Meridians is a very “new age” title for an album. You may hear the word “meridians” all the time without knowing what it means, and when you look it up, you still don’t. You know it’s about circles and zeniths and acupuncture references to the body’s pathways to energy—but can you use it in a sentence?
When I worked at a record store (yes, a record store) in the '90s, we had an entire new age section. Vangelis, Yanni, John Tesh—there was a studied blandness to their music. New age fans were just as serious about blandness—serious about their wool socks, scented candles, and herbal tea music. So I didn’t expect to like Meridians—but I did.
Have I become the demographic of wool socks? Maybe I’m more open to this kind of music. I’m not dancing on tables to Lady Gaga (not every night anyway). I want to relax. I want to “de-stress.” I want candles and herbal teas.
Mih’s first note on the album is her body—she exhales and breathes life into the title song. This exhale lasts two seconds, but it sets the tone of emotional connection and presence throughout her work. I know, I know—how new age. Yet most new age music has a forced sense of completion, and the emotional complexity of a pod-person. It is one with the universe, end of story. But Mih’s breathing is not I-am-one-with-the-universe. Instead it is more I-am-a-woman-tired-at-the-end-of-her-day. Let-me-be-saved-by-my-music.
The experimental arrangements of Mih’s piano, vocals, keyboard, and accordion also add to the emotional depth, and reflect the not always beatific path to tranquility. Her voice is reminiscent of an English chorus in “Meridians,” “Flow,” and the end track, “Circular Dreaming.” The accordion and the bell sounds of keyboard add subtle tension to “Meridians.” However, the same bells are overdone in “Interwoven” where they take a melodramatic turn of suspense that would be at home in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Mih’s experimental best is “Saturn’s Rings,” where I’m not sure if she is breathing again as music or if the keyboards are replicating the sound. The keyboard could also be evoking a computer as it runs a program—the sound of a computer breathing. Whichever the case, this interplay of sounds provide an interesting juxtaposition of music, nature and technology. The plaintive accordion of this song is one of the most memorable sections of this album.
Yet some of Mih’s works are less experimental and more direct. “Little One,” “Reflections” and “Sacred Sound” are impassioned selections with the piano as the only instrument. “Autumn” is also centered on the piano, but the repetitive chords get in the way of this song. Although they could be a statement about the cyclical nature of seasons, the repetition can be excessive. Yet it’s the dissonant chords at the end of “Autumn” that conversely provide closure.
Meridians may share aspects of new age music, but I wouldn’t call Valerie Mih new age. She could be an instrumental version of Enya or the Cocteau Twins. Where those artists used their voices to create a surreal auditory landscape, Mih uses her piano, keyboard and accordion. There could even be a classical parallel with the French composer Claude Debussy.
So, yes, not what I expected. Valerie Mih’s album reconnects the listener to the emotional experience of music and leaves you elevated. No blandness here. Except for those wool socks.