James Krivchenia’s second record under his own name, A New Found Relaxation, creates a sterile, imaginary world of spa days and mineral baths, and was largely recorded near the New Mexico town of Embudo. The community of approximately four hundred along the Rio Grande, where the Big Thief drummer lived for a year and a half, is not a wellness getaway by any means. But because Krivchenia melds his recordings with Muzak, spa radio, and clips designed to induce Autonomous Meridian Sensory Response (ASMR), A New Found Relaxation suggests a New Mexico healing experience that’s both IRL and online. The samples move quickly, spiking the ambience with appropriate doses of anxiety.
Krivchenia recorded some of the album’s 500 fragments at home, while messing around online with his computer plugged into pedals and effects processors. His resulting patchwork of gurgling internet rips and field recordings is expertly arranged, which makes sense, considering Krivchenia’s pedigree as the recording engineer for Big Thief’s debut Masterpiece and the most recent album by the underappreciated Mega Bog. He’s put out deconstructed dance music under the alias 1000000000s, and on 2018’s No Comment, he reworked body-camera audio of warfare and gun violence into a discomfiting collage. Like No Comment, A New Found Relaxation is a conceptual record.
But while No Comment was full of doctored samples that bore little relation to their disturbing source material, the stems on A New Found Relaxation are evident underneath layers of loops. It’s drumless and fairly placid, in keeping with the new-age theme. Water predominates, and the song “Legendary Liquids” even shares a name with a hugely popular ASMR video. Yet instead of trying to elicit a euphoric, physiological response, Krivchenia undercuts the world of wellness with consistent drones. The stereo panning on “Loveless But Not Joyless,” for example, feels paranoid, as though a sedating video is playing in one ear while dissonant noise rumbles through the other. Talking ruins the sensory experience, as anyone who’s spent time exploring ASMR videos knows. Krivchenia’s soundscapes seem to mumble away like a nervous internal monologue.
He certainly isn’t the first contemporary electronic musician to comment on ASMR’s spine-tingling sensations and the YouTube stars commited to provoking them. Composers like Holly Herndon and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith have approached the phenomenon with eyes toward satire and reverence, respectively, while fetishizing the videos’ audiophile-grade sounds. The relative scrappiness of Krivchenia’s take centers the same source material around his life in New Mexico. Perhaps tellingly, he left the region for Los Angeles at the end of 2019. Listening to the album, it’s easy to imagine him jittery in Embudo, trying to stay calm and appreciate his surroundings. Feeling preoccupied in a remote location of natural beauty is a singularly disorienting experience. Is the problem with the area and its culture? Or is the problem with you? A New Found Relaxation never answers these questions, which makes it work as music, rather than wellness philosophy: Krivchenia passes us through all of the necessary, agitating trials of the self before we can breathe our first sigh of relief.