Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
A Rainbow in Curved Air
This album—featuring a Weird Al–looking guy but no rainbow, and bestowed upon me by Dave Segal with the confusing sentence "I think this'll be your favorite album since Brian Eno"—sounds like video games from the early '90s. Or like when you press on your closed eyes really hard in the dark and you get a free light show? It's a soundtrack for that. It's only two songs, each about 20 minutes long. Reading over my notes, I found the phrases "MIDI- marimbas," "space trumpets," and "ooooh, insect tambourines!"
This came out in the way-back (1967) and was made with real instruments, which Terry Riley, who is a "minimalist," messed with in some fashion (voodoo, synthesizer). You should look at his website, www. terryriley.net, but before you do, figure out this puzzle for some instructions: Go Eat That Harmonium In Germany, Henry, For It Relinquishes Small Tears. GET IT??? That's also advice for listening to the album.
Listening to Rainbow, I can almost see the video game. You're walking in a forest collecting stuff, and every once in a while, a pixelated wizard pops up to challenge you. Yay! We leveled up! You can tell by the BLOOOOONGGG! and the way the music changes. Did we eat a mushroom? We're in an underground level now, some vine-covered ruins or something... Mmm, and I think we found the secret chamber. There's a floating red jewel, and I can't figure out the puzzle that gets it off the pedestal. THINK! There are torches in sconces on the walls, and we have a knife, a staff, and a potion. And then... it fades out. The track is over. There's no winning this level.
Track 2, "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band," is set in space and is mostly just a space orchestra warming up. For a long time. I think they're getting ready to play an Irish space funeral? It ends with robot butterflies having a panic attack while an organ plays. In the interest of fairness, I conducted an interview, via e-mail: "I have three questions for you, Mr. Segal! (1) Do you actually like this album, or is it just Important, capital "I"? (2) What are you supposed to do while listening to it? (Besides drugs.) And (3) what are your official music-critic adjectives for this album?"
His reply: "(1) Yes, and not just because it's Important. (2) Wiggle your brain and ponder Terry Riley's uncanny ability to capture the sound of the mind's bogglement at the complexity of the universe. And engage in tantric sex. (3) Psychedelic, mercurial, timbrally exciting, hypnotic, euphoric, radiant."
So there you have it. A psychedelic German harmonium weeping in space. I give it a "is there a 12-step program for this?" out of 10.