My silly Peruvian roommate, whom I go out of my way to avoid, comes into the kitchen just outside my bedroom door in the early afternoon.

He is mumbling to himself in a language unknown. I key into the sounds of his movement. The turning on of the faucet, the water’s rush. The rhythmic pattern of the knife chopping vegetables on the cutting board.

My roommate whistles briefly. He shuts the trash bin and closes the microwave door. He mixes egg yolk in a mug. The curved wire of the egg beater swiping against the porcelain in a circular motion shatters my psyche and every nerve in close proximity to my brain dances. I fall into a trance listening, feeling an electric buzz between my temples and upper torso. This is the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and despite how silly it may seem, I can assure you, ASMR is real.

It’s been described as a nerve-based, emotional response in the peripheral areas of the body — the region of the senses — mid-chest to the top of the head. The feeling is pleasurable, like a cat purring with each scratch. Goosebumps of longing. And there’s no telling when it might set off. A good example is what you may feel watching the late, great Bob Ross paint, with his reassuringly breathy voice, calm demeanor; the brush plodding and karooming across the canvas. There’s an undefined connection. Scientific evidence to support or explain ASMR is incredibly scant. The answer lies somewhere between the Central Nervous System and your Chakras.

Certain music out there can produce a similar effect to ASMR. Something that moves organically and isn’t tethered to a beat. Something minimal and human-controlled, like the soft, slow, unmetered noodling of acoustic strings. Something with a lot of space in it and intakes of silence. Something that numbs you evenly and holds you in place. Try the digital night-blanket of any Fripp & Eno album or the transcendent, wind-weeping Navajo flute songs of Carlos Nakai. But even someone lazily plucking a guitar on a couch across the room could trigger it.

Here are the most ASMR-triggering albums:


The Creek Drank the Cradle by Iron & Wine

Released: 2002

The beard hairs on Sam Beam’s chin were at their fully sprouted form when he released his debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle. “Faded From the Winter” unspools like steel wire and strings you up by the ankles. “The Rooster Moans” and “An Angry Blade” churn along monotonously until you go numb. It’s like nodding off in a barn at dusk. Beam’s voice stays above a mumble, just audible enough to understand through the perpetual sigh of its tone.




July by Marissa Nadler

Released: 2014

Marissa Nadler’s voice hits your ear like a dandelion hair blown in the wind. It’s so very fragile and enters the room the like an overtly polite ghost. July, her sixth full-length, is a sleepy getaway drive on the vacant highways of Massachusetts somewhere between twilight and dawn. The dark is cold and pinches your fading anxieties.




Nino Rojo / Rejoicing In The Hands by Devendra Banhart

Released: 2004

Devendra Banhart dropped both of these albums at the height of the brief cut-out genre, “freak-folk,” with the likes of Animal Collective, Ariel Pink and Joanna Newsom. When these two albums play it’s like Banhart is sitting crosslegged in the sunroom fiddling songs to himself while you clean. Rejoicing came first in the spring as the sun started to stretch its beams. These are fine songs for a wasted summer day.




America by John Fahey

Released: 1971

This one tickles the spine up and down, pries open the bone and licks the marrow. Using only the brittle strings of an unassuming guitar, Fahey teases with tempo and accent edging you into oblivion. When I put it on I immediately go cross-eyed and lose sight of time. The acoustic ringing settles into the room then leaves you hanging in silence only to worm back in when you thought it was over. This album is a strong replacement for any narcotic.




Marc Ribot Plays Solo Guitar Works of Frantz Casseus by Marc Ribot

Released: 1993

Marc Ribot takes on the songs of Frantz Casseus, the Haitian-American guitarist and personal guitar mentor to Ribot. Released the year of Casseus’s death, the album lulls the listener into a soporific grasp. A waterfall of static hits the back of the neck. Eye lashes flutter. Ribot’s fragmented acoustic noodling falls to swaths of total silence mid-song and returns like a tepid tide to the shore.


See also:

Jackson C. Frank by Jackson C. Frank

Released: 1965


Smoke Ring for My Halo by Kurt Vile

Released: 2011


Songs of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen

Released: 1967


When by Vincent Gallo

Released: 2001









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