Music for Synchronized Swimming In Space
Let us speak kindly and gently of New Age music, if for a moment. This most derided of genres, one that upped the calcium content in the term 'milquetoast,' did have its roots in the harshest of experimentation. Raw power coming from the violin of Tony Conrad and Brian Eno's uber-punk move of leaving Roxy Music to become the sap factory it became to issue out this most quiet music. I remember, early in my music awakening in high school, I mentioned to a freind's older and hipper brother my fondness for the Peter Gabriel soundtrack for "Birdy" and how it was something fresh and strange and felt good on my brain and he procured for me an early Windham Hill sampler, and, though its hard for me to believe it now, it sounded revolutionary at the time. It was slow, melodious, slight, instrumental - everything my alterna-tribe rock of the Replacements and the dB's was not. Then, somewhere in there, I came across the first album by Hugo Largo, where a drumless array of cellos and bass and the startling loon-call voice of Mimi Goese, giving the post-new-age of Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil a wicked hill-country twist. It was amazing stuff. I was a mildly successful secret agent for the group , trying to get people to put down their Janes Addiction albums for but a moment so they could bask in their intense splendour. The selling point here was this was New Age-esque music that sounded better loud, like shelf-rattling loud. Their span existed for only two albums and then ascended up to the nether regions, leaving me with my well worn cassettes and my memories.
Come to find the Hugo behind the Largo, Tim Sommer has been living in nearby New Orleans all this time and has recently surfaced, after a stint as an MTV VJ and music executive, with a new project Hi-Fi Sky with a new singer Alexandra Scott. Initially imagined by its creator as " what would have happened if Roedelius had come from Cajun country" Hi-Fi Sky's Music for Synchronized Swimming in Space took off from there to become a huge Color Field-intense hour of sound. While moments of it lean into spa-music territory, this album still holds onto some of the feral grandiosity found in Tim's former band.
The opening track "Ocean Bear" sets the expectations for the rest of the album, simple protracted melodies draped across a variety of interlocked instruments that play out like clouds passing overhead. Scott's voice for half of the record is mixed in as pigment with the synthesizers and cello, and given center stage on the French language numbers like "Ma Blonde Est Partie" and "Chere Bassette." The closest these cosmonauts venture to entering the orbit of pop music here is the exquisite "That Bird" where a bare fiddle meets flanged guitar passages and Scott's sublime vocals.
Other notable tracks are the wavering calm of "As Many As There Are Stars" and the skeletal elements of "Yeti" building up one by one to betray how complex these songs are, but really, the entire album flows in a way in keeping with its title. Like I said, this is music that sounds good loud, that comes at you with a slow constant push like the room filling up with water, like a Rothko painting, like a hot air balloon, where a lot of turbulent things go into making a majestic floating object. If you've been looking for something a little less obviously invasive, but are rightfully too scared to venture into the New Age section for fear of ending up with a CD one could have purchased from a candle store, then this is what you are looking for. Or if you've been hankering for a massage and suffer from Enya-intolerance, then this is an excellent substitute.
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