College is a great time for exploration, whether it be your sexual boundaries, your thirst for knowledge or tolerance for damage due to substance and general wear. Its also the time where you discover that your adolescent fears are true, that you really are as weird and alien as you thought you were, and the evidence to prove it come cascading down upon you like a torrential downpour. My first big clue in to my personal weirdness was provided by my roommate Chuck, who I figured to be an open minded type being a happy-go-lucky punk rocker I'd known since grade school. We bonded over our then fervent love of the Beatles and Pink Floyd, which all college freshmen should spend some time loving and then leaving later on for more salient partners. I dug into his tape case of ratty American punk (my clique in high school, when we did go down that road, were strictly UK punk listeners) discovering the pleasures of the Descendants and SST forgettables. It was when I tried to return the favor by introducing him to my recent adoption of the ambient soundscapes of Brian Eno is when the cultural brick wall was erected. He found what I thought to be the most innocuous music possible to be insanely grating, as if I continually played sound effects records of babies crying. "Turn off that goddamn space music!" he would scream, making the only times I ever saw him truly rankled in our co-residence in a smallish cinder block dorm.
Later attempts to educating the masses, no matter how open minded I found them to be, were met with equal security staff telling me to beat it and take my horrible dial-tone crap with me. How could I have been so off the mark? How could this beautiful music I saw as the biorhythm of the cosmos be so violently opposed in others? It not like I was trying to coerce them into vegetarianism or anything. It took a couple years as a college DJ to find kindred ambient souls, and they even took to their own peculiar strands of sonic tabulae rasae that were met with puzzlement by even me. So I guess ambient music either hits your personal rhythm, or it doesn't. And when it doesn't, its like bumping int your clone at McDonalds - mayhem invariably ensues.
Being a wiser man now, I won't try to sell you on the majestic side project Jane (a guy from the 2 Kool 4 Skool Animal Collective, and record store buddy of his) and their slow barge of light that is their debut and only release Berserker, I will simply depict it, attempting to temper my undying enthusiasm for this thing to which I cannot stop listening, in fear of a smiting from you, gentle reader. Berserker's title track (one of four tracks increasing in length as they initiate you) opens with what sounds like possibly a racquetball game being played down in the deepest of wells, while strains of haunting wordless voices weave in and out of a loop of scintillating chimes and fog like drones. There are some resemblances to "normal music" here with what sounds like momentary guitar strums under the thundercloud of distorted hiss. "Agg Report", my favorite track on the disc, is a pastoral mating of a simple heartbeat pulse, drones of deep bullfrog waves and wisps of crickets being gently brushed by ascending and descending keyboard runs. This song works in that it is a soul groove reduced to its basest elements, a beat and swing (provided by the bullfrogs). It makes my parts quiver as if they are being strummed, it's so delicate yet present.
Blinded by the light of my own authority and self-interest, I cannot actually tell if any of you are still out there reading this, so I'll just assume you are
and continue. "Slipping Away" takes a more abrasive approach toward Singularity, in its crackly static and distorted and distant beat, coupled with slow woozy spins on a turntable. Now that I'm listening to it critically rather than solely for my own personal bliss, it reminds me of the great ambient techno of the early nineties, namely the still resilient Live 93 by The Orb, in its hazy psychedelic cloud surrounding the minimal beat that still will coax your booty to shake, should it not be hopelessly inconceivably-to-me clenched up by this music. For those of you that needlessly crave variation and build up, this track can service that need, and its pulse flanges into a primitive dance floor thump before descending into rubble and static.
The final shuttle excursion here is the 24 minute "Swan" where a compendium of cheap keyboards have been arranged in a prayer circle and the acolytes has fallen asleep on the keys, producing a transcendent quavering drone that slowly spreads its wake, like nuclear testing footage slowed-down. Their heads invariably shift, sending the drift into a wobble over its stay on this plane. By far the most simplistic piece on the album, it took couple listens for even me to get into it, but once you get to the slight melody of pulses emerging at the 18-minute mark, you are in. A lot of long ambient pieces like that require perseverance: the first 5 minutes can be nerve-racking, but after than, its had time to readjust your DNA to accept it. Its the same way classical Indian raga work , or Buddhist chants. Its music you cease to listen to and begin to experience bodily, on a neuro-electrical level. When it works, like it does on Berserker, its the finest and most pure of sonic experiences.
OK, are there any questions? Hello? (taps microphone) Is this thing on? Anyone there?
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com