battling fleshy robots is one that needs to come to fruition.
Prepare for hyperdrive: The catharsis that comes with an overload of every feel-good sound set to Wayne Coyne’s equally sugary sentimentality on “Do You Realize??”. Good luck not singing along.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The Terminator. While on mushrooms and laughing gas.
08. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
Released: May 18, 2010
Beam Me Up: Futuristic dystopia
Heavily inspired by the sci-fi classic Metropolis, The ArchAndroid is a concept album about Cindi Mayweather, a Neo-like android messiah, and her struggles to restore freedom, love, and unity to Metropolis. Musically, The ArchAndroid is akin to a time machine stuck on shuffle, journeying all over the time-space continuum. Monáe embraces both the retro and the futuristic as she mixes disparate styles such as hip hop, soul, glam, funk, and psychedelia to name a few.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Monáe unleashes punk rock fury on “Come Alive [War of the Roses]”
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Metropolis
07. Parliament – Mothership Connection
Released: December 15, 1975
Beam Me Up: The final frontier
Sometimes it just isn’t enough to dabble with sci-fi themes or futuristic sounds. On Mothership Connection, Parliament established their own universe for future albums, complete with recurring characters such as the godlike Starchild and intergalactic DJ Lollypop Man, conflicts, and a mythology . The secret of existence itself? Funk. For live performances, a Mothership was constructed for the sake of landing on stage.
Prepare for hyperdrive: “Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Star Trek: The Original Series
06. Rush – 2112
Released: April 1, 1976
Beam Me Up: A motorcycle gang war in dystopic Australia alongside Mel Gibson.
An ancient guitar that will serve as a boon for humanity? That’s typical guitar hero Alex Lifeson for you. A concept album in its truest form, 2112 tells the tale of one young man’s bold, but unsuccessful attempt to liberate civilization from the evil clutches of the Solar Federation. Between Geddy Lee’s iconic screech and Lifeson’s galaxy stretching guitar riffs you’ll quickly find yourself dreaming about revolution and gratuitous space warfare.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Amidst the galactic guitar shredding found within 2112: Act IV “The Presentation”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The savage landscape of Mad Max
05. Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine
Released: May 1978
Beam Me Up: A coldly efficient, technologically advanced city of the future
Long before Daft Punk stayed up all night to get lucky or stood onstage while Taylor Swift received an award, German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk were exploring human-robot relations. As influential as The Man-Machine is to synth-pop, hip-hop, and EDM, it’s just as groundbreaking in regards to themes of alienation and the impact of technological advancement on the human condition.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Finding beauty in urbanization and danceability in the increased repetition in existence in “Neon Lights”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Isaac Asimov’s Robot series
04. Daft Punk – Discovery
Released: March 3, 2001
Beam Me Up: Inside a wormhole, one kiss away from Shep.
You either like Daft Punk or you don’t. However you can’t deny the influence this French duo has had on our airwaves. Roping audiences in with their strange choice of attire, repetitive beats, and irresistibly spacey sounds, these intergalactic robots have found their niche amongst the sci-fi community and just about everywhere else. Let’s be honest, Daft Punk has left their unique signature on everyone from Kanye West to Stephen Colbert leaving us only to wonder who their next victim will be.
Prepare for hyperdrive: Right after the opening bells ring on “Aerodynamic” you are rocketed into a new galaxy packed with robotic vocals, pulsating high hats, and inter-dimensional synthesizers.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Tron, without a doubt.
03. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Released: March 1, 1973
Beam Me Up: Life, or if you’d prefer, a stroll down the yellow brick road.
Dark Side of the Moon is the album that made synching a record with a film a thing and made Laserium a necessity. With themes of greed, insanity, and the passage of life and time set to the best and most psychedelic slowed-down progressive rock, the album in every one’s collection can sound and feel as gloomy and alienating as the best works of sci-fi.
Prepare for hyperdrive: The change from 7/4 to 4/4 time for that interstellar guitar solo on “Money”.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Obviously The Wizard of Oz.
02. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Released: June 6, 1972
Beam Me Up: A very 70’s perspective of peace and love transcribed from alien text.
If you were an alien, would an over-sexualized America confuse or envelop you in its arms? David Bowie’s quintessential album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, brings these issues to light while addressing sexual exploration, drug usage, and the true meaning of life. It’s influenced everyone from Saul Williams to Bon Jovi and continues to wow new listeners with its strange yet timeless world ideals and social commentary as told by the alien “Ziggy”. It’s every sci-fi nerd’s moloko vellocet; perfect for calming the nerves and twisting reality into a psychedelic (albeit psychotic) voyage through space.
Prepare for hyperdrive: The high pitched coo of Bowie on “Starman” interspersed between spacey guitar progressions.
You’ll love this, if you already dig: The Man Who Fell To Earth
01. Radiohead – Kid A
Released: October 2, 2000
Beam Me Up: Panicking about the future while still in the present
If rock is dead, it’s because Radiohead fired this kill shot to end its misery. Theorized to be about everything from the first human clone to an accidental prediction of 9/11, Kid A is a true game-changer that sounds how an increasingly cold, dehumanized dystopia will feel.
Prepare for hyperdrive: “ICE AGE COMING ICE AGE COMING”
You’ll love this, if you already dig: Toronto’s Cineforum synched the album with Nosferatu to create Kid Dracula. Despite being nearly a century old, Nosferatu is still considered spooky. When the film’s striking imagery forms an unholy union with Kid A’s icy soundscapes, an even greater sensation of ever-looming dread is evoked.