I guess everyone has those “staring blankly at the wall” days for whatever reasons every now and then. Regardless of whether that zoned-out feeling takes over due to a monster hit from the bong, a devastating soulmate heartbreak, or simply getting bulldozed by a hundred million thoughts that you have bottled up for too long, one thing is for certain: music is the best resource to make most of the experience. In a way, staring blankly into space – or at the wall – could be regarded as an exercise in soul work and as author McCall Erickson writes, “soul work is not a high road. It’s a deep fall into an unforgiving darkness that won’t let you go until you find the song that sings you home.” Thus, for reference, I compiled a list of top-10 songs to listen to as you stare blankly at the wall – that is, a selection of ten songs for a bit of introspection with or without any chemical enhancements. These are the songs that sing me home when I stare too long into the abyss or find myself ensnared in the vast ocean of nothingness due to whatever cosmic prank the pantheons of trickster gods have played upon my mortal soul.
David Sylvian & Holger Czukay – Mutability (A New Beginning Is In the Offing)
The instrumental and ambient approach is, quite remarkably, a winning combination when choosing music to zone out to, with the works of Brian Eno being the most obvious go-to albums. For some reason, my CD collection still sorely lacks most of his work, so here my ambient album of choice is, instead, the 1989 collaboration between the legendary British crooner, David Sylvian, and the guitarist, Holger Czukay, of the iconic krautrock group, CAN. This 20-minute instrumental stretches out like the paradigm sonic canvas for an inward journey. Mark my words, with this song/album providing the soundtrack, staring at the wall has never felt so utterly transforming.
Ulver – Eos
The Norwegian dark magi, ULVER, released their seventh studio album, “Shadows of the Sun,” in 2007 and it has been one of my dearest albums ever since. Shimmering with an aura of dark and somewhat tragic beauty, the album is, however, strangely uplifting and soothing and, of course, in order to get the full flavor, the album should be listened through in one go rather than by shuffling songs from it at random. Therefore, I could basically pick any song from the outing but, since the opening track, “Eos,” was my gateway song into the album, I guess it is only appropriate to go with the opener. The song title refers to the Greek goddess of dawn and, quite obviously, for all those with an inclination to the occult or new-agey philosophy, it has all the potential to layer one’s wall-staring session with all sorts of deep and spiritual connotations.
Shpongle – Vapour Rumours
The psychedelic electronic music duo, SHPONGLE, have been the epitome of the psybient genre since the release of their first track, “Vapour Rumours,” in 1996. Later released also on their debut album, “Are You Shpongled?,” in 1998, the song is layered thick with the euphoric afterglow of a stereotypical psychedelic experience induced by some hallucinogenic substance such as, say, DMT or LSD. You don’t even need a heroic dose of any mind-altering chemicals to believe that the sonic textures of the song approximate pretty accurately what it feels like to be tripping balls. With just the right zen state of mind, the song itself is capable of inducing an altered state of consciousness. I’m sure though, that staring blankly at the wall will most likely take off on a pretty wild tangent if you spike your herbal tea with some class-A entheogens while listening to this song.
Tesseract – Retrospect
The second studio album, “Altered State,” released in 2013 by the djenty Britons, TESSERACT, saw the band taking a step further from djent and becoming a progressive force of their own. Here again, I could pick any song from the album. In fact, the album is comprised of only four “themes,” with each further emanating into two or three individual songs. I’ve seen some critics deem the album too heavy to chill out to, but I think they couldn’t be more wrong: this is my number one album of choice whenever I want to meditate. I see nothing wrong with doing some soul-searching and getting lost in the universe deep within, with such ethereal soundscapes swirling across djenty polyrhythms and Ashe O’Hara‘s celestial crooning. Then again, a part of the album’s almost otherworldly aura stems from the fact that it did, in fact, once pull me out of a very dark place with the sort of healing light that is brimming with a beautiful intensity. To say the album has been life-changing for me personally would be an outrageous understatement.
Radiohead – Climbing Up the Walls
Sung as though narrated from the perspective of paranoid fear itself, the classic RADIOHEAD song, “Climbing Up the Walls,” might not be among the first songs to pop into your mind when thinking about songs to put on this sort of list. The song’s unsettling, atonal strings, paired with the haunting lyrics about our internal demons, certainly have all the potential to thrust the unsuspecting listener deep into the darkest dungeons of his psyche. No, this is definitely NOT the song to put on after bingeing on psychoactive drugs of any kind. In a sober state of mind, though, this is one of those songs that conjure up interesting mental visions. The song was released on the band’s epochal album classic, “OK Computer,” in 1997. In my opinion, it was the “Dark Side of the Moon” of the 1990s, in the way the album captured some of the most salient aspects of the zeitgeist, the pre-millennial tension of the era. In terms of staring blankly at the wall, the song is a kind of watershed moment on the album: you could basically listen to any of the last four tracks – although the other three songs, “No Surprises,” “Lucky,” and “Tourist,” sorely lack the unsettling aura of this particular track.
