Gateway Drugs: 6 Stoner Picks for Sober People

“Bleach” Photo: Maya Robinson and Photo by Hulu

As pot has become increasingly widespread and legal, pot culture has seeped into the mainstream. So come trip with us through Stoner Week on Vulture as we explore bleary-eyed entertainment in its various guises, from the weirdest outpourings to the business behind it all. See more from Stoner Week »

The problem with art affiliated with stoner culture is best summed up by a Das Racist song title: “You’ll get it when you’re high.” What if you never are? That kind of claim is often made by stoners trying to justify the things they like that other folks find a bit impenetrable, and it’s a defense that sort of obscures the fact that, well, people tend to have pretty iffy judgment when they’re baked.

But you can breathe easy because, like with any form of art, there are plenty of gateways into stoner-affiliated pop culture for everyone else. Here’s a few recommendations to get you acclimated:

1. Psychedelic Rock 
Back in the days of Pink Floyd’s prime, you’d need some solid lung capacity just to get to the place where you derive pleasure from all the extended song structures, metaphysical lyrics, and lengthy guitar solos. Over the last several years, though, a new class of bands (MGMT, Animal Collective) have made psych warmer, fuzzier, and altogether more palatable — a pop-focused take on a genre that typically resisted straightforward melodies and approachability. The latest reinvention of psych rock’s whacked-out wheel comes from Australian warlocks Tame Impala, whose upcoming third album Currents mixes French house, hip-hop beats, buttery soul, and gooey melodicism without giving listeners the spins. (The band’s earlier effort, Lonerism, earned a spot on our Stoner Canon.)

2. Experimental Films
Trippy cinematic classics like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo and Holy Mountain can be as baffling as they are visually stunning, offering precious little in terms of narrative or emotive acting, with everything subsumed towards a purpose of a deeper hidden meaning — whatever that may be. To wade into these hazy waters, try the 1980 thriller Altered States, an adaptation of the only novel written by Network screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. At once a love story and a cautionary tale against taking science too far, Altered States is a solidly made B-movie with a psychedelic blowout of a third act that’s as thrilling as it is intoxicating, a perfect mix of the melodramatic and the sublime.

3. Whacked-out late-night TV
Stoners and the sleep-deprived have a lot in common: trouble waking up, terrible eating habits, and a love for all things TV after 11:30 p.m. The increasingly meme-centric trappings of late-night talk shows aside, after-hours boob-tube fare typically swings between the mundane (vintage reruns; C-SPAN) and the absolutely surreal (cartoons aimed at adults), two zones that provide plenty of giggling fodder for weed-heads. If you’re looking for midnight fare that doesn’t require too much bong-ripping, though, you could certainly do worse than Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories. The comedy duo of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are acquired tastes that, at their most unhinged, deliver a kind of comedy that doesn’t seem to have jokes, but Bedtime Stories is their most straightforward — and arguably most pleasurable — project to date, a horror anthology offering a few eerie twists on the genre while still maintaining the duo’s confrontational edge. But here, the horror aspects provide counterbalance to the anti-comedy, so Bedtime Stories works as entertainment even when it may befuddle as comedy.

4. Reggae
You might think Bob Marley’s perpetually best-selling Legend compilation would be the obvious starting point, but not so: It’s a fine collection of songs, but also offers a version of reggae at its most mainstream and slick. For a deeper, headier, but still accessible version of the music — which non-acolytes can find repetitive thanks to its unchanging on-the-upbeat rhythm pattern, and at times impenetrable due to its jargon-heavy lyrics — you can start with the Congos’$2 1977 album The Heart of the Congos. Lee “Scratch” Perry’s deft production touch strikes a delicate balance between fogginess and clarity, and the band embraces reggae’s sense of repetition and stolid vibe without wearing on listeners’ patience. Songs like “Open Up the Gate” sound like they’re blissfully climbing to an unreachable peak, perfect for re-creating that intangible something that the genre’s fans are constantly seeking.

5. Non-Children’s Cartoons
The best animation makes you feel like you’ve traveled to an imaginary world without even getting off your ass. In other words, it’s stoner manna, and Hulu’s current collection of anime is a godsend for anyone looking to visit far-out places. Some anime tends to take it too far, though, in terms of abstraction — totems in the genre like Cowboy Bebop and FLCL sometimes don’t make a whole lot of sense — so your best bet would be to start with Bleach, a visually arresting actioner with the undead, big swords, life-and-death concepts, and other stuff the stoned mind tends to gravitate towards but that’s still effective when you’re at your sharpest.

6. Metal
Since the days of Black Sabbath, metal’s been a hard sell for the unconverted. Even if you get past the music’s sheer sonic intensity, the vocals, particularly in more recent iterations of the genre, are often abrasive and impossible to understand, and the overall brutalism on display is often best experienced at massive volumes, the kind that feels great when you’re as distorted as the music is. San Francisco aesthetes Deafheaven don’t hold back on embracing metal’s basic foundation — George Clarke’s scorching howl is proof of that — but their second album, Sunbather, pairs his coarse expressionism with landscapes equally inspired by shoegaze’s melodic swirl and post-rock’s evocative sweep. It’s as uplifting as heavy music gets — the type of metal equally suited for Friday Night Lights binge-watchers as it is for dope-smoking Dopesmoker listeners. Metal is about as un-toe-dippable as musical genres get, but Sunbather is worth a shot.

6 Stoner Picks for Sober People