The New Age Conundrum

It seems like forever since I last posted an article about music. It’s not that I haven’t been playing anything, (I have, constantly) it’s just that my obsession for vintage paperbacks seems to have risen to the surface over the past few months and taken over the blog. It’s time to redress the balance now and talk about two rather fine LPs which I have been enjoying immensely, especially whilst reading.

Celestial Soul Portrait by Iasos

Iasos Celestial Soul Portrait

I read a very intriguing review of this compilation last month and decided to pick it up on the strength of words alone. The review began by stating that Iasos, a Greek chap who relocated to San Francisco as a child began to ‘hear’ music in his head whilst in high school. This music was, in his own words a series of “infinitely numbered harmonies transmitted by Vista, a benevolent being from a distant dimension”. This struck me as being the work of a wonderfully loopy character and so I went straight ahead with the pre-order. Shortly afterwards, I decided to read a little more about Iasos and found a fascinating article about a psychology professor at Plymouth State College who had conducted a series of experiments using his music, concluding that it “bore striking resemblances to the sounds of near-death experiences”. That evening, I decided to take a look at his spectacularly amateurish website and began to get second thoughts as the site was filled with terrible new-age jargon – crystals, energy lines, resonance connections and best of all “vibrational-gateways into celestial dimensions of light & love & awareness”. I was horrified, why hadn’t I been warned about this kind of thing in the album review? My uneasy feeling was heightened when the disc arrived and I discovered the track list contained titles such as Siren Shallows, Crystal Petals and The Royal Court of the Princess Vesta. I’m just glad I managed to overcome the gag-factor and play the disc.

After a short intro track (which is appallingly titled I Passion You a Leap of Love-Flame), the album gets properly underway with Rainbow Canyon which uses shimmering wafts of guitar to rather good effect. Next track, The Angels of Comfort features ten minutes of nebulous drift which never once sounds unfocused despite its length and inherent lack of structure. Over the course of the next five shorter tracks, Iasos utilises a battery of vintage electronics and tape effects to create a naive, wide-eyed interpretation of his ‘inter-dimensional music’. At the halfway point, I was relieved to note that none of the tracks so far had contained a hint of pan pipes, wind chimes or whale song – so far, so good. The only track which veers dangerously close to the edge of New Age cheese is The Winds of Olympus which, at just over ten minutes may well have you reaching for the skip button before its conclusion. It’s basically a meandering, unaccompanied flute solo cloaked in reverb which should have been edited a little more judiciously in my humble opinion. It’s not entirely unpleasant but does drag on a bit toward the end. The penultimate track Cloud Prayer really wouldn’t sound out of place on the new Boards of Canada LP with its spectral swathes of ominous drone. In the end, I’ve played this album a lot more than I thought I would and have thoroughly enjoyed it each time. Definitely one for lovers of vintage synths and appreciators of all things ambient.

Sanctus Spiritus by Kat Epple & Bob Stohl

Kat Epple Spiritus Sanctus

This is a recently issued compilation of unreleased tracks from another pair of largely unknown New Age pioneers. I was less worried about the contents of this LP due to the fact it appears on Andy Votel’s excellent Dead-Cert imprint which has an impeccable track record so far. The duo apparently recorded music for planetariums and nature documentaries in addition to producing numerous private tapes, the vast majority of their recorded output has never seen an official release until now.

The title track begins with thick tape hiss and hovering drones before adding a melancholic synth line which gives it an early Tangerine Dream feel. The next track, Stellar Wanderer introduces Kat Epple’s flute playing which is backed up with gorgeous, shimmering electronics giving the whole track a wonderfully proggy cosmic vibe. The standout track for me is Nine Unknown Men which features more of Kat’s flute improvisations, this time accompanied by multi-tracked electric guitar lines and effects. Final track, Beyond the Towers has a gloriously cinematic feel to it as Kat plays a hybrid flute/synth creating a wistful, smoky sound. I couldn’t help but think of Vangelis’ brilliant Blade Runner score as the track progressed. I can’t recommend this one highly enough, it contains plenty of gloriously vintage elements and plays back to back superbly with the Iasos album. It’s just a shame this is a limited vinyl only release and won’t be heard by more than a few hundred people lucky enough to obtain a copy. I just hope that Mr Votel gives this brilliant LP a wider release at some point in the future.

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