One of the main missions of music is to influence how we think and feel. The scientific possibilities for music to create altered states in humans transcending the aural into the psychological and beyond into physical manifestations have been studied at length. That the Journal of Music Therapy exists, among other scholarly texts, containing the work of many experts in the fields of therapy, musicology, and their many offshoots speaks directly to our hopes for and continued draw towards a smattering of tones assembled over time and space in some kind of pattern (or not as it may be in some cases) that we call music. There is a therapeutic linkage between music and meditation that many modern artists are currently exploring.
What each mind, body, and soul, if you will, absorbs from aural input varies from human to human. This goes without saying, of course, but there are works that allow us to explore those connections more strongly than others. When we are put into a position to examine how we listen to music and what we seek to get from it we are presented with an opportunity. The meditative states that can be reached from listening to a particular artist or song is, again, well-documented within the scientific community but we have seen an expansion or re-imagining of the kind of meditative drone work that first appeared to the masses in certain phases and phrases in the prog and psychedelic rock of the 1960s and 1970s.
Bands like Neurosis, Sunn O))), Boris, Godspeed, You! Black Emperor, and Sigur Ros among many others have shaped, deformed, refined, and reinvented their own peculiar brands of droning, meandering, meditative music all to varying god-level reactions from their particular partisans. Harvestman quite readily and obviously slots into the Neurosis school which isn’t at all shocking considering it’s Steve Von Till’s side project of years of accrued aural detritus. On his latest offering to the musical gods of drone within his own forest temple, Music for Megaliths reverberates with an underlying dark yet placid expanse of sound.
On Von Till’s latest effort of this particular side-project we are immediately placed into a bizarre nexus of waves of sound lapping over a repeated pattern eventually melding various guitar lines and tones drawing the listener ever deeper on opening track “The Forest is our Temple”. The accordion pattern repeating over the course of the song lends to the overall darkly, creeping cinematic feel to set the tone for an album that seems ready made to be a soundtrack for a dark drama of the kind we expect from European filmmakers.
Harvestman sounds like his main band but filtered down to the psychedelic, more drone-like elements and here his compositions are given an expanse in which to meander that sometimes gives way to sheer power in the body of work of Neurosis. It beckons the listener towards patience and contemplation by gently undulating rather than being driven or overly loud. One can easily imagine Von Till playing with his breathing in mind, enraptured by the steady rhythm of heart and lungs working in tandem which is to say that if any album were to be considered to create a metaphysical reaction this would be it.
While every track on the album carries its own sonic signature, one of its most remarkable feats is thoroughly creating a “soundtrack” type of experience. It lends itself well to listening while taking in life around you while allowing its gravity to center the listener as both intimately inside the experience as well as seeing it as an other. “Cromlech” is one such exemplar of this as its synth tones provide enough attention-grabbing nous to not be mere background music but assisting in the overall encounter. “Levitation”, however, might be the album’s standout while also coming across as the most traditional of tracks here if anything can ever be called “traditional” or “conventional” when put into Von Till’s very capable hands. Stark drums appear allowing the timekeeping for a galaxy of sounds to rotate and spin around which, when combined with the “vocals through a tin can” approach, gives one over to as close to Pink Floyd as he may ever get.
Of course, Music for Megaliths isn’t intended to just be a “safe”, unchallenging listen. It wouldn’t be Von Till if it were. Both “Sundown” and “White Horse” do their fair share of making your ears work to get to some of the tastier morsels but the intention seems to be to jar one out of ignoring the depth at which it works. The former especially introduces a noisier element to the album that does precisely this while the latter sets out its stall as some sort of dark spaghetti Western motif before the clearest vocals on the album appear as if a mirage in the desert. Having them introduced after some 35 minutes of mostly vocal-less spaced out psychedelic noise provides one last moment to give the listener pause.
Von Till intones, “The stones call to me, just as they always have….” before embarking on the epitaph for this unique aural experience that fans of any heavy drone work can appreciate.
Music for Megaliths releases May 19, 2017 on Neurot Recordings.