No one takes psychedelics and comes away untouched. Which isn't to say that every experience has to be a descent into hell, just as a tab of acid isn't a guaranteed entry ticket to some paradigm-shattering creative awakening. Steve Jobs would probably still have created Apple even if he'd refrained from devouring blotter paper back in his Portland dorm room.
What I am saying is that no matter how positive an experience your trip is, your brain and body will feel odd during the comedown—a little deflated, a little spent, a little wonky, even under the gilded surface of an afterglow. If anyone's told you they've taken hard psychedelics "with zero comedown," they're lying to your melted-ass face. Some type of mental or physical hangover will inevitably plague you, even if it's a manageable one. That's just the toll you must pay if you want to go moseying about the cosmic abyss.
One of the best parts of taking psychedelics is the rag-tag crew you end up with at the end of a long day, embracing the mutual misery of withdrawal by scraping your bowl for resin and turning on some music. But what type of music? It has to be perfect or the vibes may turn sour—all those synapses, messed with for nothing! (As a quick and obvious aside, no one should be allowed within projectile vomiting distance of an acoustic guitar.)
People will have a lot of opinions about the best song to listen to when coming down. Though well-intentioned, many of these selections will also have the not-so-subtle ulterior motive of chilling everyone the fuck out so they stop talking about self-improvement and trippy /r/TodayILearned nonsense that started wearing thin around dusk. The trick to keeping the energy buzzy but not too brainy (or at risk of becoming lethargic) is to select a strange song, one that is enveloping but not overbearing or peripheral. Maybe even something a little challenging, or one that's more interesting to talk about than, say, "shape-shifting lizard people" or Bush being behind 9/11. (We all already agree that, yes, it was him.)
With this in mind, my personal favorite psychedelic hangover song is "There Will Be Other Worlds," from Sun Ra's 1978 album Lanquidity. The simple reason being that this 11-minute jazz-psych epic sounds like how a comedown feels.
Setting out with a haunting dissonant synth chord, it collapses into a handful of pretty piano notes before the voices of Arkestra members June Tyson, James, Jacson, Edde Tahmas, and Sun Ra––collectively billed under "Ethnic Voices" in the liner notes––begin moaning. It's spooky but hypnotizing, as if it belongs to a lost soul or a friendly ghost who's gesturing you to follow him with a "come hither" motion.
A bassline sneaks across the track, followed by a woozy trumpet. Instrumental elements keep getting added, the various components sounding uneasy, anxious, even frightening; each of them fucked up on something. It's a dangerous, albeit triumphant, balance of vibes bad and good that mirrors those pangs of acute anxiety and all-knowing, unforgiving existential dread—muddled with moments of warmth and tranquility—that color a comedown from psychedelics.
I remember the first time I heard the song—unsurprisingly while coming down from nearly an eighth of shrooms. I had previously put on something that was too mellow; I believe it was Stereolab. People in the room began falling asleep as I jabbered on out of bug-eyed listlessness. My friend told me I was trying too hard to change everyone's mood through the music when I should instead celebrate our shared cerebral itchiness. He turned on "There Are Other Worlds" and told me to be patient, to accept my decision to give my brain an old psilocybin-inspired wash-and-hang-dry.
At first, Sun Ra made me feel better––the slow pace, the seductive voices. Once those voices derailed into maniacal rambling and transcendental taunts half-way through the song, however, my anxiety felt worse. I felt overwhelmed and chaotic, as if I had to choose between embracing my private thoughts or embracing the track, but not both. My friend noticed my discomfort. "You shouldn't feel calm right now," he said. "You ate a shit ton of mushrooms today."
I think part of what makes music amazing is its ability to supersede any emotion you might be in the grips of and actively strongarm you into feeling a different one—a kind of artificial mood enhancement. But there's a different appeal to music that is able to replicate a feeling with such precision that it feels as though there's someone else there, strapped in to the exact same emotional rollercoaster as you are.
As "There Are Other Worlds" enters its final minute, it throws you a few more pretty piano licks, suggesting it will—that this odd voyage will—end OK. Then Sun Ra, the Man From Outer Space, completely scuppers that with a final ominous synth chord that sounds like, well, lots of worlds ending at once. As I was consumed by all this during that first listen, I forgot about all the problems and epiphanies swarming my fungi-filled head. The composition planted its flag in the forefront of my cortex, and I felt myself being transported back to reality, sobriety, without worrying about what that meant or the fact that I didn't feel as good as I did a few hours prior.
This is a song that does not leave listeners untouched. After it kisses (or slaps) your eardrums, you will most certainly have an opinion about it, even if not a positive one. Ultimately, eating some spooky spores or a tab of acid is no different. Both change you in some shape or form and leave an impression on your brain like a sonic-cum-psychedelic fingerprint. For me, that mark is one of my favorite scars—it's not going away any time soon, and the story behind it is one I share too often.
Follow Zach on Twitter