Alice Coltrane – Divine Songs

This is a glowing gem known only to those who have burrowed deep enough into the inimitable catalog of jazz legend Alice Coltrane.

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“Divine music is the sound of true life, wisdom, and bliss.  This music transcends geographical boundaries, language barriers, age factors; and whether educated or uneducated, it reaches deep into the heart and soul, sacred and holy…” – Alice Coltrane

Released in 1987 on cassette only, Divine Songs is the purest expression of the spiritual drone jazz sound that Alice had been perfecting ever since establishing the Shanti Anantam Ashram in the decade prior.

Soaring into ethereal space, leaving only the faintest jazz roots visible, the sound here is birthed in minimalist Indian organ modes. The atmosphere cracks open with harp and strings, shining brightly around her transcendent voice. It might not be for the casual fan, but if you’re tuned in to the celestial vibe Alice developed in the years after her husband, John Coltrane, died, you’ll settle in perfectly here.

A bonus for fans of Flying Lotus, and his album Cosmogramma in particular: keep your ears open for fleeting moments where he sampled his great aunt directly. With such a heavy influence she’s had on his music, the cameos feel especially poignant.

Destroyer – The Laziest River

When I purchased the 2lp edition of Destroyer‘s 2011 pop masterpiece Kaputt, I had no idea that the bonus track promised on side C would slowly become the languid circulatory system of the entire album.  It swims in an embryonic well from which the other tracks drink, all held breath and deep plunge.  It’s patient and fragile, and just may comprise twenty of my favorite minutes.

If you have only heard the standard tracklisting, press play now.  It’s rare when something labelled “bonus” actually elevates the experience of listening to a great album.  The Laziest River feels absolutely essential at this point, and while I sympathize with the probable intention of encouraging vinyl purchases, it seems unfair to leave everyone else with an unfinished story.  So buy it if you can, but this song can be downloaded and amended to your playlist for a quick fix.

Best Songs of 2012, part 2: “N.E.W.”

This will loop indefinitely over the Elysian fields of an afterlife of my design.

Actress (aka Darren Cunningham) redefined ambient beauty with this piece, lighting the spiritual wires from the organ works of Camille Saint-Saëns through Brian Eno’s Discreet Music while sparking fresh air to flame.  Blooming the color of Arvo Pärt’s devotional tilt in an exploratory space odyssey from the dreams of Oneohtrix Point Never or Stanley Kubrick, N.E.W. is uplifting and warm, alien and awestruck.  We’re inside a nebulous pipe organ riding the cusp of a singularity, dancing on the membrane between ascension and obliteration.  Let it repeat.

I should mention the video:  I have no clue where the footage is from, but it strangely works.  This copy was chosen mainly, however, because it can be set to 720p, so the sound quality is superb.

Andy Stott – “Numb”

I can’t stop this ringing in my head.

With new album Luxury Problems, Andy Stott effectively rendered his pair of groundbreaking 2011 EPs irrelevant.  It takes all of ten seconds for this, the opening track, to signify a giant leap.  Siren vocal shards and clouds, singing-bowl ring and a Mariana trench of low-end crunch writhe like a  basket of snakes, twisting through every crack in every direction.

Hit play, make sure the quality is “HD” and turn this up louder than is normally comfortable.  With any luck, it’ll start snowing.

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It’s strange to think of the handful of album covers in 2012 featuring high contrast b&w photography of women as all representing their respective sounds in spectacular fashion.  This one is my favorite.

Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin – Uptown Psychedelia

I forgot to share this immediately after my first listen.  I really should have.

Tim Hecker is widely acknowledged as a master of his own blend of melodic drone (whom I’ve shamefully never written in depth about) while Daniel Lopatin is better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, hands down one of my favorite artists working today.  The fact that he’s collaborating with Hecker has, to put it mildly, assuaged my fears about Lopatin’s distinct lack of a new LP this year.

It’s late and I’m tired and I don’t know what to say.  If you like either of these artists, you will certainly enjoy this song.  Let’s hope the full album is just as good.

[I’m not seeing it yet but the release should be here for preorder soon.]

Kenji Kawai – Ghost In The Shell

I was aimlessly browsing and came upon the Ghost In The Shell original score on cd.  Loving the film, though having not seen it in years, I knew it would at least conjure some nostalgia for a time long gone.  Nostalgia is achieved within 5 seconds of the opening track.  Beyond that, it gets very interesting.

