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
Milan Pilar (born 1934 in Czechoslovakia) is a master of fantasy melodrama. Once he came to use synths, his music became the soundtrack for finding a magic necklace in a pastel-colored forest where anything can happen. Milan created these images in gorgeously exaggerated detail that can touch your heart if you let it, no matter outlandish it may seem at a glance. He had a talent to induce the most grandiose emotions with impact and genuine tenderness.
Most songs will have sweeping synths and/or strings as a backbone, with digital bells and flutes playing the melodies. Many are wistful and sensitive as if telling you secrets in it’s hiding place, some carefree and happy, others cinematic and awestruck. No matter the mood, they never lose their Moomin-worthy fantasy charm and romantic expression. It’s a shame Pilar didn’t wind up directly composing for children’s fantasy movies.
He also kept a distinct sound across ten-plus years, something rare for library composers. For instance, his 2003 album Nature In Motion has the virtual same approach as his late-eighties work.
I’ve gathered my favorites from across his albums to give a good taster for his style (link above).
1. February – Pastoral Seasons, Coloursound, 1982
2. Reconciliation – Nature Spoiled and Unspoiled, Coloursound, 1983
3. Above / Extensions – Extensions, Sonoton, 19??
4. Industrial Signature 11 – Industrial, Coloursound, 1986
5. Fountain Idyll – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989
6. Birdlife – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989
7. Digital Structure 2 – Digital Structures, 1990
8. Digital Structure 25 – Digital Structures, 1990
9. Softly As The Summerwind – Nature Study, 1990
10. Wind And Waves – Nature Study, 1990
10. Caravanseral – Nostro Mondo, 1993
12. Irish Autumn – Floating Line, 1993
13. Rainbow – Textures And Fusion, 1994
14. Lost Game Blues – Signs Of Wisdom, 1999
15. Call Of The Mountains – Nature In Motion, 2003
16. Deep Sea Romance – Green Planet, 2004
easy listening / sequencer & MIDI / synth pop / new age
RIYL – Donkey Kong, Super Mario and other Nintendo 64 music; vaporwave, Eyeliner
This ‘album’ gathers commissions K. Yamato stashed away for years. Only after seeing the new online interest for 90s game music did he share them. Some tracks glean from other media, but everything has a certain 90s-VGM flair here.
The early lower-bit jingles make a brief but fun cherry on top. The rest is a tour in digitized MIDI bursting with color. Mallets, synth pads, slick bass, bells and adorable flutes are on the menu. Versatile as expected, Yamoto shifts from 16-bit Outrun synth-pop to deluxe 90s chill-out. Somehow “Pleasant Specter Lever 6” merges a heaven-sent unicorn lullaby with summery disco.
Yamoto fills these bite-sized songs with sweet, romantic melodies, never letting them ramble. The “Spa Tape” tracks near this but their refreshing synth textures won me over. Spa music needs space to breathe after all.
CW is like playing Kirby for half an hour: a quick, simple pick-me-up with no pretension. Anyone curious about 90s VGM and/or the cuter side of synths should look here. No more Yamoto albums followed, but his Pleasant Specter EP from months before is your next step.
For more great video game music on the obscure side, see my top five
As mush as I adore synths, my #1 band didn’t actually use them much. Superstition was the one Banshees album to use them beyond cameos. Guitars were their clear specialty, but I do wonder where more keyboard would have led them.
This metaphysical b-side is one in few exceptions. Beyond Siouxsie and one quiet guitar, it’s all misty fairy synths. Believe it or not, “Sea Of Light” sounds like new age Banshee-style. An uneasy mood sneaks in even so via Siouxsie’s vocal as she sings of near-death experiences. The effects on her voice resemble a distant call for help or gathering wind. This results in a unique middle ground between peace and danger.
This is my second Netlabel Day release for Vulpiano after Sea Cave / Indigo (available here). Listen and/or download Gemstone Study at the links above.
new age / electronic / ambient
More like this – X.Y.R.’s Reflections, New Atlantis Volume 1, Emerald Web’s Nocturne, Michel Genest – Crystal Fantasy
Secret Earth has many of my favorite new age hallmarks: rich synth pads smearing everything in a calming gauze, traces of the subtlest and prettiest synth bells, the lack of dubious ‘world music’ themes and getting that serene v.s. mysterious balance I love to hear in the genre.
Like Vangelis and Emerald Web, Voyage Futur proves excellent at creating moody nature portraits, suggesting stately mountains and dreamt-up forests frozen in time. The marimba+synth pad combo on “Eternal Dawn” is most appealing for me as a keyboard/mallet fanatic. Although there’s a few dull moments, Secret Earth is an ultimately rich and immersive experience. Recommended if you’re curious about the recent crop o electronic new age.
♥︎ – “Eternal Dawn”