Like writing while listening to music, reading while listening to music is a sort of balancing act; you need to keep the part of your mind that’s liable to be distracted pacified, but you can’t overdo it or you’ll just be listening. Furthermore, the music often sets the tone in an immediate way, and so you need something that will allow whatever you’re reading its own space. You can’t have the music overthrow the tonality of the book or vice versa. And so, you’ll find that much of the music below allows your mind its own spaces and will pretty much mold itself to the vibe you’re looking for. Thus it enables you to both focus and get hyped, putting you in the mood to keep delving deeper into your source material.
I don’t necessarily recommend reading and listening to music if it’s something that takes a lot of concentration to digest, but if you’re just cracking open awesome fantasy novel or something and want something to chill to, go no further than this list!
Merzbow & Gareth Davis—Atsusaku
Like him or hate him, Merzbow is a mainstay in experimental music, and one of the most prolific musicians ever. Atsusaku is one of Merzbow’s releases this year, and, just as you expect, consists of basically two twenty-minute tracks of noise. However, to leave it at that isn’t doing Merzbow justice. There’s more to his process than distorting the hell out of everything until its something new. I like to compare Atsusaku—and, really, Merzbow’s work in general—to an Abstract Expressionist painting put to music—you can pick up various minutiae amongst all that’s going on, and every time you experience it, you find new things to look at. This album lets me listen and read, without losing any concentration on either.
Tangerine Dream is one of those groups that has such an extensive and well done discography that everybody has their own favorite album. Rubycon, obviously, is the best album the group has put out, in my opinion. It’s pretty minimal, but it manages to capture a lot of interesting sounds and the feelings associated with those sounds. The first part of Rubycon (the entire album is divided into two tracks) in particular has this part near its beginning—about two minutes in—that manages to fit science fiction perfectly. It sounds like the making of a new universe, while its creator sits peacefully, watching its vision become reality. It’s truly one of the most beautiful moments of electronic music ever.
The Ocean’s latest album was originally conceived as an instrumental, with vocals recorded later on. However, when it was released, the band decided to include both mixes of Pelagial. The instrumental mix concerns me here. It’s a great album, that, like the other albums here, can keep your attention without completely distracting you from your reading. The band just kills at making instrumentals that capture the musical essence of the sea while being musically complex as well. As many people have noted when it came out, Pelagial actually seems to get heavier as the album goes on, as if you are literally traveling with the band to the depths of the Atlantic. (Also, I’ve personally never tried it, but I assume Pelagial would probably sound awesome if you were reading Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, right?)