“Buy a mattress and get music made for plants? Huh?!”
That’s a quote from Tim Mahoney, who you’ll meet a little later in this story. But I’d say those words are uttered just about every time someone hears the tale of Mother Earth’s Plantasia, an album with the seemingly-unironic subtitle “warm earth music for plants and the people who love them.”
Released in 1976 by unsung electronic hero Mort Garson — whose work made Bob Moog cry — the story goes that you could only get a copy with the purchase of a Simmons mattress. (If you want all the details about Garson’s career, and you should, Red Bull Music Academy and Vice have you covered. Read those later, because we’re here to talk about warm earth music for plants now.)
It was the kind of album that few people knew about, even fewer people heard, and almost no one owned. Thanks in part to the record’s rarity, its subject matter, Garson’s cult status, and that downright bizarre sales strategy, Plantasia slowly developed an alluring aura.
Over the course of 40 years, the LP went from being a curious piece of music trivia to a sought-after collector’s item. It’s even gone mainstream recently — if being included in an episode of HBO’s stoner anthology High Maintenance counts as “mainstream.”
Up until now, you had to cruise estate sales or hit flea markets to find a copy. That’s about to change, though! Brooklyn label Sacred Bones just announced the first official Plantasia reissue since aunt Linda strapped that mattress to the Rambler and brought it home from Sears. We even have a limited-edition cassette version over at Discogs Exclusives.
You’re probably wondering why it took four decades to be reissued. Or maybe you’re wondering why it’s happening at all. Either way, it’s thanks to Sacred Bones founder Caleb Braaten, whose relationship with Plantasia began around 2002 as an employee of Denver’s Twist & Shout Records. “I think we got a copy in and I just thought it looked really cool,” he remembered during a phone conversation. “I don’t think it was worth anything back then, but for whatever reason I just thought it was interesting. We put it on and thought it was fucking awesome. I’ve been a fan ever since.”
That was a gateway into Garson’s circuitous catalog, which struck a chord. After a decade of continually returning to records like The Unexplained and Black Mass, Braaten decided to express his fanhood in a tangible way. “I had the idea that I wanted to do a Mort Garson reissue campaign,” he said. “So I started looking for people who owned the rights to these.”
That eventually led him to Day Darmet, Garson’s daughter. Darmet was initially intrigued but apprehensive. “She was interested in talking at first,” Braaten clarified. “I think there’s been a lot of interest in Plantasia, but what we’re doing is pretty different from what a lot of people wanted to do. We really wanted to celebrate the music of Mort Garson and not just focus on this one particular album. That was interesting for her.”
When Braaten initiated the entire process over three years ago, Plantasia had become more popular and desirable than prior decades, but it wasn’t until around 2017 that things started to really pop off. “I started to see people wearing the T-shirt,” he remembered. “Every time I would play it on my radio show, people would be like, ‘Plantasia! Plantasia! Plantasia!’ I was like, ‘Wow man, it’s out there!’ And now more than ever; it just was on that episode of High Maintenance.”
It’s not just anecdotal, either. From 2009 to 2016, the average price of the album in the Discogs Marketplace doubled. While we’re only a quarter through 2019, the average price this year has septupled(!) when compared to 2009. The number of times it was sold over the years has blown up as well. That raises the question, why now? What is it about this moment in time that makes people want to spend $300 on a mattress giveaway?
“I believe it’s two main things,” said Tim Mahoney, whose fascination with Plantasia spurred him and Morgan Evans to plan a documentary (which was just funded via Kickstarter; more proof of a bonafide Plantasiassance). “First it’s technology. I think the Youtube algorithm is the biggest reason why right now it’s a cultural phenomenon on any level.”
After discovering the album in 2005 via torrents, a Youtube rabbit hole brought Mahoney back to Garson’s vegetal work a decade later. It’s a story I’ve heard from several people. That said, the algorithm only introduces someone to the album. No amount of math can force it to resonate with a listener.
The second half of Mahoney’s theory addresses this. “I think right now with the way the world is, there’s something nice and rejuvenating about Plantasia,” he declared, before going a step further. “If I’m gonna be real pretentious, I’m gonna say it’s like Albert Ayler’s thing. Music is the healing force of the universe, right?”
He continued, after a pause, “I do think there’s something in Plantasia about it being a breath of fresh air; especially given how shitty and gross everything is. I think it’s everything that society isn’t right now. It’s aggressively nice. Plantasia is radically nice, and that’s what I’m so into about it.”
Even though Mahoney’s thesis accounts for the album’s relevance in 2019, there’s also the fact that it’s just plain good. “What’s great about Plantasia is that the technological aspect — the electronic part — is only the icing on the cake,” he said. “Compositionally, it’s fucking cool! I would love to hear a small orchestra play it. The music is so much bigger than the paradigm of electronic music.”