23 Sep 2022 - Stephan
Psychedelic Rock, Space Rock | Worst Bassist Records | Release date: 21 Sep 2022
The year is 2022 and headlines read like they’ve been in cryogenic sleep for a century. Instead of battling the existential crisis of global species extinction, pollution and climate change together, humanity just keeps repeating all the old bullshit which makes matters even worse. And so Central Europe slides into a dramatic recession and prepares for a cold winter with harsh winds from the East. But with our self-induced dependency on authoritarian dictatorship energy we here are still very much the lucky ones, as we watch in apalling apathy how Europe’s biggest area state is overrun with the barbarity of war. This is not the opening paragraph for an album review.
It’s a weird, almost impossible mental picture to imagine oneself in the shoes of the ISS crew. And I’m not even speaking of the bummer that ninety-nine plus x percent of us are clearly lacking the qualifications, fitness or Elon Musk money to go to space. No, I’m just thinking of being part of that small team of international colleagues, working on a common goal, totally depending on each other in this very special confined space. How awkward must it feel to curve around this fragile planet with its enormous problems unfolding right before your eyes, while down there the governments of your respective countries seem less interested in providing any solution than in the pettiness of increasing egomania, narcism and nationalism? This still isn’t the opening paragraph for an album review. But we’re almost there.
For a small moment let’s forget that Russia has declared its withdrawal from the international space mission and even reanimated the rusty old Cold War propaganda insanity with an absurd threat of letting the ISS crash on American ground. Let’s rather focus on what it has been for many years: No matter how good or bad you personally assess the usefulness of the project in general; you cannot deny that the International Space Station has been an exemplary beacon of collaboration. When we see its light wandering over the night sky, how can we not appreciate the wonder that a thing like this is possible - if we just want it to work and pull on one string to do so? How can we not ask ourselves whether there is some hope left to come together and get stuff done? This is it! We’re in a music review now.
Lulu Neudeck, very truly indeed the worst - because sole - bassist of German contemporary Krautrock institution Electric Moon, has started a series of split albums, which has the potential of becoming a flagship operation for her young independent label Worst Bassist Records. Based on the simple idea of watching the ISS orbiting afar from different points on Earth, her beautifully presented aural interpretation of the International Space Station is manned with four different bands, one for each side of the double record, all contributing their own instrumental take on this theme. Welcome to almost ninety minutes of letting go of current earthly misery and following our artificial star through the lense of escapist sound!
We’re starting the observation in NASA’s own country with ElonMusk. No, not that beforementioned questionable bloke, but the actual band! He obviously borrowed his name from them, I guess because he’s also kind of invested in space. Repeatedly falling back into a contemplative mode centered around meandering sci-fi synth sounds, their twenty-two minute journey “Gods Of The Swamp Planet” breaks out into various heavier stages which connect this psychedelic, stars-facing longing with the swampiness of stoner rock and the epic monumentalismn of post metal.
The German-Austrian part of the crew are Electric Moon, taking command for a quarter-hour with the aptly titled two-part-track “Duality”. Its first half presses forward with a thick bass line and a very percussive groove. On top of it, the effect pedal stations of both wildy swirling guitars are running hot, until the burning comet’s tail suddenly vanishes and the band takes us into a much more ambient second part. Especially with the lead guitar interplay towards the end, which sprinkles an atmosphere reminiscent of Japanese post-rockers Mono onto the relaxing kraut jam, this piece may have a typical Electric Moon feeling overall, but does a couple of unexpected things in the details. The fan probably has already spotted a possible reason for that, as this recording from 2020 marks a quite significant change of guards for the band, being the first track where both departed founding member Dave Schmidt aka Sula Bassana and later overdubs by his successor Joe Muff can be heard playing the six strings. Which is quite a smooth way of handing over the space axe and reassuring fans that this Moon will keep shining. Don’t worry, the trio’s future seems safe!
From Sweden follows the longest of these astronomy soundtracks so far, the steady slow jam “Keeper Of The One Key”. Structurally, the sextet Kungens Män really keeps it rather simple here. The instantly familiar foundation is a very tradional blend of hypnotic psychedelic rock, a little floyd-ish, a little Eastern, but first and foremost coming straight from the blues. Bass and drums never lose their easy-going cool. Together with very subtle keyboards they lure the listener into a dreamy loop, in which the perception of time becomes a hazy memory, as a triumvirate of interweaving guitars washes over the listener in a hardly describable yet all the more cleansing way that makes it unmistakably obvious why Kungens Män are reverenced as masters of their craft by connoisseurs of the genre.
We’re already hovering in bliss for over an hour, as the icing on the cosmic cake still lies ahead. The name which surprised me the most on the line-up of International Space Station (Vol. 1) is also the one which made it most mandatory for me to get onboard: Last year’s Spellemann (the Norwegian “Grammy”) award winners for rock music Kanaan certainly are the band least associated with space rock sounds, even though I’ve already seen them cover Acid Mothers Temple live. But if one thing’s for sure, it’s that the trio around hyperactive drum madman Ingvald André Vassbø is capable of adapting. Given their fast discographic evolution from jazzy Mahavishnu Orchestra meets power-trio psych-rock on 2018’s Windborne to the mental guitar fuzz doom heaviness of 2021’s Earthbound, hearing them completely embracing their cosmic side in the longest, most playful and proggy jam here, seems very natural to this always amazingly well attuned band. “Beyond” is oozing so much musical chemistry that you never want it to end - a wish Kanaan seem to share, as the track’s length busts the physical restrictions of the vinyl format, so the full un-edited half-hour is reserved for the digital version.
A sure sign of a compilation being successful is when despite its variety of artists it feels like one cohesive piece of art. International Space Station (Vol. 1) achieves this goal with a clear, yet still loose enough conceptional directive, which makes the team move together just close enough to work perfectly.
If you’re a long-term fan of one or more of the participating groups or of modern acid rock in general, you won’t need much convincing to add this gem to your collection. But even if you’re completely unfamiliar with this whole scene, yet interested in dipping your toes into the wide world of spaced-out guitar music, I would highly recommend this idealized ISS homage as a gateway experience to the genre.
The second part of the series is already being planned, but given the insane state of… well, you know basically the state of everything, commander Lulu of course isn’t overconfident enough to cast a timetable in stone yet. Let’s cross fingers and hope the real station will still be orbiting around a hopefully a little more peaceful planet then! This is a closing paragraph - not only for an album review.