Bola – Forcasa 1-3
When it comes to the electronic front of ambient music, most of it could easily be filed under “cheesy listening” – that is, elevator music to take off the edge after a good night’s drug crazies at some clandestine warehouse rave party. When you are orbiting the planet Earth under the influence of class-A narcotics, I guess it doesn’t make much difference what wall-paper music the chill-out DJ is putting on. Then, there are electronic artists such as BOLA, who traverse waist-deep in more cinematic realms, crafting synthetic soundscapes that conjure up genuine emotions, from sadness to fear to suspense. The song “Forcasa” is actually a suite of three individual tracks, released on the album “Soup” in 1998. It is a threesome of masterful emotional manipulation of such caliber that the word “cinematic” does not even begin to approach it.
Pink Floyd – The Great Gig in the Sky
Of course, you cannot compile a list like this without mentioning PINK FLOYD; they are one of those bands that have quite a few albums in their back catalog to put on while taking on a wall-staring marathon. Personally, I would go with the best album of all time released in 1973: “Dark Side of the Moon.” I guess there is a very tangible reason why this particular PINK FLOYD outing remained in the Billboard 200 albums chart for 736 consecutive weeks, from March 1973 to July 1988 – it simply is that good. One of the pinnacle tracks on the album is that nothing short of haunting closer of the vinyl A-side, “The Great Gig in the Sky,” and very much thanks to the stellar, non-lexical vocal performance by the session singer, Clare Torry.
Goldie – Timeless
Back in the mid-1990s, I was smitten by a severe case of drum&bass fever, especially of the atmospheric variety, which was then called intelligent jungle. In a similar fashion to the atmospheric strain of djent á la TESSERACT or SPIRITBOX, I find this sort of electronic music highly meditative in its nature despite all the rapid-fire drum rudiments. Maybe it stems from the way the subsonic basslines lay down an earthy and dubby groove on top of which the oceanic synth textures swirl as though floating in zero gravity. One of the most epochal paradigm albums of the genre is the groundbreaking debut full-length, “Timeless,” released by GOLDIE in 1995. The title track is a 21-minute journey through the wormhole of multi-layered breakbeats, tectonic basslines, and expansive, synthetic soundscapes – on top of which the British singstar, Diane Charlemagne, delivers her interstellar vocals. While this particular track may not be as profoundly introspective as, say, the myriad LTJ BUKEM classics released at the time, this gargantuan drum&bass epic obviously holds a special place in my heart since it was the first-ever jungle track that I exposed my delicate ears to.
Miles Davis – Blue In Green
The trumpet legend, Miles Davis, is easily one of the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz – or modern music, in general. His legacy shines through, for instance, on epochal albums such as “Dark Side of the Moon” by PINK FLOYD and “OK Computer” by RADIOHEAD. His 1959 album, “Kind of Blue,” has been regarded as the best jazz album of all time so many times over the course of the past 30 years that I have lost count. It was the gateway drug that got me addicted to jazz back in the 1990s after reading an in-depth analysis on why it is such a universally acknowledged standard of jazz excellence. Like all the other albums on this list, it works as the perfect soundtrack for introspection, say, by staring blankly at the wall for hours on end. Each track is a friggin’ masterpiece, but if I was to single out a track, my go-to jazz meditation would be the third song on the outing, titled “Blue in Green.” A prominent part of the song’s appeal probably stems from the way the great jazz pianist, Bill Evans, shines on like a crazy jazz diamond on this particular piece, conjuring up simple but highly evocative lyrical ornaments to the song’s main motif. If you listen to this song with your eyes closed, lounging on a cozy armchair, you can see with your mind’s eye as the world turns into a sepia-filtered, smoky jazz club for the next 5 minutes so that you could almost taste the vintage jazz in your mouth.
Katatonia – Serein
Swedish metal outfit KATATONIA has explored the darkest reaches of our inner universe rather prominently ever since they embarked on such a path of gloom and doom in 1991. While almost any KATATONIA album would do, with regard to the topic of this listing, for highly personal reasons my song of choice is “Serein” from their 2016 outing “The Fall of Hearts.” The song title refers to the somewhat archaic word that stands for the fall of dew from a clear sky just after sunset or the mist falling from an apparently clear sky, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is quite an apt word to describe a certain type of soul-searching session. In this respect, KATATONIA is an interesting band: quite often, the lyrics seem to go on about something utterly vague that you find extremely hard to relate to – until one day, you go through some cataclysmic shit show in your life and, suddenly, the lyrics make perfect sense. Of course, it happens with a lot of bands but with the KATATONIA lyrics, it usually happens in such a way that it churns the blood.
That’s all, folks! Well, not really – I could go on ad infinitum – but I need to draw the line somewhere. These are the ten choicest songs to zone out, embrace your shadow, shake hands with the Devil, and whatnot, while staring blankly at the wall.
Written by Jani Lehtinen