New Age music has always been a focus of contention and ridicule. Highly respected (yet non-Reviews of the Month-employed) music critic James Wotherbee embodies that argument, vehemently opposing every iteration of the New Age genre. He has even called for its declassification as music altogether, saying, “They’re just fucking hitting wind chimes with sticks! Am I the only one who notices this? Are you all deaf? Jesus, I feel like the whole world has gone crazy!”
While Mr. Wotherbee is certainly entitled to his (again, still not Reviews of the Month-worthy) opinion, it seems his time has come. With the arrival of Greco-Canadian trio Soft Drippings and their magnum opus Water Down the Stars, New Age music has unquestioningly become legitimized. A tantalizingly transcendent masterpiece, Water Down has everything a New Age fan could possibly hope for. Whale sounds, crickets, muted flutes, and the occasional single toll of a bell sprinkled throughout make the album a true joy to listen to. However, what sets Water Down apart from the run-of-the-mill New Age bands is the sheer volume of the album. Or rather, lack thereof. In a RotM-exclusive interview (take that, Wotherbee!), front man Andromeda Jones stated that the band’s intended goal with the album was to make something, “Like, really really quiet, you know?” Thus, all the sounds and instruments are so incredibly quiet that they must be strained to be heard. This is why Water Down really shines. The severe silence of the tracks requires one to pay complete, rapt attention to them, which then pulls the listener totally into the immersive dreamscapes the songs provide.
As Jones puts it: “With Water Down the Stars, we really focused on making this just the quietest record you’ve ever heard. Every ounce of energy and production time we could muster went in to making this, like, so super quiet. And when it came out people were like, ‘We can barely hear this man. I mean, every now and then I can pick up a faint bird chirp or a whale song, but seriously, I can barely fucking hear this.” And I just looked at my mates and I knew that we did it. This is our masterpiece.”
The opening track of the album, “Sound of Afghan Fog” is exactly what it sounds like. In early 2012, at much personal and financial risk, the band traveled to Afghanistan to record what would become the most memorable track on the album.
As Jones recalls,“It was super hard to make that track. We had all the mics and stuff set up and recording all right, but these militants or whatever would just drive in and yell at us and shoot guns in the air. We had to hire a private militia to block off the road and keep them away for the week it took us to record the track. Brian [the band’s lead silent-harpist] actually paid for that one out of pocket.” He shakes his head as he stares off into the distance, his eyes unfocused. “Nearly forty dollars of his own money. It’s almost unbelievable. We all had to make sacrifices like that. We each lost a bit of ourselves in the album. I like to think -to hope- that it was all worth it, but I’ll let the work speak for itself.”
And speak it does. The band’s sacrifices paid off, for they managed to record nothing but the sounds of pure fog in Afghanistan, the only, yet absolutely transfixing, sound on the track. It is truly a silent wonder.
The sheer silence of the album as a whole makes what is audible that much more powerful. For instance, on the penultimate track “Violet Indigo,” after eight minutes of silence, the subtly grand sounds of sand falling through an hourglass layered expertly over the almost inaudible tone of a single muted flute are almost indescribably sublime. (Fear not though, they are still extremely quiet!)
All in all, Water Down the Stars is truly a stunning and brilliant masterpiece. Soft Drippings have more than outdone themselves- they have utterly revolutionized a genre. So lie back, set your volume knob to low, and prepare your body for a beautifully muted experience.
9.8 out of 10
1. Sound of Afghan Fog
2. Quiet Heart
4. Muffled Blinking
5. Whispers in Space
6. Violet Indigo
7. Shh, Be Still
8. [Bonus Track] Sound of Afghan Fog (Dance Club Remix)