New Age sounds apart from crowd

By Sean Leary

Everyone has probably heard of New Age music by now. New Age came to prominence in the late 1980s as yet another yuppie trend; a sort of meditational/spiritual awakening soundtrack. In lieu of the casual drugs they popularized and now so vehemently condemn, New Age as a movement and “art form,” became a safe alternative.

New Age music’s origins remain unclear, but most artists seem influenced by avant-garde classical artists such as Erik Satie and John Cage.

Another influential group of artists are from the British art rock scene of the early and mid-1970s. Artists such as Alan Parsons, Al Stewart, 10cc, King Crimson and others attempted to merge rock and roll with a classical music education.

The one of the best known New Age artist today is Kitaro, and understandably so after hearing his records. His music radiates an ambiance of oriental mysticism. He uses synthesizers to create imaginative effects and his usually minimalist compositions are relaxing and easily assimilated.

Kitaro takes many of the standard New Age cliches and makes them work, primarily because he was one of the pioneers who originated them.

Definitely one of the most imaginative and daring artists of any genre, David Sylvian has been placed by many into the New Age scene primarily due to his music’s elusiveness to being labeled.

Sylvian’s most daring work to date has been “Secrets of the Beehive,” a darkly narcotic album, breathing sinister life with acoustic guitars and brooding string and brass arrangements.

You are definitely missing out if you’ve never heard a David Sylvian album. He truly is one of the most brilliant musicians performing right now. His music doesn’t rock, it doesn’t roll; it slithers and drifts, lurking in the shadows entrenched in mystery. The lyrics are occasionally disturbing, but if you’re in the mood for mellow, this is what you want.

Currently receiving critical raves and heavy college radio airplay are the Blue Nile, with their new LP, “Hats.” The Nile broke upon the scene in 1985 with the album “A Walk Across The Rooftops,” an intriguing collection of minimalist new wave music which seemed like Philip Glass with lyrics by a slightly happier Morrissey.

The band definitely has it’s own unique sound, a slow blend of wafting harmonies, apprehensive percussion and minimal melodies overlayed by the yearning vocals of Paul Buccannon. Listening to “Hats” is the aural equivalent of a slow carriage ride along the lake, staring at the stars and the moon in the night sky, barely aware of the city’s sounds in the distance.

Pete Bardens, ironically enough, was a member of the 70s art-rock movement with the band Camel. His solo efforts have carried on that tradition. His first solo LP, “One Bright Earth” was an intoxicating blend of keyboard wizardry and catchy arrangements.

The album’s best track, “In Dreams,” beats along a steady rhythm track while the vocals and keyboards whip by like a strong wind building towards the crescendo of the song when Bardens unleashes a stilletto sharp piano solo that reprises the airy synth melody with resounding clarity and purpose.

Although most New Age music is vapid rock and roll muzak, there are quite a few artists who have pushed the boundaries of genre and produced some outstanding work. These artists profiled are all producing the New Age cream of the crop; however, a few others such as Ray Lynch, Japan and Yellowjackets are also excellent examples of quality New Age.

While it’ll never rock like a good Metallica album, or replace U2 or George Michael on the radio, New Age could easily become the “make out” music of the 1990s.