Joseph Dugan is a yoga teacher and also a musician. This fact grabbed my attention before even listening to his release Swaha. As a musician myself and just by observing other musicians, it’s evident that songs are often a reflection or an interpretation of our emotional states. The tortured artist might write melancholy songs to fill that empty space with meaning; the man who found love now writes a beautiful love song for his soon to be bride. I started to think about how Dugan would write music. Is he able to take a step back being a meditation teacher and observe these patterns of energy (we often call emotion) in a different way than most? Is he then good enough of a musician to convey this with melody, harmony, dissonance and all the other things that go into making a song.
Dugan appreciates bands like Animal Collective, Sufjan Steven and Sigur Rós. I think this comes across in his music. Dugan isn’t making cliched, new age music that you might think would come from an album called meditative beat vol. 3. It’s also not playing into predictable areas of simple serene and tranquil soundscapes.
The opener ‘Washing My Colored Mind” effortlessly mixes saxophone, oscillating sine waves, crystal like effects and vocals. It’s ongoing and ever changing as if there is no beginning or end. In my opinion this kind of endless feeling that artists like Brian Eno and Stars of the Lid capture is an integral part of ambient music. The emotions are subtle and bubble to the surface.
Although these songs have an endless quality there are peaks. “Home Inside” for instance unwraps and has multiple crescendos. There are some moments which sound close to what you might think being enlightened sounds like but there is also this quantum energy that feels like you're listening to subatomic particles. I was reminded of Playthroughs by Keith Fullerton Whitman.
There are more percussive heavy moments on songs like “My Children Are The Sounds Of The Sun” and “Desireless Non-Desire” where you can hear the influence from Animal Collective. “Miniature Painting” seems to explore the very depths of consciousness with some impressive sound design. Minimalism and even free jazz seems to be an influence on “Call Off The Search.” He closes with “Sit In The Center Watching And Forget That You're There” which is perhaps the most cosmic and vast sounding soundscape.
One thing this album does benefit from is having a still mind when listening. If I was a teacher myself I would advise the listener to find a comfortable place to sit, bust out your best pair of headphones and clear your mind so you can really listen.
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