While talking about music genres, the names that often pop up are pock, pop, hip hop or RnB. The name ‘new age’ hardly pops up on your Spotify or YouTube playlist recommendations. But this genre might be just what you need to get through such stressful times.

In a 2017 report by Music Business Worldwide, it was reported that Spotify had been populating with mindful and relaxation music like Peaceful Piano (4.6m current followers), Deep Focus (2.8m). The pandemic has taken a great toll on our mental health.

Young people in particular are facing the brunt of it- living days in isolation and stress. This would be a great time to get into the new-age genre for the much-needed warmth and hopeful feeling that the genre brings. 

New-age is a genre of music that is often described to evoke psychedelic feelings for its listener and it has historically, been related to the ‘hippies’. Although the term might seem relatively new, the genre actually dates back as far back as 1964. In an article by The New York Times, new age music was described to be ‘oozing toward the big time’. Considered a lucrative genre, the author reported new-age music to be the fastest-growing genre of the  late 1980s.

New-age music has been described to be therapeutic. It has been defined as mindful positive music produced to calm down the nervous system by the gatekeepers and tastemakers of this genre. You might instantly recognize the famous “Only Time” by Enya after listening to it. Before this song became a part of the meme culture, it was loved by millions for being deeply melancholic and beautiful. What most people don’t know is that Enya’s “Only Time” is a part of this new-age genre. 

Sleeping At Last, led by multi-instrumentalist Ryan O’Neal, is one of the musical bands that encompass New-age with other genres like indie rock, alternative rock, and folk music. Moreover, it has been able to infuse the essence of new-age with contemporary music. 

Originally formed in 1999, the group comprising Ryan O’Neal, his brother Chad O’Neal and Dan Perdue gained a significant local following and often opened for the most popular band in the 2000s, the Plain White T’s. After seeing steady success over the years, the band went on to produce a song called ‘Turning Pages’ which appeared exclusively in the movie The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. 

The band has produced countless EPs, singles, and albums independently over the years. Atlas is an ongoing music series by them. Atlas: Year One comprising 30 songs was released in the year 2014. The album was released across 6 thematic EPs named Darkness, Light, Space I, Space II, Lands, and Oceans. Atlas: Year Two is inspired by ‘Involuntary Human Development’ exploring the themes of life, senses, emotions, intelligence, and the enneagram of personality. 

My personal favorite is Space II  from Atlas: Year One. The EP has 5 songs- one out of which is instrumental. The tracks Saturn and Neptune have powerfully evocative lyrics along with the lofty music which transports the listener to another dimension, unquestionably the space Ryan intended to with the composition. Meanwhile, other tracks ‘Jupiter’, ‘Pluto’ and ‘Neptune’ also give the fans an out-of-the-world experience with their somber and contemplative music.

The new-age genre has an evocative aesthetic which brings a sense of calm and groundedness- adding bits of nature and our surroundings to its composition. The reason fans love this genre of music is that of its aesthetic to please the senses and providing serenity. This genre’s popularity can be examined through Sleeping At Last’s loyal and eccentric fanbase, and the band slowly becoming a favorite to mainstream music lovers. 

Sleeping At Last lends that sense of support and provides subliminal messages intended for that artistic inspiration, optimism, and spiritual elevation- what the new-age genre is all about. 

New-age music is used for meditation purposes. With mental health issues rising at an alarming rate around the world, young people are inadvertently falling to this genre for a sense of tranquility. They are using it as a form of escapism from the chaotic world. The Sleeping At Last’s YouTube comment section is evident to the fact with fans leaving comments about their mental health, loss, and grief.

“My mother passed December 31st, 2020 when she went to rest I felt my heart being ripped out of my chest she was so very important to me. I flew to Europe to spend 10 weeks with her and care for her before she let go of her battle with cancer. I found this song a few weeks back she is the one person I think of when I hear it. She is this song,” reads a YouTube comment left on Saturn”‘s music video.

Another person also shares this feeling. “I lost my mother to Covid in July. This song has helped me in ways I couldn’t imagine. It’s helped me believe that this universe has more in store for us even after we are gone,” they say.

One of my favorite tracks “Mercury” helped me cope with the grief of losing my grandfather. It’s not just me, a lot of people seek refuge in their music which is visible from the countless comments about grief, depression on their YouTube channel. Their Reddit community is another hidden gem where people openly discuss music theories and how it relates to their personal stories. 

 New-age is not the same music played in salons and spas to create an ambient environment anymore. It’s much more than that and slowly booming to the mainstream music scene. Now, it’s a genre popularised by the calming effect it renders, and something to listen to at 3 AM when that wave of existential dread hits.

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  • Usraat Fahmidah

    Usraat Fahmidah is a freelance writer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her prose and fiction have been published in several anthologies and publications like WIRED. She has done extensive research in the field of development economics and policy research encompassing education. Her interests include South Asian politics, inclusive education, philosophy, civics media, feminism and AI ethics. Her journalistic work can be seen in VICE, Dhaka Tribune and Youth Journalism International. When she's not juggling all these work, you can find her ranting about books on her blog and finding muse for her next poetry piece.