Revisiting 'Pure Moods' in the Age of Coronavirus

An investigation into whether the memorably vibey 90s New Age compilation can offer any solace in this time of chaos.
Photos: Getty Images / Composite by VICE Staff

Let's assume, for a second, that you're on the responsible end of societal actors and are currently in the midst of self-imposed isolation as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. Unless you're a music writer—in which every waking moment is spent aurally sifting through crap in hopes of discovering something that brings you joy, or at the very least a decent rate—it's wholly possible you've spent some time sitting around in silence, wondering if there's anything you could throw on as background music to soothe whatever inner turmoil your thought process currently represents.


If you're seeking to set a calming vibe, one option you should take great pains to avoid is Pure Moods.

Granted, the once-ubiquitous-on-cable-TV compilation of downtempo, predominantly instrumental music isn't exactly easy to find: It has no home on current streaming services, so you'll have to get a little crafty with your playlist-making if you want to travel back to the halcyon, pre-social-distancing days of 1994. But readers of a certain age can practically conjure its sounds from memory thanks to the mid-to-late-90s prevalence of Pure Moods' direct response television commercials, coated in shimmering pastels and displaying imagery both bucolic and monastic as a deity-esque voice implored viewers to "Imagine a world where time drifts slowly…A world where music carries you away."

Originally released as Moods - A Contemporary Soundtrack in the UK in 1991, the compilation was rebranded as Pure Moods upon hitting U.S. shores in 1994, and spawned five four "sequels" as well as more thematically specific spinoffs like Celtic Moods and Romantic Moods. On the surface, Pure Moods scans as a physical-product-era equivalent of a "Lofi Hip Hop Radio to Relax/Study to" YouTube loop—an exercise in uniform vibe-setting, filtered primarily through 90s New Age music instead of current-day chillwave variants. The commercial itself sells the soothe, displaying lush blasts of sound like Enya's "Orinoco Flow" and Enigma's "Return to Innocence," setting the scene for a collection of music as relaxing as a trip to the spa.


Of course, truth in advertising is more often than not relative, as the music of Pure Moods possesses little in calm-inducing uniformity when it comes to vibe curation. Granted, there are a few tracks that carry similar strands of sonic DNA in that vein; the gauzy, weightless drift of the title track to musical mastermind Brian Eno's 1975 classic "Another Green World" makes for solid bedfellows with British ambient-techno pioneers the Orb's saucer-eyed "Little Fluffy Clouds," as well as the pinwheel synths of French electronic producer Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygène Pt. 4" and Jan Hammer's indelible Miami Vice-soundracking "Crockett's Theme."

On the other end of the spectrum—where the New Age sound pushes deep swirls of tone and layered vocals into total plushy oblivion—there's connecting fibers between the aforementioned "Orinoco Flow" and "Return to Innocence," as well as the piping, exoticized chillout of French duo Deep Forest's "Sweet Lullaby." Otherwise, Pure Moods is largely dotted with odd film soundtrack selections that, while staying true to the plurality of the compilation's title itself, present no unified sonic front or, at the very least, the thoughtful sequencing that any variety-driven playlist would demand in the modern age. (If you're going to promise to take your listeners on a journey, why chart a course that's all over the map?)

There's high drama presented in the form of Michael Nyman's piano-driven theme for Jane Campion's passionate masterpiece The Piano, multiple strains of romantic scoring from compositional master Ennio Morricone, and—most strangely—Angelo Badalamenti's shuffling haunt of a theme for David Lynch's terrifying classic Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. With these selections sandwiched in between the aforementioned straight-up New Age cuts and slices of soft-sax fromage from folks like Kenny G and Candy Duffer, Pure Moods less resembles a transportative trip through a world of sound and more someone impatiently changing the channel on TV every few minutes.

In other words, if you're going to go to the lengths of crafting an idyllic Pure Moods experience—escapist and possessing a non-disruptive level of consistency when it comes to sonic makeup—you could do a lot better than seeking out the O.G. release's individual parts. Luckily, the last decade of experimental electronic music has seen nothing less than a renaissance when it comes to New Age-leaning sounds, from the kaleidoscopic fantasias of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and the fractalized outré-pop of Visible Cloaks to Mark McGuire's funhouse guitar loops and the synthy sprawl of Oneohtrix Point Never's early work.

You no longer need to call the number on your screen for music that will carry you away—and if you're unable to leave the house any time soon, perhaps charting your own pure mood journey could be the perfect getaway.