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See Inside January / February 2011

CD

Tuning in: Theory of My Mind
by the Amygdaloids .
Knock Out Noise, 2010 ($10.99)

Many rock songs are inspired by love or pain, or some heart-wrenching combination of the two. But it seems only fair to dedicate a few songs to the organ that makes music possible: the brain. Enter the new album, Theory of My Mind, by the Amygdaloids, a band that comprises three neuroscientists and one biologist from New York University.

The songs plumb our deepest emotional experiences—appropriate, given that the group's name refers to the amygdala, the brain region responsible for emotional processing that the band members study. The style is reminiscent of 1960s and early 1970s rock—imagine the Beach Boys meet the Doors. Insightful lyrics deal with topics in neuroscience, including fear, anger, imagination, memories and dreams. For instance, lead singer Joseph E. LeDoux maps how traumatic memories form, and drummer Daniela Schiller focuses on how the brain responds to fear and manages it.

The dark tracks are some of the most compelling. One example is “Fearing,” a song based on a poem by Emily Dickinson and performed by LeDoux. “ 'Tis harder knowing that fear is due than knowing it is here,” he sings, capturing the distress and apprehension fear brings.

“Crime of Passion,” a song featuring Roseanne Cash on backing vocals, explores the nature of impulsivity through the story of a man who kills his wife in an angry rage. And perhaps the most evocative song, “Brainstorm,” uses haunting guitar riffs and poignant lyrics to delve into the strange paranoid feelings that may afflict someone suffering a mental breakdown.

In a way, Theory of My Mind seems like its own research project. Part of understanding our emotions is experiencing them. As the Amygdaloids explore emotions in their songs, the band evokes equally powerful feelings in their listeners—a near impossible feat to accomplish in the lab. —Melinda Wenner Moyer

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