You Don't Hear That On Radio One
I was recently sent a review copy of the wonderful double compilation cd, 'Flourescent Tunnelvision' by the New York label Submergence. Old Krautrockers, Faust had contributed one track which I was immediately attracted to but it was a piece, 'So Near And Yeti So Far' by San Francisco's space rock band Subarachnoid Space that I kept coming back to. 'Space Rock', I can hear the guardians of cool cringing. Good. I don't want to convert anyone. If you think it belongs in the aborted Silver Machine with Hawkwind or on the shelves of anoraks who flock to Star Trek conventions, that's fine.
The track I'd heard made me want to hear some more and their generous spirited guitarist Mason Jones sent me a couple of recent recordings; 'A New And Exact Map' and 'These Things Take Time'. They are an unassuming four piece using the standard instruments of an improvising 'rock' band ; guitars, organ, synthesiser, bass and percussion. I'm sure they don't consider themselves great innovators but they make music that is atmospheric, powerful and, well, spacious.
Let's have an example. O.K. 'Drink Me' from their 'Map' album is a short, dark excursion that offers none of the reassuring rhythms of a rock band but instead sketches a bleak terrain where forlorn guitars wander as synths oscillate overhead. It also merges seamlessly, into 'Indy Maru', a track which invites you to visit a landscape full of alien tinkling from various percussion. Someone seems to have borrowed the ghost of Rick Wright's organ too, the one last seen hovering over Eugene's axe. Faint metallic breezes issue across a desolate domain and unidentified howlings echo and vanish. Of course, like any good 'space rock' it builds and ebbs, climaxes come and go as harsh, whining guitar suddenly gives way to reflective organ/synth washes. They crank up a gear or two on 'Fruity Drinks With Little Umbrellas' and off we go into almost stellar overdrive, despite the un-spacey title.
'These Things Take Time' was recorded live on radio station KFJC and features no track titles, just the letters A to G. As you might expect, it is basically one long piece which ranges over a variety of moods. Most of the action takes place around the guitars of Mason Jones and Melynda Jackson who, between them, boil up thrashings of distorted electronic interplay. But just as easily they will set up a drone and embellish it with a minimum of notes. Chatterings and scratchings take place beneath a few sustained and shredded chords. Occasionally, organ or theremin will conjure up other-worldly textures or even 'spacey' noises. If anyone ever wanted to make a movie of some of H.P.Lovecraft's darker visions this would make an ideal soundtrack.
One slight drawback; as the guitars flay and ricochet off on extended journeys, perhaps not quite to the heart of the sun, the bass tends to plod, simply keeping time I guess. And the drums can fall into similar pedestrian mode. While you are invited to wander among the walls of sound that make up these shifting landscapes the rhythm section keeps its feet firmly on terra firma. It's not that big a deal but you do notice it after a while and wish they would do something unexpected.
Anyway, there are no daft lyrics or references to space rituals just solid playing and I have to say it must be time for a space rock revival. What do you reckon ?
© Paul Donnelly 2001