We all need an escape now and again.
More than ever, we could probably all benefit from a Zen space where we can free our minds, calm our souls and maybe feel a bit of sun on our skin.
But when we can’t physically get away from it all, what do we have to transport us?
My vehicle of choice is smooth and psychedelic, a complete trip for the mind. Take one hit and I think you'll be hooked.
Here, try this:
The warm, meditative sounds of Skinshape include ultra relaxing riffs, distorted just enough to be unique but still familiar, inviting us in and getting our minds flowing with positive thoughts. The low-fi blend of notes are worn-in and comfortable, effectively embodying vintage psychedelic vibes to the point that you would be forgiven for thinking this band might have come out in the late 1960s, opposed to recent years.
Here is another great example. Skinshape's Don't Call My Name feeds us smooth and elongated electric guitar notes that feel nostalgic.
When I listen to this, I get an almost indescribable sense of feeling at home in different place and time. The ability for a song to carry us away, even for a moment, is what speaks to the talent of these artists, as well as that of the early trailblazers of the genre.
The type of music that Shinshape falls into seems to go by many names: neo-psychedelia, hypnagogic pop, synth-pop and dream pop, psych-pop/rock/indie, etc. For non-musicians like myself, it can be a difficult genre to describe, possibly because it is partly defined by its musical components; things like fuzz guitars, synthesizers, reverbs, and the use of retro-style production methods to achieve certain sounds.
The feeling of the music is something I can describe more easily: calming and thought-provoking and a bit funky, but in a really good way. This type of music tends to focus more on the ambience, opposed to the lyrics. When lyrics are present, they are often uplifting, as is the case with Don't Call My Name, and one of the lines that stands out, "just be true to yourself, you've got nothing to hide". These messages feel affirming and contemplative and, combined with the soothing melodies, encourages your mind to find its happy place.
Take this song, Half Moon Bag by Feng Suave, another good vibes contender. These guys are completely underrated. Just check out their adorably budget website.
Originating in Amsterdam, Feng Suave is led by a duo of artists, both named Daniel, brought together by a shared interest in a music style. This sound, which I would describe as chilled-out 90s pop with a kaleidoscope of retro music influences, is heavy on suave. The clean notes and long feedbacks feel satisfying to hear. The addition of smooth but woozy guitars and their own unique indie charm makes for some serious easy listening.
The vocals in this track feel a bit obscure, almost as if you are meant to hear them as an instrument of the song rather than lyrics. And when we do stop to decipher the words, they feel pleasantly unusual, valuing a message of simplicity over one that is more profound.
As calming as these vocals are, they are not entirely cheery. The line "be glad you got the part" reminds us that our time on earth should not be taken for granted because "someday we'll be ejected from the world like a cartridge".
While this message could be perceived as a bit bleak, combined with the breezy melodies, it feels more like a simple prompt to be present and thankful. (I also appreciate their creative use of language and metaphors and words like 'cartridge' that reflect the band's distinctively analog style.)
On days that feel heavy, this acts as a good reminder that it is okay to take a step back and just allow ourselves to just be; that there is virtue in simply existing.
Once you’ve returned from suave city, you might want to switch to something even lighter and more beachy.
Enter a band called Summer Salt.
Channeling The Beach Boys, this group brings some dangerously good vibrations. Summer Salt is all about the sunshine and driving down to the beach with the top down.
Like Feng Suave, they employ fluid falsetto vocals, but with refreshingly light lyrics and amped up harmonies.
When listening to any song of theirs, I instantly imagine a tangerine-hued sky, the feeling of sand between my toes and the gentle wave of palm fronds in a warm ocean breeze. If this song doesn't make you feel like you're on a tropical vacation, I don't know what else will.
And speaking of taking a trip, how about this one by Still Corners.
Still Corners' The Trip is yet another sample of the psych genre at its finest. Gentle reverbs and echoes, soft vocals that are all about ambience, and just about producing a sound that feels good.
Neo-psychedelia was born out of the sounds of the late 1960s. At its core, this genre of music was a product of psychedelic substances like LSD and psilocybin, with artists drawing on their experiences with psychedelics, creating music that either represented those psychological dispositions, or just felt good to listen to in that state of mind.
As a result, psychedelic music is often stereotyped as stoner music, and its sub genres like neo-psychedelia, stoner/acid/desert rock, which seek to achieve a similar auditory experience, are also sometimes stigmatized because of the association to psychedelics.
But if we put aside the perception that this music is all about drugs, we might see that this genre is for anyone who wishes to be transported through the power of sound.
Just as the boundaries of neo-psychedelia are heavily blurred, melding into numerous genres—like funk, blues, jazz, rock, techno, pop and punk—the music itself gives us a sense of dissolving boundaries. The mind-manifesting nature of these feel-good tones might help us to put some of our fears to rest and just live in the moment.
This temporary detachment from reality is built into this music and you do not need to use psychedelic substances to feel it (but should you choose to, no judgement here).
Once you begin going down the rabbit hole of psych sounds, it is hard to move away from it. I find myself craving the clear, sustained guitar notes, or the pick-through of a deconstructed chord like in So We Won't Forget by Khruangbin.
Or the dreamy overlays and repetitive synthesized base like in TV Girl's Lovers Rock.
Whether it is the gentle drawn-out strums of an electric guitar or Pink Floyd-esque synths, neo-psychedelia is music that we can feel.
It is evocative by nature, created with the intention of whisking us away to an ephemeral paradise—one that conveniently exists inside of our own minds.
To view the full Good Vibes playlist I've curated for you, please click here and enjoy the ride.