In 1980, the psychologist Robert Plutchik attempted to categorize the entire spectrum of feelings into a simple and colorful diagram now known as Plutchik's wheel of emotions. Shaped like a flower, the diagram is composed of more than 30 emotions, ranging from pensiveness to admiration to disgust and everything in between. The notion that looking a diagram can help you more accurately gauge your reactions to the world around you is somewhat ridiculous, but it can be comforting to look at this strangely rational image when you can’t place an emotion or feel a little empty. The new year is a time when we try to will ourselves to feel all kinds of ways in an attempt to start fresh, but the particular year ahead is a mixed bag for many Americans. For whatever reason, since the election I’ve leaned towards music that could be described as new age—sounds that hang in air and enhance the environment, however slightly, just by being present. In recent years, lots of this kind of music has been released on cassette, a technology older and more pleasantly nostalgic than Plutchik’s wheel. Here’s a list of ten relatively recent tape releases that can help generate some moods for however you’re trying to feel right now.
Dedekind Cut: American Zen
Fred Warmsley, also known as Lee Bannon, first came into prominence as a producer and DJ for Joey Bada$$. His beats reflected an opiated vision of 1990s hip-hop, but for some time now, his production has shifted towards a minimalism that is sneakily political and uncomfortably beautiful, the majority of which has been released under the name Dedekind Cut. American Zen find Warmsley presenting pieces that borrow from the perpetual motion of Terry Riley’s “In C” and William Basinski’s infinite loops. His songs are in a constant state of unspooling: It’s music that doesn’t suppose a conclusion, but just keeps on going.
Çaykh: V I S C 0 2
Nicolas Sheikholeslami’s work as Çaykh corrals a disparate world of influences under one banner, fusing Can’s cosmic noodling to ’70s Ethiopian rock and Jan Jelinek’s serene drifting. It’s the music that you’d find hidden between radio stations, static that blooms between two points on a dial. Though the Hamburg-based musician just released two new collections, last October’s V I S C 0 2 showcases the best of his tapestry of influences. The album is composed of two pieces, each over 45 minutes long, and both are maze-like songs that unfold in jarringly random and beatific ways. You may feel like you’re in a constant state of in media res while listening, never knowing what is supposed to come before or after.
Michael Tanner & Alison Cotton: self-titled
It’s hard to uncouple the word serenity from its “Seinfeld” connotation, as Frank Costanza’s tormented mantra that fails to relax anyone. But sometimes you’ll encounter something that does induce real calm, lightens the load of your day, and soothes the aches of an overworked brain. The work of Michael Tanner and Alison Cotton is thoroughly rooted in austere minimalism, and in their first collaborative release they work to create something that’s filled with the pleasant echoes of Michael Nyman, but is also informed by Stars of the Lid and sounds just a bit like Rachel’s. It’s work that can immediately allay the air in a room, and send you into a state of pleasant rumination.
The music found in Turtledoves documents a single afternoon Ananas Pyramidalis and Street Thunder spent improvising on a keyboard and guitar. The product of that afternoon bares a dreamy similarity to Liz Harris’ angelic ambience, and they wallop a listener with a wall of warm sounds that can be hypnagogic and hazy. Their sensorium of sustained tones generate a feeling of uncanny comfort and sleepy grace that is hard to mimic. If there is a verb that can accurately describe what they do with their instruments, it’s blanketing. They have baffling ability to create a musical situation that feels like floating carelessly in the ocean.
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: In Summer
The word ecstasy is derived from the Greek word ekstasis, which means to stand outside oneself or to exist at a remove. So the actual feeling of being in ecstasy isn’t totally about pleasure, but about becoming slightly unmoored from the moment. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma is a prolific maker of noise music that has never been metallic or industrial, but lush and unexpectedly pastoral. His most recent cassette release for Geographic North is an overgrown forest of noises that are filled with sweet touches and romantic moments. It’s an album that mimics the experience of looking out onto a landscape so gorgeous you forget where you are.
Aaron Parker: Storage
The British composer Aaron Parker’s work in Storage is visceral and slightly grotesque. He smashes classical instrumentation into distended electronic sounds, creating an atmosphere that feels near inhuman. It’s music that is essentially extra terrestrial, and so forceful that it generates an out-of-body experience that one might feel in a fever dream. It might sound unpleasant, but it isn’t, because the music here is so evocative and textured that it’s hard not to appreciate how powerfully Parker is able to keep you on your toes. Like Cantu-Ledesma, this piece is concerned with landscapes and environments, and here he finds what is just a little alien about life on Earth.
Various Artists: House, Disco, Boogie, and Other Oddities
Easy Bay Record’s first release, House, Disco, Boogie, and Other Oddities, is a lovingly curated mixtape that archives the low-key and colorful dance community that’s taken root in the Bay Area. The comp collects tracks from 17 different artists, all unified by a goofy bounce that makes focusing impossible in the face of such undeniable grooves. You’ll find something with such an earnest sense of fun, it’s hard not to feel just a little loopy.
Seki Takashi: Colors
The Japanese composer Seki Takashi made Colors by imagining everyday situations under a different color of light, be it red, green, blue or yellow. He’s mum on what those specific situations are, but he spends most of his day working in a record shop somewhere in Tokyo, and I imagine that kind of day is spent in part waiting for customers to walk in the door to peruse items. His music is unified by a desire to distract yourself from growing boredom, and from waiting, by imagining the world lit under more pleasant lights, obscuring the uglier parts of a regular day.
Maxwell August Croy: Kaniza
Maxwell August Croy is a luminary among a small community of artists centered around his Root Strata label. He’s worked with Grouper, the Alps, Mary Lattimore, the Driphouse, and more to give the world music birthed from a platonic state of sweet sadness. His latest solo release, Kanzia, is a slow and fluttering trip across sounds that are perfectly tuned to a feeling that is amicable but a little blue. The album is like one long sigh, with moments that quietly bask in the contentment of being alone.
Best Available Technology: Running to You
Best Available Technology has taken the simple sound of a guitar and mangled it into a dry ice machine that pumps out atmospheric emotion. With Running to You, the British musician made seven little experiments to demonstrate how far you could take those standard six strings into uncharted territory. Across these creations, there is a unifying sense of monumental longing that is absolutely irresistible.