Max Bell owns two copies of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Long After Midnight.’
Night. Musicians in every genre have used moonlit hours as muse and methodology so often that referencing them in song and album titles verges on cliche. (The list of albums in my iTunes with ‘night’ in the title is too long to print.) However, when an artist sonically articulates the time between dusk and dawn in a way that we recognize, the sin of the trite is absolved. So it goes that it’s easy to forgive Boston beatmaker Jacob Gilman aka Rah Zen. His debut album, Midnight Satori, is brilliant and, of course, best played at night.
Out today via Dome of Doom, the L.A. based Alpha Pup imprint responsible for scads of lauded (e.g., Linafornia’s Yung) and overlooked (e.g., Elusive’s Cosmic Web) albums from the beat scene’s next generation, Midnight Satori takes the warm, bright template of organic-seeming sounds Teebs laid on 2010’s Ardour and colors it in darker, more psychedelic hues. Where those Teebs suites can feel best-suited for sunny woodland excursions, the beats on Midnight Satori beg for quiet and isolation.
Inspired by revelations Gilman experienced during his practice of lucid dreaming—‘satori’ is a Japanese word often used in Buddhism that means ‘sudden awakening’ or ‘sudden enlightenment’—the album finds cohesion in the generous space between percussion and the vocal snippets that hint at the ontological. To wit, “Nightworks” is ethereal and winding, the persistent soft hiss backing crisp drums and skittering, insect-like rattle; if someone soundtracked Pan’s Labyrinth with songs from the beat scene, “Nightworks” would be an obvious choice. And while “Hidden Place” isn’t as ominous, Gilman deftly pairs a vocal preface about “waking up” with a dragging beat that approximates those slowed, elongated moments before getting out of bed down to the deep, steady breaths.
Elsewhere, Midnight Satori offers poignant glimpses of those private thoughts and emotions we reserve for the moments before we sink into REM. On “Astral Love,” Gilman captures the tender vulnerability of saying those dreaded three words to someone who might not hear you. And songs like “Lunar Eclipse” and “Mindshift” find different ways of rendering how we wrestle with those thoughts that keep us up, the former much more relaxed than the latter’s thumping, unrelenting low-end.
I have no idea if Gilman intended any of the above or felt some of these things in his dreams. And you very well might think that lucid dreaming is for people who wear crystals and have had one DMT trip too many. Both sentences are a way of saying that Midnight Satori might sound very little like you imagine the night. That, perhaps, is the reason that musicians can continue to make albums inspired by and made for it. That liminal space will never sound the same to two people. What a privilege it is to find yourself in someone else’s midnight.
Below you’ll find a video of analog visuals New Orleans artist Metasonik made to accompany the album and Gilman’s live show (see more on his website). Watching it feels like riding from cacti laden desert to the shimmering cosmos in a lava lamp, which, corny as it sounds, enhances the experience of listening to songs partly conceived in a dream. I’d tell you when to watch it, but you already know.