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Mental Journey To B.C. Dustin Krcatovich , January 14th, 2016 17:05

One of the biggest rip-offs of this digital age is the way that it strips music - all media, really - of appropriate context. Obviously, having the world's information at one's fingertips has its advantages, and the ease of sharing does often yield surprisingly fascinating amateur archaeology like those salvaged K-Mart background tapes or the countless "lost" video clips now on YouTube (remember how hard it used to be to see "underground videos"?). Still, the fact remains that we lost something in the bargain, and no half-baked "cassette revival" or individual filmmaker's insistence on 70mm screenings of their films will change that. Music, in particular, is such a plentiful commodity at press time that it's hard to remember that it was something for which people were once willing to work to get their hands on, and something to which one was inclined to pay special attention.

Los Angeles's Not Not Fun label has always taken an ambivalent stance on how the internet has influenced cultural exchange. Starting as a resolutely DIY label for homemade lo-fi crud before eventually evolving towards a sleeker retro-futurism, their aesthetic has nonetheless been consistent from Day One in its longing for more mysterious times, when a catalog insert was the closest a music fan had to a Twitter feed.

The music of X.Y.R. (Xram Yedinennogo Razmuwlenuja, aka Russia's Vladimir Karpov), then, is a perfect match for NNF's nostalgic approach, and for the cassette medium in particular: wielding a vintage Formanta mini keytar and claiming to make music that facilitates imaginary voyages to different lands and times, Mental Journey To B.C. does its damnedest to earn a place next to any reputable collection of thrifted Jean Michel Jarre and Steve Roach tapes, or at least some time on Hearts Of Space. It is an album chockablock with soft focus synth washes and tinkling melodies, with machine rhythms that are insistent but gentle.

It all goes down pretty easy and, aside from some trip-hop insinuations hither and yon, clings pretty steadfastly to the conventions of its forebears. Said clinging didn't sit well with me at first: whether stationed at my computer or walking around with headphones, I just couldn't seem to connect with Mental Journey To B.C.. I've long been fond of music like this, but have mostly leaned towards albums created at a time when doing so involved a great deal more challenge and imagination. One tries to accept each thing on its own level, but how to deny that this sort of sound had probably been done to death by the time Karpov was in diapers?

Clearly, one needn't deny this, because a) it's demonstrably true, but b) it doesn't matter. While it's hard not to fall victim to such linear, capitalism-driven perceptions of musical production, Karpov is still making this music now, he should feel free to do so, and he does it pretty well. What, then, is really the problem?

The answer, naturally, is context. I was trying to appreciate Mental Journey To B.C. without meeting it on its own level. While walking around my house listening to it again and trying to take it in, I noticed I'd left a lava lamp on earlier in the day, and it was doing its gloopy thing at full bore. Leaving the lava lamp going, I plugged the music into bigger speakers, which I then connected to a sound-sensitive LED light a friend had built me for my own musical performances. I turned off all the other lights in the house, sat down, and took in the album that way. Finally, it all made sense, more that that, it felt good. As I dropped my filters one by one, concerns of originality and the like became moot. Mental Journey To B.C. isn't the only place to get these kinda kicks, but it does the trick. Sometimes that's enough.