My guest mix for I Heart Noise highlights the surprising darker and sadder corners of new age music. Despite common aims to soothe and uplift, these songs dive into downbeat and/or ambiguous feelings: vulnerable, longing, bittersweet, haunting. The bright synths of a meditation cassette meet the murky lows and fragile heart of your favorite oddly-sinister children’s VHS.
Made from selections off my eponymous Rateyourmusic list: plenty more in this vein over there!
- Suzanne Ciani – The Eighth Wave
- Hiroshi Yoshimura – Singing Stream (Spring Mix)
- Bob Foster – The Water Garden
- Hiroyuki Onogawa – August In The Water 1
- Michel Genest – Reflections On A Moonlit Stream
- Medwyn Goodall – Dolphin Dreams
- Spencer Nilsen – Title Theme
- Peter Seiler – Reef Moods
- Milan Pilar – Way To The South
- Simon Benson & Mike Tauben – Dreamworld
- Graham De Wilde – Underwater World (a)
- Milan Pilar – Nocturne
- Sumio Shiratori – Winter In Moominvalley
- Toshifumi Hirata – Fire And Forever
- Joe Hisaishi – The Huge Tree In The Tsukamori Forest [8Tracks & Mixcloud] / The Path of the Wind (Instrumental) [Youtube]
- Warren Bennett – A Time To Remember
- Bel Canto – Unicorn
- Spencer Nilsen – Skylands
- Happy Rhodes – Ra Is A Busy God
- Miami Vice – Tokyo Negative
- Delicate Features – Taurus Moon
- Mychael Danna – Sky 2
- Áine Minogue – The Grove
- John Hall – Illusen’s Glade [Youtube Only]
- Emerald Web – The Red Vapour of Still Lakes
- Kirsty Hawkshaw – Modern Mermaid
- Milan Pilar – Green Velvet
- David Rogers & Paul Shaw – Ice Kingdom [8Tracks Only]
- Emerald Web – Soft Silence The City
- Patrick O’Hearn – España
Like it’s animation, the new age boom of the 80’s had an odd and not-so-discussed taste for darkness. Let’s consider the common Yamaha synth bells and rhodes, which became THE sound of VHS credit rolls. You hear these in happy love ballads one minute and Twin Peaks the next. It’s a sound that melts in your memory over the years as VHS quality melts itself, that can take on a ghostly new life. It’s no shock lots of new age has this effect, whether light or dark. It’s something about how the comfort and ‘fluff’ mingles with the darkness.
It’s only natural for these themes to mix with nostalgia and give us mixed and/or complex feelings. These feelings can haunt us the same way that one ‘scary’ scene in your old favorite children’s VHS does for years. Fleeting joy feels crucial here. After all, so much new age regards fragile things: crystals, gifts, nature, loved ones. New age is for cherishing and protecting. I’d think meditation makes way for some vulnerability itself.
Likewise, fantasy is inspiring and unleashes real-world limits. It can represent ideals and romance. So often this romance can lead to wishing. For things to be real, for dreams to come true, to go back in time.
It’s the tenderness in how these songs approach such emotions that gives them their grip. When gentle fantasy music ponders, it’s like a deer lost in a forest or a child finding haunted halls in their room. It’s not hard to sympathize.
What makes ‘dark’ new age so odd is how it ‘disobeys’ the genre’s core themes. When we hear ‘new age’, we expect serene sounds fit for a spa. It’s crossover icon Enya has 2-3 songs I could call ‘dark’, after all. If ‘true’ new age is music for happy daydreams, dark new age depicts our questions and fears. Despite this, some songs keep the calming effect.
Of course, I’m not aiming for an edgy substitute here. We hold up ambient as this intellectual counterpart already. I love lighter new age too; I’m just highlighting a deserving sub-niche. This strikes me as a relevant theme with new age’s recent spike in popularity. I intend this more to gather lost gems and challenge cliches, ‘soullessness’ to name one.
I chose this Unico shot because, like this music, it paints a sad, uncertain scene in bright colors. You have a unicorn, the trademark ‘pure fantasy’ creature, with a wind fairy, but both are forlorn. While the Unico film has a warm heart, it follows this unicorn getting stolen from his family and losing his memories. It probably represents this theme better than any other movie.