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Music

California Sounds: Hear old and new music from Alice Coltrane, Captain Murphy and Warpaint

Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane in 2006, a year before her death.
(UCLA)

Transcendence takes many forms and can be accessed through countless spiritual and non-spiritual avenues. Below, three California-related tips on music designed for various brands of bliss.

“Forevermore Transcending: The Ashram Albums of Alice ‘Swamini Turiyasangitananda’ Coltrane” podcast (Dublab). January will mark a decade since the passing of the cosmic jazz composer Alice Coltrane, and with each year her work starting in the 1960s and extending to her 2007 death gathers new followers. Profoundly spiritual, Coltrane is best known to the general public as the widow of John Coltrane, but after his passing she devoted the rest of her life to composing meditative Hindu devotional music at her ashram in Agoura Hills that wed free jazz with her spiritual studies. 

Recently Mark McNeill, best known as DJ Frosty and as co-founder of the Dublab radio collective, released a fascinating hour-long radio documentary that conveys the wonder of Coltrane’s transcendent music. Focused mostly on four self-released albums from 1982 to 1995, the program delves into Coltrane’s life through conversations and connections with contemporaries and descendants — including her nephew Steven Ellison, who produces music as Flying Lotus, and Captain Murphy (see below). The show is available to listen to in its entirety at dublab.com.

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Listen: "Forevermore Transcending: The Ashram Albums of Alice ‘Swamini Turiyasangitananda’ Coltrane”

In the podcast, Coltrane’s student Radha Botofasina recalled the improvised sounds and chants that Coltrane expressed during this time as a way of connecting the human with the divine: “She could go on for two or three hours, and she would go all over the universe. Sometimes you might have a spiritual heart attack, where you could just cry and cry and cry. And sometimes you would get to a state where you couldn’t sing anymore.”

Best, Coltrane’s work during this period stuns whether you’re seeking the spiritual or just looking for relaxation music. A satisfying audio documentary, the show also links to a Frosty mix of this work, as well as a wondrous radio mix by DJ Carlos Nino broadcast after her death as part of his Spaceways Radio program. 

Warpaint, “Heads Up” (Rough Trade). Few who saw Warpaint’s first Troubadour gig in 2007 opening for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes could have predicted either band’s trajectory. At the time, Warpaint seemed like a laugh, a nervous group of amateurs starring actress Shannon Sossamon on drums (and Edward Sharpe was an Arcade Fire rip-off). 

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Nearly a decade later, Warpaint is not only an essential Los Angeles concern, but its new album finds the its members pushing against so many expectations that it’s hard to get a bead on where they’re headed.

The post-punk rhythms that drove their earlier work have been supplanted by a certain R&B gloss, with the patience in songs such as “So Good” suggesting the minimalism of British group the xx. The shimmering “Dre” could be a lost Cocteau Twins gem updated with contemporary tones, and the upbeat title track mixes ’80s new wave with contemporary pop.

Captain Murphy, “Crowned” (Adult Swim). The rap persona of Los Angeles beat producer Flying Lotus (a.k.a. Steven Ellison) returns to Earth from a cosmic trip to deliver a one-off track as part of his ongoing relationship with the Adult Swim television network.

Called “Crowned,” the song presents a few grim scenarios involving driving, dark thoughts, burning spliffs and oncoming cliffs and trees. The thematic opposite Alice Coltrane’s work? Maybe: it’s hard to imagine blissfully weeping at the cosmic wonder of it all after inhaling “Crowned,” but it will certainly deliver you to a happy place.  

To some, Ellison’s work as Captain Murphy might seem an indulgence, a detour into foreign terrain as confounding as Tim Tebow in a baseball uniform. But Ellison’s verbiage, phrasing and way with a lyric confirms an artist who’s pushing his work where ever the muse takes him. 

There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the stuff that’s not, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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