Hybrid Palms- Pacific Image (2016)
Since its advent during the 1960’s New Age music has maintained a questionable territory on the outer realms of taste. When I was a teenager it was a running joke to be avoided like the plague -the unfortunate byproduct of Hippie self-indulgence. Strangely almost everyone I knew discovered a New Age tape or two in their parents collections. Against warning and better sense, and through a haze of bong smoke, they migrated into our cars and eventually to our ears. We listened to them again and again. In those early days we thought of it as guilty pleasure, shared in confidence and not to spoken of outside of our narcotic blur.
During my (more sober) early 20’s, I started to come across these albums in a dollars bins, and found them discretely slipping into my pile. I’d hope the cashier wouldn’t notice, and mumble something about nostalgia if they did – secretly knowing there was a more to it, and all too excited to get home and fold into those pulsing tones. New Age is a strange hybrid which has benefited greatly from age. Had I been young when it came into the world, I’m sure I would have devoted considerable energy to its detraction. Without direct association with its ideological roots, it becomes easier to face the music and hear it for what it is. Having lived most of its life as an unfashionable music on the outer margins, there’s been very little critical thought applied to it. As a result there hasn’t been an effort to help people access and understand it. New Age is a inexplicable thread of the avant-garde – a hybrid born from combining psychedelic tendencies with the efforts of Minimalists like La Monte Young and Terry Riley, and diverse sources of Non-Western musical traditions – particularity those of India, East Asia, and Africa.
The last ten or so years has been an interesting period for the reassessment of neglected musical traditions. The most surprising of these has been the attention given to this once unfashionable music. We’ve seen loving reissues given to figures like Iasos, Laraaji, JD Emmanuel, and Ariel Kalma, among others, not to mention Light in the Attic’s incredible I Am The Center box set. It’s been very surprising and welcome. During this period I’ve watched the disembodied sounds of New Age drift into other forms of music- some experimental, some more popular, but very rarely have I seen musicians (who aren’t part of its original generation) take on the idiom directly.
A while back, during my travels around the internet, I came across the Dutch website Sounds of the Dawn, which is devoted to expanding people’s appreciation for New Age Music. I really dug what they were up to. They’ve made many of the genre’s greatest documents available, while producing an incredible series of mixes. This morning they announced the emergence of their first physical release – a cassette editioned to 100. Much to my surprise (and joy), rather than following the rest of the market and beginning with a trusted document from the past, they have begun with a contemporary release by a young Russian project called Hybrid Palms. There isn’t much information about Hybrid Palms floating around. There have been a few cassettes which have emerged on a variety of labels over the past couple of years, and it seems to be a moniker for the solo creations by someone named Konstantin Skolnikov. That’s about all I can find. Given that the weather in Mexico City is grey and weighing heavily on me, it seemed like the perfect thing to help lift my day.
I was almost immediately struck by the strange proximity of Pacific Image. It bears many of the hallmarks you might expect from its genre – synth driven drones, washes of sound, descending sheets of notes, ambience built from delay and reverb – but forced out of historical context, and away from the quasi-spiritualism of the 60’s and 70’s, it demands an entirely different lens with which to view its achievements. It is a fascinating placed to be pushed – making you question everything you might presume. It’s critical, self-conscious, and almost post-modern. The sources for Hybrid Palms are too diverse for an easy association. “New Age” starts to feel like a Trojan Horse. As you push deeper into its tones, strange abrasions and challenges rest below its inviting skin. Things are off kilter and avant-garde. Rather than inviting a spiritual awakening, it forces you to question yourself and what you are hearing – exactly where I want to go as a listener. It makes you do a double take. Pacific Image is a complex and dislocating listening experience. I doubt anyone who takes the plunge will be disappointed. You can get it direct from Sounds of the Dawn – here, and listen bellow.