It is weird that I’ve gotten to a place where I’m listening to an album called Tides: Music for Meditation and Yoga when I don’t meditate or do yoga. That I listened at all is mostly a testament to the genius of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, who has an innate ability to make what should be background music into something that is engrossing and full of spirit. This is one of those new old albums; it was recorded in 2013 and commissioned by her mother who wanted a soundtrack for the yoga classes she teaches. This makes it one of her earliest recordings and one that offers insight into her development making music on her Buchla modular synthesizers.
Smith’s last two albums are among the most immersive, thoughtful, and imaginative I’ve ever heard. 2016’s Ears was a colorful collection of songs that fused her synthetic sounds with her love for nature, and 2017’s The Kid built on that style with layers of deep, affecting storytelling and whimsy. Due to its reason for existing, Tides lacks the ambition and diversity of those albums, but it shows Smith figuring out what would become her signature sound through various synthesizer tones and repetitions.
There are a lot of negative connotations for this type of new age hippie music, and I’m still surprised that I love Smith’s fluttery, spiritual style as much as I do. In addition to sounding so vibrant, there is a sincerity and braininess to her approach that reminds me of artists like Broadcast and Björk. Even on an album like Tides where she doesn’t sing, I get a strong sense of who Smith is through her music — there is real charisma here and it finds a way to transmit itself through sound.
Tides doesn’t really aspire to be more than background music, which actually becomes part of its appeal. It’s a chance to hear Smith tinkering and learning in a relaxed way at a stage in her development where she hadn’t yet figured out how to make the mesmerizing ambient pop songs of Ears and The Kid. This makes Tides a useful chapter in the story of her career, which is defined by her growing and progressing on every song and album as she gains more mastery of her tools.
I can’t really evaluate it from a yoga or meditation context, but I assume it works quite well for that purpose too. I imagine I’ll listen to Tides a sneaky amount this year while I’m writing or falling asleep, or when I feel like hearing one of my favorite artists starting on the path to finding her voice.