More recent ‘psych’ (and related) listening.

by waxbanks

It’s been nearly impossible to get myself to admit that there are genres I actually like — other than jazz, however I choose to construe that term on a given day, there’s no kind of music in which I have any kind of generalized active listening interest. In other words, I wouldn’t wander into a random punk show because it’s punk, or take a friend’s suggestion of a metal album because it’s metal. But I also won’t just try out a random ‘jamband’ — the ones I’ve heard have all been unsatisfying, save (obviously) two — and curiously, the same goes for ‘psychedelia,’ ambient music, postpunk, and prog, all loose genres in which theoretically I should be right at home. I just don’t like the stuff that’s like what I like.

My nonspecific tolerance increases as the music gets older. Prewar country/blues/folk recordings hold my interest for a combination of reasons, and classical music that I don’t engage directly with will usually work for me as aural wallpaper.

I’m not sure what mental blocks are in place, preventing me from loosening up and enjoying good-enough work in genres adjacent to my tastes. Well: this is what psychotherapy is for, in part, no?

But so I downloaded 20ish albums, all from artists new to me, knowing nothing about any of them, in the hopes that they’d work as a kind of vaccine. I’ve written about seven of the albums already.

Daniel Kobialka, Cosmic Ecstasy

‘New Age’ music gets a bad rap, like New Age everything else — I never realized how widespread hippie-punching was as a pastime for pseudosophisticates until I discovered my own affinity for systems of antirationalist practice, of which hippiedom could be said to constitute a somewhat ‘undertheorized’ example. ‘New Age’ the-universe-god-in-you spiritualism is the other thing, an overtheorized (yet still undercooked) thought-system — it’s mostly theory in fact, you might say, since Reiki and feng shui and astral projection do not, in the terms their own conceptualists and adherents lay out, actually ‘work,’ though in other ways they do; let’s table that.

Anyway, New Age music is deadly boring for people who equate ‘music’ with rock/pop — if there’s such a thing as New Age sex, one worries it involves candlelit rooms and a good deal of staring into one another’s eyes, and all too little else — plus synthesizers destroyed our culture, everyone knows that. So I was nervous about this one. The words ‘Brian Eno collaborator’ didn’t inspire confidence.

I needn’t have worried. This is forty minutes of something other than aural wallpaper: compositions for an ensemble of actual physical instruments (harp, bells, violin, flute, a viola?) which, forced to guess, I’d say combine aleatoric elements with conventional writing. It’s all somewhat harmonically static and ‘open’ in an inoffensive way, but there’s enough space and movement within the slowly transforming textures to hold my interest — and the textures themselves are more obtrusive than I expected; I’m not sure I’d try this one in an airport. ‘Organic Eternity’ even rises above the baseline delicate mezzo forte, how ’bout that?! Yes the song titles of this 1981 album are goofery (‘Magnetic Unity,’ ‘Planetary Melismas'(!)), no the album does not involve percussion instruments, but I’m pleased to report that as astral/inner mood music goes, it’s perfectly fine, as long as you don’t have to give it 100% of your attention for more than a couple of minutes at a time. And even then, you may be — you almost certainly are — more able, more willing, to get with self-consciously simple beautiful sounds. You’re a better person than me, I thought everything about this website had established that.

Cocteau Twins & Harold Budd, The Moon and Melodies

Ambient synths, at times procedural-minimalist in approach, at times with that idle midrange-piano-sojourn Narada Records quality, imbued with lightly ‘cinematic’ sweep but lacking narrative drive. ‘Why Do You Love Me?’ belongs on, or was nicked from, the Blade Runner soundtrack. ‘Eyes Are Mosaics’ has intolerable female vocals in (I guess) French and a Fisher-Price beat in portentous 6/8 — a bit Hans Zimmer-ish, weirdly. Let’s diplomatically say that the music transforms too subtly for ears like mine, and the lack of movement does the album no favours; I wanted to throttle the singer after ten seconds, and she’s on more than half the songs, which aren’t individualized enough for artsong and are too boring for pop. The problems I expected to have with Kobialka, in other words, I actually had with this album. There’s another Harold Budd album in the queue, but no more Cocteau Twins, if you catch my drift.

Rick Wakeman, No Earthly Connection

Points off for the cover art. Points off for sounding like David Bowie singing The Wall, i.e. like a guy who’s only tolerable when he’s joking around doing tunes by a guy with no sense of humour.

Now, points back for perversity: for the pretentious madness of the whole ‘no earthly connection’ theme, for the embarrassing but unembarrassed ‘little man’/’music of my soul’ schtick, for the inspired pairing of pseudoclassical French horns and key-party clavinet, for the shifting time signatures relieved periodically by plainspoken heartsong, for an unfailing sense of dramatic spectacle, for including the words ‘left to die on board’ and a heavily reverbed explosion sound effect, for babbling nonstop about ‘the maker,’ for shamelessly ripping off Jesus Christ Superstar (of all things!) at every turn, for seemingly wanting to play funk-rock in all twelve keys in a single track, for ending the 28-minute opening track with three minutes of samples of vocals we’d just heard, for doing a seven-minute artsong called ‘The Prisoner’ that thrusts spy-movie horn stings inbetween the ribs of ‘The Trial’ off The Wall (what did I tell you), for giving the harpsichordist some, for trying to get over with detuned piano, for that laughable final chord, for possessing no taste or discernment whatsoever.

My five-year-old son loves it and so do I. I don’t think either of us thinks it’s ‘good music.’