One of my favorite albums of 2022 has to be the Third Man debut from Rich Ruth. The Nashville composer has created a psychedelic jazz behemoth that’s rife with nuance. Ruth battles the vertigo of chaos that erodes each day with an explosion of woodwinds and seared guitars that leave a taste of charcoal in the mouth. I’ve been lax in my attention to the Hidden Gems series of late, but its been a busy summer. I’m very excited to get the series back in motion with a pick from Ruth. He digs into his past for a record that arrived at just the right time. Check out Ruth’s exploration of The KLF’s Chill Out.
“Experimental and left-of-center music has always spoken to me, but in 2017 I began to shift my focus from traditional guitar playing to creating the type of music I wanted to listen to. Throughout my college and early touring years, I scoured the typical cannon of ambient, Krautrock, prog, and spiritual jazz which coincided with smoking marijuana and doing psychedelic drugs with my friends,” recalls Ruth.
“I was at my best friend’s wedding in Austin, TX that fall with a group of close buds. The groom who we had all congregated for was pretty insistent that we all do some light doses of LSD after the ceremony going into the evening. It had been a few years since I’d dabbled with anything like that and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to jump into that particular lake again. Nostalgia and camaraderie overpowered those feelings and we were off to the races. One micro-dose flippantly turned into a few and by the time I got back to the AirBnB at 3am with my wife, I was fully awake and fully tripping. Everyone else had gone to bed and I did not want to spend the remainder of the night exploring the corners of my mind all alone.”
“My dear friend Noah found me pacing around and could sense where I was at and intervened. We went out to the back porch where there was an impressive outdoor sound system. He put on Chill Out by KLF — an album by a group I had never heard of. To this day it was one of the most powerful musical experiences I’ve ever had. I was completely transfixed for the entire length of the record and blown away by the fact that this piece of music had escaped my radar.”
“From what I understand, the KLF guys made Chill Out for this exact purpose. If the rave and affiliated substances became too much to handle, you could go to the chill out room and recenter yourself with KLF. The record is incredibly active and engaging while maintaining a grounding presence through the repetitive synthesizer movements. It’s a loose concept album about a fictional road trip through the American Southwest by a few oddball electronica guys from the UK. They apparently performed it live in one take for the final released version.”
“While it is regarded as a landmark 90’s rave adjacent ambient classic, I don’t think many people are very familiar with it these days. The egregious sampling has kept the complete version off of streaming services, and I don’t imagine the 45-second Van Halen clip will get cleared anytime soon. It has so much of what I love about music – sublime synths mixed with a massive tapestry of soundscapes, found material, gorgeous pedal steel, techno drums and so much more. I only let myself listen to it 4-5 times a year so it doesn’t lose the magical effect it’s held on me for years now.”
“When I was making I Survived, It’s Over I wanted to incorporate this very specific influence and reference point into my work alongside elements of spiritual jazz, post-rock, and minimalism. I viewed my song “Thou Mayest” as sort of an ode to the chaos of the pandemic and specifically Nashville with the tornado that happened weeks before the country shut down. I sampled the tornado siren and mixed it into a very Chill Out-esque soundscape filled with synths, preachers, and pedal steel. The combination of all of that is my not so subtle nod to Chill Out. The record found me exactly when it needed to — at a point when my mind was about to unravel and a time where I was feeling ready to go all in on synthesizer-based ambient leaning music. I’m listening to it for the third time this year while I write this and my dog is looking at the bluetooth speaker with her head cocked as the sheep noises intersect with a fading Fleetwood Mac sample. If you’re not familiar, get comfortable and listen to the whole record. Go on the journey or save it for when you desperately need to chill out.”
Honestly, I’d have to admit, this one is in my blind spot as well. Never a huge rave fan, I’d always slotted The KLF into a category that was circling influences I’d loved, but never quite embraced. Having taken a listen to this at Rich’s recommendation, I feel like 2022 might be just the right time to embrace Chill Out. An album that embraces the cosmic country touchstones that are prevalent and the ambient air we all need to make sense of anything in this year, the record is chaotic, but constructive. It’s a needed breeze of orderliness among the scattered debris of psychic damage. The record is, as Ruth mentions, a bit hard to find physically or even digitally these days due to the sampling concerns but it does live online in some capacities. I recommend a listen however you can dip in. Rich Ruth’s latest, I Survived, It’s Over, is out now on Third Man Records.
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