I have been trying to write this review for too long and I haven’t gotten anywhere because every time I sit down to write I cannot. I lose the thread, sentences become thoughts become vague independent notions that are not bounded by language or each other. I find it hard to concentrate on this music. I feel calmed and fuzzy. Not conducive to critical reviews.
For those of you who follow M Sage closely this should not come as much of a surprise. The dude has been releasing quiet sounds for the better part of a decade. It’s like that feeling when you wake up from a good dream and smile because for a second you carried that dream into real life and in doing so did some sci fi shit and created a portal between dimensions. Any time I want to be taken to a hazy and comfortable zone I pop on one of his tapes, or one of the 84 tapes put out by his label, Patient Sounds, and make myself a cup of tea.
Then I sit and listen and my mind finds itself elsewhere.
First. A few facts about the making of “Needleworks,” from the man himself, M Sage: “Composed and recorded live, entirely comprised of samples from vinyl records and other materials in contact with a turntable needle and manipulated through guitar effect pedals (loops, delay, reverb). No overdubs or computer editing whatsoever.”
On the face of it, something with this many restrictions should sound dead, or at least forced, as process oriented art often does. But this is not the case. “Needleworks is an organic and heartfelt tape that somehow manages to obey strict rules without imposing them on the listener.
Perhaps it is the spaces. Eno said ambient music should “induce calm and a space to think.” The 12 tracks on “Needleworks” meet, tweak, and defy this expectation. Rather than inducing thought, which to me implies some concentration, the songs provide a backdrop for the mind to lean and loafe at its ease down whatever path presents itself. One minute I am here and the next I am there and I do not recall where here was and I am already on the fifth track (“Day Jaw”).
Here we should pause because here something of note happens. ‘Render’, the sixth track, is the most peaceful song I have heard all year. If I had to show somebody how I hope my body sounds on a good day, I would play this track, gesture ambiguously in the air and say, “like this.” . How nice it would be for our bodies to be in harmony with themselves.
“Render” does not make me feel this way, it allows me to feel this way. I drink my tea and I forget the tape is playing and I find myself in a calm, weightless environment. This is the magic of “Needleworks,” rather than suggesting or attempting to elicit an emotion, M Sage’s turntable compositions exist for their own sake, in their own distinct space. The muted piano of “Mitsubishi Impression” drifts in and out as it as it always has always will. The same can be said blown out strings of ‘Day Jaw.’ Errors are not mistakes, nor are they intentional, they are just errors. Organic glitches, or something.
These surface sounds filter in and out and if you are not paying attention you may think they are the only sounds on the tape. You would be wrong. It is ok. I too was tricked by the low tones that anchor each track, grounding them in a time and a place that is decidedly not the present. I imagine M Sage was waiting for his tank to fill at the gas station, gently etching his lover’s name in the layers of dust clouding his rear right window when he had the idea for this album. A needle running over dusty grooves, making an impression on the dust without erasing it. Plus I have it on good information that every sample on this album is over 20 years old, and anything produced before 2010 is, by default, dusty. Dust, if you think about it, is particles of a deconstructed past.
The sounds seem like they are coming from inside me. As it currently stands, I cannot imagine processing the world without these sounds. I could take out my headphones and things would return to normal but I am not sure why I would do that. Maybe this is what the singularity would be if the singularity came in the form of cassette tapes. Every atom belonging to “Needleworks” as good belongs to me etc ha.
Low tones integrate seamlessly into my reality and musical passages drift across and I am sure I have heard them before, but they are likely false memories, or I may just be borrowing them for the duration of the song. They are mine while I borrow them, as taught by the library, another quiet space where dust collects and small sounds echo.
TLDR: The sound of one person in a large, empty parking garage late at night, concentrating on their acoustic afterlife, and feeling pretty good about it, all things considered.