Boomkat Product Review:
Numero's overview of Midwestern ad man turned self-help guru Dick Sutphen's Valley of the Sun catalogue is a nourishing deep dive into eccentric US new age music, featuring material spanning 1977-1990. RIYL: J.D. Emmanuel, IASOS, Tangerine Dream, Emeralds.
In the 1960s, Dick Sutphen was the art director for a sizable advertising agency. After winning "hundreds of awards", he started his own company, moving to Scottsdale, Arizona and hiring a slew of artists to work for him. One of these artists introduced him to hypnosis and past-life regression, and it was all the inspiration he needed to to pivot into what was to be a lifelong obsession. Sutphen opened a hypnosis center in 1970, and began publishing self-help books under his own Valley of the Sun Publishing imprint; in 1976, his reincarnation-centered book "You Were Born Again to be Together" sold over a million copies, and he was often seen on daytime television doing live hypnotisms.
Inevitably, Sutphen began to issue music, tapping some of the country's most interesting new age musicians for material. In 2016, Not Not Fun founder Britt Brown tracked down Sutphen and interviewed him, reminding contemporary new age listeners of a forgotten chapter in the story of US electronic music. Now Numero has put together some of the label's most impressive material, collecting up music from Upper Astral, Sutphen's Valley of the Sun house band, songwriter Gloria Thomas (who was married to Grammy winning singer B.J. Thomas), David Naegele (who served as Valley of the Sun's music director between 1980 and 1983), Berlin school synth devotee David Storrs, and Valley's replacement music director Robert Slap, among others.
All the material here is absorbing - especially if you're familiar with 1980s West Coast new age DIY tapes - but for us the best of it hews closer to the Euro sound. Celestial Odysseys (an imaginary duo of David Storrs and The Alien Wizard, also Storrs) recreates Jean Michel-Jarre's epic FM symphonies on a smaller scale on 'Daystar', and Storrs' 'Channel For The Light (Part II) [Edit]' is a charming revision of Tangerine Dream's arpeggio-focused Michael Mann-era synthedelia. But tracks like Upper Astral's languid, drone-heavy 'Celestial Whispers II' and Steven Cooper's glassy, lof-fi 'Crystal Garden I' are also helpful aesthetic markers that bridge the gap between this era and later developments from early 00s DIY imprints like Digitalis and more recently Leaving Records. Good stuff.