Restored 22 June 2017, originally published 24 May 2014
I discovered an excellent netlabel based right here in the good ol’ U.S. of America, called The Soul Dojo. They’re based in the Bay Area (think San Francisco) and put out top notch tunes from well-tuned artists. A few I’ve been listening to lately are David Straange and Nefarious (stylized as Nefarious!). While David Straange’s latest release on Soul Dojo (Straange Thoughts) is quite good, I’m going to forego discussing it in favor of Nefarious!’s album The Dream Theory as it has something extra-special to it.
Before you click on the samples below, I highly recommend donning headphones. It’s pretty good without them, but you probably won’t be able to experience the music in the intended manner if you don’t use them. The reason for this is Nefarious! incorporates something called ‘binaural beats’ into his tracks.
I’m gonna drop some science, so, please be patient as this stuff is interesting. Binaural beats or tones, are an auditory processing effect that occurs in the brain when it perceives independent sounds of similar frequencies (e.g., 300 Hz and 310 Hz). The result is a low-frequency pulsing that some believe has an effect on brain function/activity. Thanks to another cool feature of the brain called “entrainment,” it might be possible to coax the brain into different physical states. Basically, you might be able to alter your mind with sound alone, and not just in the typical way wherein you feel an elevated sense of being while listening to excellent tunes.
Let’s jump into an example. The Dream Theory’s opener, “A Way With You”, clearly demonstrates the experience. As the track is little more than a minute long, don’t expect to start hallucinating. I’m simply illustrating the pulsating effect. Start with one earbud in/headphone on. Then, without using them together, switch. Sounds pretty normal, right? Just a smooth, synthy keyboard easing us into the album. Now, listen together. It’s like the brain is oscillating.
In keeping with the theme of mind-alteration, the album as a whole emphasizes the psychedelic. With titles like “Higher”, “Tolerance Break”, and “Bowl for Two”, we can be reasonably confident that substances had some effect on the conceptualization and execution of The Dream Theory. But substances are by no means necessary to enjoy it. The beats are chill and the melodies groovy. It makes for great listening, especially late at night.
“Higher” stands out to me for its use of contrast and layering. A slow moving synth carries us down and up a road punctuated by all sorts of faster-paced percussion. On the way we pick up a few more melodious synths, some that start high and come low. Plenty of reverb adds to the binaural effect by making the beats carry on in our ear canals. Taken together, it really feels like we’re constantly on the rise.
“Lovely You” is also fun as it plods along with the heavy bass and synchronous beat. Throughout, Nefarious! emphasizes different sounds like organs, synthesizers, xylophones, and guitars, all of varying tempo and pitch. The steady nature of the bass and beat give not only a sense of continuity to the track, but also connectedness between each part, and even something of a hypnotic quality.
Head on over to Soul Dojo and check out The Dream Theory and the rest of their catalogue!
Nefarious! – “A Way With You”
Nefarious! – “Higher”
Nefarious! – “Lovely You”
The Dream Theory release page
The Soul Dojo official page