Mutant Eternity

Joseph P. O’Brien

Essay

6/15/20

In all my years of listening to and writing about music, I never thought I’d declare something as hyperbolic as this, but if I could listen to only one album for the rest of my life, it would absolutely be Mutant Eternity. It’s basically a cheater’s choice. From what I can tell, Mutant Eternity is never the same album twice. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical way, like when Heracliltus said, “No person ever steps in the same stream twice, because it’s not the same stream or the same person” (although that’s somewhat true with all albums, because even if the music recorded on an album remains exactly the same, both we and the times are no longer the same when we listen to it later). I’m talking about an album that literally remixes itself every time you listen to it.

Mutant Eternity is only available on streaming services—the only place where it’s technically feasible that it’s never the same stream twice, as it were. The album asks, like seemingly everything these days, to connect to as much of your digital self as you’ll allow: your social media, search history, contacts, calendar, location, your fucking FitBit if you have one. Sure, you can be a privacy freak about it and deny Mutant Eternity access; you’ll still get a great album out of it. But that’s just it: you’ll only get a great album. On the other hand, if you’re resigned or indifferent to the intrusion, you’ll get an incalculable number of variations of a great album, and a never-ending music experience like nothing before.

The first time I listened to Mutant Eternity, it started in medias res, as if the first couple bars had been spliced off. The ending stopped suddenly as well. When I heard the sudden stop, though, I put two and two together. I toggled the album-repeat option and rewound the last track to right before the very end. The album, without question, forms a seamless loop when repeated, a tradition that goes back at least as far as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and has continued at least as recently as Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

The beginning (and therefore ending) of Mutant Eternity consists of a Baroque/poppish acoustic guitar melody that, on second listen, reminded me of the intro to “Alone Again Or,” the first track on Love’s 1967 album Forever Changes. I’ve already written a couple pieces in this publication, plus several elsewhere, about the uncanny, almost occultish ways that Forever Changes has impishly infiltrated my mind since the turn of the century. It makes me wonder if I’m hearing things, given that the rest of the actual music on Mutant Eternity bears no significant resemblance to Forever Changes, and upon subsequent listens, I can’t be sure it’s still there.

Though the album occasionally resembles the general vibe of late-60’s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk rock, it occasionally resembles a hundred other eras and styles of music as well. As a whole, it consists not of proper songs so much as tasty snippets spliced together into what feels like one long, serpentine mash-up, with original live-band recordings where the pre-existing samples would normally be. One especially memorable stretch during my first listen sounded like a Wagnerian opera produced by Timbaland, before morphing into something like Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis mimicking Stereloab, and ended up somewhere between ragtime, disco, and klezmer.

I remember liking that section so much that I turned the volume way up, the way you do when you’re like hell yes, crank that shit! Then, during my second listen, this section seemed to arrive much later in the album’s run time, after what I’ll call the “Billie Holiday fronting Black Sabbath” part and the part that sounds like Bjork yodeling during a high school basketball game. It was as if Mutant Eternity remembered me cranking the volume during that first stretch, assumed I liked it the best, and decided to tantalize me by making me wait longer for it the next time around.

I don’t remember any other significant differences between that first and second listen, but as it was all pretty new to me, I’m sure there could’ve been more. After that second listen I took a break from Mutant Eternity (to play Brian Eno’s Music for Airports on Spotify; to look at hotels for an upcoming trip to New Orleans; to order Indian food from Seamless and some cosmetics from Amazon; to watch Atlanta on Hulu and post a few semi-angry, socialist-leaning thoughts on Twitter). The next time I played Mutant Eternity was much the same, but it seemed to have a spacier, more minimalist feel overall. It was as if upon learning that I also liked Brian Eno, the album was showing me it could be more chill and ambient too. In certain spots, though, I also detected elements of Dixieland Jazz, raga, glam rock, Migos-esque mumble rap, and Clash-like punk—none of which I recall hearing the first two times around.

The following day, I listened to Mutant Eternity as I drove to work, and as I zoomed down the highway, the rhythms got faster and sleeker. I listened in the car again after work as I drove to meet my wife for the “Hot Date” we’d scheduled on our Google calendar, and the album’s vibe turned considerably sultry.

In the two weeks since I met Mutant Eternity, I’ve listened to other music, but not much. When I do listen to other music, it’s because I want Mutant Eternity to hear it. “I feel like Mutant Eternity could use more Motown soul,” I’ll think, so I’ll stream some Stevie Wonder for a few minutes. Or, I’ll stream the middle of Nirvana’s In Utero for a spell if I want Mutant Eternity to radiate more dirty distortion and gut-scraping existential angst.

I’ve also started consciously modifying my online behavior with the album’s feedback in mind. Just when I was starting to limit my social media activity, now I’m posting shit multiple times a day in the interest of tweaking Mutant Eternity. “What obscure bands or underappreciated albums should I be listening to?” I ask Reddit, and Mutant Eternity adapts according to the responses I upvote. I share every mood swing on Facebook, so that Mutant Eternity will pitch-shift to more minor keys when I’m feeling sad, or replace cellos with saxophones when I’m feeling silly. When I find myself on the far feminine end of my gender-fluidity spectrum, I post pictures of myself getting pretty to Instagram, and Mutant Eternity knows just how to make me feel more lady-like (which apparently involves more piano, slower tempos, and Mazzy Star-levels of reverb).

Similarly, I avoid any things that might alter my Mutant Eternity experience in undesirable ways. When my little cousins came over and wanted to watch the Taylor Swift documentary, I made them switch to my wife’s Netflix profile. And when I want to order more food on Seamless, I use my wife’s iPad. Just because I want a burrito doesn’t mean I want Mutant Eternity to start adding mariachi flavors to itself—and frankly, the album’s ostensible insistence on automatically connecting a culture’s food to that culture’s music feels discomfiting and problematic. I’ve also avoided reading any other reviews or articles about the album - although, to my surprise, I’ve hardly seen anyone else talking about this miraculous work anyway. At this point, the bond between Mutant Eternity and myself is so sacred and intimate that I neither want nor need anyone else’s feelings about it to taint my own.

Your individual experiences will, unless you’re my doppelganger, vary wildly. If we’re merely halfway similar, though, I’m sure you’ll be endlessly obsessed with it as a concept and exercise. You may even start to worry that you’ve become too obsessed and should force yourself to ignore Mutant Eternity and its eternal feedback loop. You may even start to wonder if you should go off the grid and move to an actual desert island, and that maybe they were onto something about limiting your favorite albums to just five physical vinyl copies of your favorite records, preferrably played on an old-timey phonograph.

Joseph P. O’Brien works as a public librarian in New Jersey, and runs a Musical Storytime program for children. Joseph is pursuing a master’s degree in Library & Information Science at Rutgers University, and is currently studying Information Technology and Human Information Behavior. Joseph’s professional music reviewing career began in 2004, and their actual desert island album, if forced to choose, would either be London Calling or OK Computer, depending on their mood at the time. | @josephpob

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