Album Review: Echo by Atomic Simao

‘Nōdo’ by Atomic Simao is one of those albums that appeared out of nowhere for me. From the very first listen I knew that it would be an album that I would enjoy and keep playing, and that has proved to be the case. I really like it’s laid back space-jazz feel, and often put it on when I want to kick back and zone out. That release was nearly four years ago, however, and I must admit that I had not given a great deal of thought as to when a follow up would come out, let alone what it would be like.

Then, again seemingly from nowhere, comes a new Atomic Simao album, entitled ‘Echo’. Armed with this knowledge I went scrambling excitedly to their Bandcamp page wondering what this new release would be like, with a name like ‘Echo’ would it be a sonic reflection of ‘Nōdo’? Or would it something altogether different?

Before revealing the answer to these questions perhaps I should step back a bit. Atomic Simao are from Kiev in the Ukraine, the band was formed in 2012, and currently comprises five members:

Georgiy Valchuk – drums, percussion
Nikita Gavrilenko – bass
Andriy Volkov – keys, samples, fx
Evhen Sofiychuk – guitar
Dima Dudko – sax

What’s more it turns out that there have been two releases in between ‘Nōdo’ and ‘Echo’, 2013’s ‘Sphere’ and 2015’s ‘Poly’ (which seems to be more like a number of remixes of the same track), neither of which I’m familiar with…but I’m sure that I’ll be checking them out.

Back, though, to the job in hand. I have to say that the first track on ‘Echo’, simply called ‘Intro’ hit me like a ton of bricks. It totally surprised me with it’s mixture of high powered electronica and funk reminding me, in a thoroughly good way, of early Chemical Brothers, while ‘The Mask’ quickly powers up with a complex mixture of riffing guitar, funky jazz grooves and soaring sax.

Collectively these two tracks are a brilliant way to open an album and one that really gets you into the mood for what might lie ahead. This certainly was not going to be the laid back trippy groove of ‘Nōdo’, but a much more funky ‘in your face’ sound that was no so much going to chill you out as work up a sweat…there is some dancing to be done to this album for those so minded. ‘The Mask’ is by no means a straight funk-fest though as there are a lot of rhythms going on here which gradually seem to get disrupted as the track finds its conclusion.

Next up is ‘Around The Sun’, which is more the space journey that Atomic Simao have been known for. Within this there are some more conventional jazz grooves which gradually pick up pace to break out into a really fun freak out that really drives forward for what seems like no time at all, but is well over eight minutes. Nice laid back interlude before..

‘The Fox’ is one funky animal that just has you jumping to your feet and getting down. This could be 1970s Harlem such is the authentic sound that is bouncing from my speakers, just an amazing feel good track (not a phrase I’m used to writing I must admit). If ‘The Fox’ came up one of those ace Blaxplotaition compilations you’d think nothing of it…it’s that good, and when the sax drifts in it’s sublime.

After that it’s rather disconcerting to hear a Russian sample, although the easy groove that ‘I’m Your Eyes Here’ settles into is not. Initially this could seem to be just another jazz funk track, but there’s an immediacy to this which sets it apart as it really builds up a head of steam, driven by some pretty nailed on drumming that gives a psych edge to the track, which then disintegrates into something altogether more abstract and spacey.

‘Liquid Shadows’ is a slow atmospheric number that really gets down and dirty, again with that sax working both with and against the grain of the track to great effect. There is an undercurrent of surf guitar in places which really adds to its surrealism making it as unpredictable as much of the rest of the album.

With this is mind I was getting to point where I wondered what could come next. ‘Space Veils’, from the title at least, suggested a reversion to previous Atomic Simao themes. To a certain extent this is the case, since it feels much more open and panoramic than much of the rest of the album. Not a massive departure, but certainly another direction to be taken in what is building up to be an eclectic cosmic jazz journey which is calling at many different sonic space ports along the way before we get to ‘Outro’ which eases us gently back into the real world again…or is it?

Overall ‘Echo’ is an album that surprised me at first because it was not what I was expecting from the band’s previous offering. As I listened through a few times I began to think that this was as ‘out there’ as ‘Nōdo’, but in a way that was perhaps disguised by the sheer funkiness of many of the tracks here. This was less the space jazz star liner leading the fleet as, in places, the P-Funk Mothership bringing back the agents of Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication laying out cosmic grooves to deliver Planet Earth. That’s not to say that it’s a Clinton clone ship, rather its own sound with a certain level of homagé mixed in.

Most of all this is a fine eclectic mix of grooves that will chill you out and put a massive smile on your face, and for that reason alone it is well worth a listen.


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