Quick Note: The New Age of New Age Music

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 6, 2011 — 39 Comments

The post-rockist critical world of popular music has seen the rehabilitation of several previously out-of-favor genres. Disco, metal, goth, even (perhaps especially) teen-pop. Young musicians, looking for fresh sounds and new ideas are casting further and further afield from the (classic and indie) rock canon. The Los Angeles Times looks at the latest previously derided genre to get a shot a redemption, one that I thought my readers would appreciate, New Age music.

New Age music preached spirituality, environmentalism, self-evolution and the like, yet when musicians and the major record labels saw the successes that an auteur like [Steven] Halpern had with his cottage industry, big money soon followed. “New Age music was one of the very first completely amateur-driven genres,” said Mcgowan. “Yet it became commercialized around the same time as Ronald Reagan’s remaking of America in 1984, where something that started as a countercultural hippie movement was completely co-opted.” New Age became big business, leading to subsequent Halpern releases with oddly utilitarian titles like “Music for Your PC” and “Attracting Prosperity,” not to mention the international success of Enya, who has sold more than 75 million records worldwide.

And yet for all of this co-option and financial success, for this new generation of music makers and artists, New Age music strikes at this trend in the 21st century. For Portner, the music serves as an aural balm: “Being on tour and listening and playing loud music every night, I just want to listen to something that’s going to calm me down after.”

Which might be how this new wave of New Age helps a generation of listeners who don’t remember Reagan, the ’80s or when Whole Foods Market was just a funky grocery store and not a corporate conglomerate. “We are in such deep need of chilling out these days and popular culture for this generation doesn’t leave you with any room for meditation or space,” said Mcgowan. “Sitting and quietly listening to a New Age record is the opposite of checking your Facebook every two minutes. It’s as far from that kind of mentality as you can get.”

This revival isn’t just manufactured hype, blogs brag about scoring old New Age cassettes, labels are re-releasing out-of-print classics, and ultra-hip music emporiums like Boomkat feature a number of New Age-inspired albums. So for all of the Pagans out there who were buying New Age albums and cassettes during the genre’s original hay-day, it looks like your collections have ripened into hipness. Dazzle your 20-something hipster coreligionists when you whip out that original pressing of Clannad’s “Legend,” or knowingly talk of how you were into Enya “before she got big.” What should be interesting to see is if this renewed interest in New Age sounds translates into experimentation with the practices and concepts that were associated with the music.

Jason Pitzl-Waters