Theory of My Mind
Knock Out Noise
June 15th 2010
Imaginate by the Amygdaloids
In the Fall of 2005 I walked into Union Hall in Brooklyn to catch a public lecture given by Dr. Joe LeDoux, professor at NYU’s Center for Neural Science. While I have many interests, I always fell short in the sciences, so you can imagine I was quite certain I wouldn’t understand a word of Joe’s discussion of the world of neurons, memory, fear and that little nut shaped region in the brain called the amygdala. But Dr. LeDoux’s lecture was entirely accessible and served as testament to his ability to communicate the business of neuroscience. He has written two books aimed at a general readership, offering not-so-science-savvy folks an avenue towards understanding how their brain works. So one might say that Joe has embraced his role as neuroscience’s public intellectual, ensuring that what goes on in the realm of his discipline does not become too far removed from the questions and curiosities of the people. Think Ted Talks. But LeDoux’s connection to the complex world of neuroscience is not the end of the story. After the lecture, the audience joined LeDoux and a few of his fellow scientist friends up to the first floor of Union Hall where they performed as The Amygdaloids. Right before my eyes I watched these scientists shatter every stereotype concerning the “right brain-left brain” dichotomy. But that was 2005; The Amygdaloids have come a long way since that Union Hall show, releasing their latest record in June called Theory of My Mind.
The two clearest influences that inform The Amygdaloids’ music are the distinct styles of lead guitarist Tyler Volk and LeDoux. Through Volk’s guitar flow accents and power riffs reminiscent of the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 and the immortal Woodstock that followed two years later. He celebrates the work of Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana with his blues laden psychedelia. LeDoux for his part writes songs that project the giest of 60’s dream pop, his songs are products of an ethic that demands good pop be, as Jack Tatum from Wild Nothing said, “catchy but not cheap.” LeDoux is a story teller who, with regard to lyrics and music, is guided by the path set out by the likes of Bob Dylan and The Byrds. The two band members’ influences combine to make a whimsical explication of neuroscientific import embedded in the form and fashion of rock and roll. The lyrics present in Theory of My Mind all hail from the band’s public intellectual ethos. Crime of Passion is a track that explores the question of how much responsibility individuals have when they commit crimes during heightened emotional states. The narrating character of the song croons from a prison cell, recalling the reasons he committed murder and his regrets, singing, “If I could go back, I wouldn’t have killed for you. You’re not worth what I am going through.” Appropriately, to accompany this morose contemplation, Rosanne Cash (daughter of Johnny) sings backup, imbuing the track with a strong sense of sadness.
It is clear from the various titles of the songs that theme of Theory of My Mind is brain science, with all titles in some way referring to motifs of memory, fear, and individual will. Rhythmically, Tyler Volk’s Automatic Mind is a very creative endeavor that diverges slightly from the overall cohesion of the record. This side item song has a style of its own, mixing the choral melody of 60’s pop with the grim and gothic verse of early 80’s British post-punk. The song succeeds as an unexpected amalgamation.
The CD’s title track, Theory of My Mind explores a psychological question concerning when individuals begin to impute mental states such as desires and beliefs to others, and in turn believe that other individuals impute such mental states to them. In essence, when do we feel empathy; when do we recognize the hopes and fears of others and when do we believe they know or think about ours? Often the answers to these questions have been idealized as representative of our most human emotions, but these emotions are not so easily understood. These questions have diffused over a broad field of disciplines including anthropology, primatology, philosophy, etc. Theory of My Mind is a record that explores these and many other questions. Using the language of love, regret, and all the other entries in the lexicon of rock and roll, Theory of My Mind translates the inquisitiveness of the laboratory onto the forceful expression of the stage.