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Four Tet - Live at Alexandra Palace London, 8th and 9th May 2019 Music Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden’s new live album reminds us that he is a stellar performer, not just a producer.
The British producer Kieran Hebden has one of the most distinctive signatures in electronic music. First, a gravelly drum machine; then, some jewel-toned synth pads; and, finally, a strip of harp or chimes or wordless cooing, unspooling like wrinkled ribbon.





Mort Garson - Mother Earth’s Plantasia Music Album Reviews

This Moog synth album from 1976 was meant to help houseplants grow. Jurys out on that, but it became a cult classic nonetheless.

The Moog changed Mort Garson’s life. Until the moment in 1967 when he attended a demonstration by the synthesizer’s inventor, he had been carving out a respectable niche for himself in the pop world, working with the likes of Brenda Lee, Cliff Richard, and Doris Day, although he might be best known for arranging strings for Glen Campbell. Once he discovered the Moog, however, Garson devoted the rest of his career to composing on the modular synth, which seems to have freed something up in him. He stopped thinking in terms of pop songs and began writing album-length compositions, like Black Mass (about the occult), The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds (about the signs of the Zodiac), and Music for Sensuous Lovers (about… you know). Because his compositions remain open to experimentation and wonder, because Garson was a master of mood and variation, these odd, endearing albums survive as more than artifacts.

Perhaps his most beloved album, at least among crate-diggers and record collectors, is also his most whimsical. The story behind Mother Earth’s Plantasia, subtitled Warm Earth Music for Plants… and the People Who Love Them, is just as fascinating as the music. Garson conceived the album with Lynn and Joel Rapp, who ran Mother Earth Plant Boutique on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Joel had been a writer for My Favorite Martian, but had burned out on the TV industry. So he switched from little green men to little green plants, and the Rapps’ store, as well as their series of best-selling books, helped popularize the houseplant trend that lasted throughout the 1970s and has become commonplace today; in fact, it’s one of the few industries millennials aren’t actively killing. Plantasia was given away free at Mother Earth’s with any purchase of a houseplant; it was also included with the purchase of a Simmons mattress at certain Sears locations, although nobody remembers how that promotion came about. (Surely Music for Sensuous Lovers would have been more appropriate.)

Of course, Plantasia wasn’t intended for human ears. Or human anything. It was designed to help your indoor plants thrive and grow. This was a new idea at the time, one of those nutty beliefs from the West Coast, which in the ’70s was riddled with cults and communes and a brand-new thing called vegetarian restaurants. The idea came from a 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants, written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird and containing some hilariously specious claims: Plants can communicate telepathically, they can identify pain in others, they carry ancient wisdom in their little green cells, and they love music. The New York Times called it “the funniest unintentionally funny book of the year,” which didn’t stop it from climbing like bougainvillea up the best-seller lists and inspiring a documentary film scored by none other than Stevie Wonder.

So, what kind of music do plants like? According to Plantasia, the synthetic tones of the Moog. The same instrument that Garson applied to Satanic rituals and erotic couplings gets similarly deployed for the plant world, and while it’s not his best album (I’m partial to Black Mass, which he released under the name Lucifer), Plantasia stands out in his small catalog for its indefatigably chipper tone and its effervescence. There are no dark notes, only a palpable wonder, which fuels the high, reedy theme of the title track as well as the miniature toy orchestra that breaks into the song partway through. With its winking humor and percolating rhythms, Plantasia might turn away some human listeners, but there’s a sense of joy and possibility in songs like “Rhapsody in Green” and “A Mellow Mood for Maidenhair.” It’s hard not to smile at the oddball charm of this strange enterprise.

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