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"I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America - 1950-1990"

Various Artists – I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America – 1950-1990
22 November 2013, 15:30 Written by David Tate

The term ‘New Age’ can throw up a lot of connotations and, if you’re anything like me, they are not always pleasant ones – like a rampant mismatch of contrasting (and sometimes contradictory) religions and ideologies in the hopes of offering some pseudo-spiritual panacea for the modern age. Suffice to say it is not something I am particularly enamoured with.

Something I am however very much enamoured with is Light In The Attic’s ever excellent reissue series. In the past we have seen them unearth gems from Donny & Joe Emerson, Honey Ltd. and the upcoming Lee Hazlewood compilation. Their name has become something of a stamp of approval, and I was suitably curious. Perhaps I had been blinded by all the nag champa smoke and missed out on something special.

With an open mind I sat down to listen. Not four tracks in, I soon found myself impressed with how ahead of its time some of this music must have been – a perfect example being the 1971 track, “Pompeii 76 A.D.” So futuristic sounding is the bell like harp and cavernous reverb that it was used some 11 years later by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner, a film widely considered the archetype for modern science fiction. Indeed, as the compilation progresses, I am repeatedly amazed by the lush electronic textures and extreme use of reverb in creating spaces. The glacial atmospherics and fragmented textures in tracks like “Om Mani Padme Hum” ebb and pulsate with such subtle intensity and depth, it is easy to forget it was recorded long before the advent of digital effects.

The variety of music showcased prevent the album from disappearing down any one sonic rabbit hole for too long. With most of the tracks being relatively short (by ambient music standards) it serves as a perfect introduction to someone with an interest in ambient music but perhaps lacking the required patience to sit through hour long albums by one artist. Perhaps it is too easy a comparison to make, but the compilation is not worlds away from Brian Eno’s ambient series. The granular echo of the strings and the swelling synths and cavernous reverb bring to mind sections from each disc in the series. A more contemporary point of reference, however, is Oneohtrix Point Never. The warm synths, vast spaces and lush atmospherics are particularly reminiscent of 2011′s Replica, without the samples and loops.

Disentangled from the mysticism and spiritual overtones that the label ‘New Age’ prescribes the music, it is easy to appreciate how beautiful and profound it can be. While much of this music was written with transcendental meditation in mind, the compilation is diverse and interesting enough that it can be appreciated from a purely musical perspective. This compilation serves as a perfect introduction into the world of New Age music even if, like me, the spiritual enlightenment still eludes you.

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