About that opener:  anyone who’s seen the film will be instantly transported to the iconic fembot creation opening credits sequence.  To a young teenage boy in 1996 this was both erotic and confusing, setting up my expectations for something which never appears.  Instead what unfolds is an enigmatic film sprouting questions about consciousness, mortality, empathy, identity and where we’re headed as a culture.  The film’s outlook is as dystopian as its ending is optimistic.  The cinematography and art direction sit at the zenith of hand drawn animation (and yes I know primitive CGI was employed as well).  The music sits at a crossroads between traditional Japanese, Hollywood classical, and minimalist synth pads echoing classics like Blade Runner and anything Tangerine Dream in the 80′s.

With my tastes light years removed from whatever I was into at age 14 (remember, this was before the internet made jaded cynics out of preteens bored with Boris and Nico) I find myself slipping into boldly embracing waters with the score by Kenji Kawai (川井憲次).  I love the abstract synth sculptures of Oneohtrix Point Never, the warm tones of Brian Eno, the quickening thunder of Taiko and choral flights into pure ambient bliss.  I love when an epic orchestral swell dissolves into liquid neon pools, spiking the hair on my neck.  I love when an alien sound cloud whisks my conscious mind away, toward nothingness and enlightenment, and peace.

This is one of my favorite scenes of the film.  There is no dialogue.  Almost nothing happens, but it’s the moment when the initial rush of plot subsides and the viewer truly slips beneath the surface.  It is pure hypnosis.

[You can attempt buying this at amazon for an exorbitant price.  Or find it on the internet.]

Koyaanisqatsi

So I discovered that the entire groundbreaking, timeless, brilliant film is free on youtube.

Instructions for those who have not seen Koyaanisqatsi:

1. Stop what you are doing immediately.

2. Turn volume up high.

3. Watch Koyaanisqatsi.

4. Bask in silent astonishment.

5. Thank me.

Honestly, this is one of those life-changing works of art which you will simply and honestly never forget.  I fondly recall my first viewing, laying prone in front of a laptop in a cabin on a mountain at night and feeling my astonishment overtaking all physical sensation.  This truly begs for the big screen, or at least a reasonably large one, with a reasonable sound system accompanying the visuals.  Yet its artistry thrives in any time, place, or size.  Which is exactly why I am sharing the profound discovery that it is free to anyone willing to pay only time and curiosity.  Hell, if you have firefox with adblock plus, you won’t even see the ads (and honestly, get it – I couldn’t imagine this seamless dream interrupted by commercials) and the only thing you’re missing is the absolute clarity of the original high fidelity print.  You’ll undoubtedly recognize certain elements within this time travelling all-encompassing slice of Life Itself, both stylistically and culturally.  From the frenzied time-lapse shots of nature and city life contrasting with assembly lines and traffic patterns to the impossibly slow motion glimpses of astonishment and banality, the style and content of this film has influenced more than a generation of visual art and storytelling.

The best part is that I haven’t even gotten to the music; the reason this stands 30 years on as the timeless accomplishment it is:  Philip Glass‘ score is the 10 ton monolith blocking out the sun, the elephant in the room, the absolute gravitational pull of this work.  If you are at all familiar with 20th century minimalism via Charlemagne Palestine, Steve Reich, Terry Riley or their contemporaries, or especially Glass’ emotive, often romantic take on the sound, you are likely already familiar with some or all of these sounds; if not you are in for a warm embrace of what will likely become a hermetic world you’ll find easily inhabited and unequivocally addicting.  Call it lazy, but having the film here and ready to watch makes me reluctant to begin ascribing descriptors to the music.  It must be experienced to be grasped.  The marriage of sound and picture is essential for direct, uninhibited understanding, for knowing the intrinsic appeal of minimalism itself, for laying bare the nature of conceptual ourboros, the cyclical existence we’re evolved to respond to.  This score is meant to evoke the cosmic design of life itself from violent beginning to violent end and all of the impossibly close and personal yet gigantic moments in between.

Note: Do not listen before viewing.  Although entirely gorgeous, worthy, and entrancing on its own…  divorced from the imagery at birth, Glass’ score will never reach the same affection and thus should be saved for after-film experience.