Laraaji is a master of countless instruments, and his music has explored numerous styles and moods, but he's probably best known for his hypnotic instrumental works utilizing hammered dulcimer and zither, particularly his Eno-produced opus Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980). However, he possesses a rich, commanding voice, and on 1984's Vision Songs, Vol. 1, he recorded an album's worth of avant-garde devotional synth pop songs that sound like nothing else on Earth. The album's songs were all captured from spontaneous recording sessions, and they generally fade in and out, focusing on peak moments of the artist's marathon sessions. He plays peppy melodies on his zither or cool, relaxing tones from a Casio MT-70 keyboard, accompanied by blippy beats provided by a cheap drum machine, which is generally set to the same drum pattern. The lyrics are the focus for this album, and they're usually either mystical mantras ("Hare Jaya Jaya Rama") or words of awareness and enlightenment. None of the pieces are properly composed, structured songs, but he sings them with such spirit and clarity that they resonate more strongly than much of the music on the radio. Many of the songs are catchy enough to immediately resemble songs you've been listening to for years. "Om Namah Shivaya" is particularly moving, with uplifting lyrics ("Be still and know your underlying source of freedom/Your underlying sense of okay/Your underlying source of power/Divine"), sung with such a natural confidence and absence of worry. It's way too short, at less than two minutes, but fortunately he also released an album containing a 40-minute recording of the mantra-like piece. The longest track on Vision Songs, the eight-minute "All of a Sudden," is another easy highlight, similarly showcasing Laraaji's warm voice singing about the birth of a new era of awareness. As divine and spiritual as this album is, the musician (who is also a laughter meditation guru) keeps a sense of playfulness and humor on tracks like "Cosmic Joe" and "Is This Clear? III," where he gradually speeds up the song's pitch. Accessible and friendly yet highly profound, Vision Songs is a truly uncommon work, and easily one of Laraaji's best.
Vision Songs, Vol. 1 Review
by Paul Simpson