Sometimes it’s the most hopeless romantics who end up deriving the most valuable wisdom, even should it be false, and the state of being hypnotized is probably often useful in the achievement of BEING hypnotic.
Enter Chris Wirsig, who hails from San Francisco — the end of the continent. It’s a city of tourism, a city of relics — Alcatraz, the Golden Gate bridge, cable cars — items which, along with whatever practical utility they offer, purport to as well boast a sort of IMPLIED value, or image.
But Wirsig looks far off into the past for his inspiration, across not only centuries but thought divisions of truth and value as well, extolling the “13 crystal skulls” from old British lore. According to PREVAILING knowledge on the subject,  the skulls (which don’t look so much menacing as they do deranged and ornery) were crafted by Victorian-era Britons during a periodic cultural revival of all things “ancient,” and the ostensible veneration of such things.
So the question emerges: does Wirsig actually believe in his gut that these things are authentic transitory artifacts, or is he instead, possibly, razing a certain false token rhapsody said to roam his own hometown? Maybe we might as well worship something ELSE we know is false, in other words, since we already do anyway: the idea of California as a place of love, peace and faux-transcendent flower power.
Ok, given some general understanding that this California stuff is a myth, and not ACTUALLY the case, it doesn’t necessarily follow that something else has SUPPLANTED this myth in the general area of the city — it is still an overcrowded place full of a bunch of college educated people fostering illusions, with nowhere else to run. The melancholy of this geographical quandary arguably stalks throughout The 13 Crystal Skulls, and Indiana Jones and cavelike motifs call to mind cloistered images — being pent up and claustrophobic with no way to get out of your enclosed space.
The 13 Crystal Skulls would make great music for breaking out of jail to, like in The Shawshank Redemption, especially the penultimate (positioned correspondent on the album to where the cinematic climax would typically be) “Through the Ages,” which undergoes a percussive crescendo like if Wolf Eyes started doing easy listening with Fu** Buttons. The fact that Skulls highlights melody over rhythm, to punctuate its “ambient” label, to me, suggests that there is indeed SOME emotional attachment to these mental symbols in Wirsig’s mind, rather than being some suggestion that all virtue and unifying custom have left his contemporary surroundings.
In other words, Wirsig seems to be stating that we can all learn something from fantasy, and obtuse, obscure fantasy, at that — things the guy next to you might not have heard of, but might glean a certain levity from. And so instead of just saying, Hey, what if these past baubles were actually amazing reflections of time immemorial, he reminds us with gentle, cloaking melodies over fuzzy synths and deliberate drums, the NEED for fantasy, the need for replenishing, cosmically informing reference points to be DISTANT, in a world, in a town, where disillusionment is obviated.
Plain and simple: the highlights of this album come when the music forms itself as its most melodic, and Wirsig should be commended for recognizing his own strengths well. In no way is The 13 Crystal Skulls too long: in fact, I found one of the installments uncomfortably short, the precocious and stalwart third track “The Cave,” which sounds apt to take the baton of the whole project before stalling out at the 2:10 mark. Probably the most prominent recurring theme of this album is the idea of statements and clusters of musical modicum which develop very SLOWLY — it’s as if a manifesto in favor of the enterprise of patience, certainly refreshing, but when bombastic melody shines back in on track five “Carved Legend,” another of the album’s ace cards appears.
Now, don’t go putting this album on at a party, or at 11 am on your day off when you’re getting ready to go to a baseball game. By all accounts, it is a lugubrious ambient plunge into the depths of Wirsig’s melancholy thought pool, a sort of exorcising of demons which otherwise may have led to bad things happening. The repeated, undeniable idee fixee here, along with the whole patience and slow-developing thing, is claustrophobia, evoking a realm where entities move slightly and deliberately, if at all, and ominousness, in the midst of high-stakes, addling perception, is unleashed by the album’s sodden piano and synth riffs. In fact, this would make perfect music for smoggy traffic jams in California.
 Though there are still those questionable mystic tramps who proffer ancient archaeological ties.