This is a grand album with a grand title. A set of tracks that over the duration of four sides of vinyl require the listener to commit to it. This is not background music for a dinner party, unless your idea of an evening around a table is to engage in hallucinogenic cuisine. But while this album is a challenge it is, at times, also strangely easy on the ears. So while there are elements of experimental music here that are difficult and dissonant there are also oases of accessibility in the guise of more recognisable space rock and even of cool jazz.
Soma was the substance that the priests of ancient India used to imbibe in order to connect with the divine. It was part of an early oral tradition that was relayed through these experiences. It was ritual at its simplest and most visceral, and provided the priests with a religious power that was ineffable. Once the soma plant was lost, however, that power and experience had to be expressed through words and more formalised ritual. Without it something fundamental was lost.
I found these thoughts useful when listening to this Sounds of New Soma (SONS) album, the band’s third, given the way that the duo from Krefeld, Germany describe themselves as delivering “cosmic sound encounters of the third kind. Music enthusiasts Alexander Djelassi and Dirk Raupach have immersed themselves deeply in a plethora of genres from the far side of the mainstream. They formed SONS in 2013 in order to materialize their tonal vision of a cosmic voyage in the aftermath of a psychedelic trip.”
Of course most instrumental music, not least space rock, is there to explain experiences in a way that words cannot… and for me instrumental music has always allowed a greater potential for me to discern my own meaning; and this sort of music helps me to do that more deeply than most… sonic soma perhaps.
Having settled this in my mind, my next challenge with this sprawling album was to try to make sense of it in a single sitting, which is how I always like to review records. Eventually I found that I could probably distill the whole thing down into two words: ‘beautiful’ and ‘idiosyncratic’…
So I could leave it there, but you are probably going to want a bit more to go on than that. So here’s a brief track by track synopsis:
‘Bundesgartenshau ’71’ (National Garden Show ’71 – it was held in Cologne): a nice gentle intro to the album. Lots of pastoral themes and a sense of lightness and openness. There is little indication of what is to come other than some psychedelic pulses towards the end of the track perhaps indicating that we are at the beginning of a journey.
‘Der gruene Pilz’ (the green mushroom): a spoken word piece reminiscent of early ‘Krautrock’ free-form works, I assume that the ‘Pilz’ (mushroom) in question here is the soma replacement… freaky and abstract, the trip starts here!
‘Einheit des Lichtes’ (unity of light): a lush electronic beginning very quickly disintegrates into something more disconnected and disconcerting. Again the influence of German groups of the early ’70s, more Can than Neu, is in evidence here.
‘Garten des Lichtes’ (garden of light): the disorientation initially persists with a continuation of abstract electronic sounds that gradually seem to garner some coherence and focus. From there this, for me, is a ten minute meditation with a central and dominant drone which facilitates the satellites of sounds that circle it…. give in to it!
‘Das weisse Rauschen’ (the white noise): opening with a melody of sorts, this gradually gives way to increasingly heavier sound oscillations which dominate until the shrill chiming melody returns at the end. Probably the most challenging track of the album… get through this and you’re well on your way.
‘Spandau‘: after a series of inward-looking and quite claustrophobic tracks the music really opens up into a much smoother jazz-based track with some chilled out sax adding to the general ambience… this works really well after the abstractions that have just passed… like a moment of lucidity.
‘Wahn’ (delusion): a single electronic riff is repeated for the duration of the track worming its way into your brain mercilessly to the extent that it’s still going in your head halfway into the next track.
‘Schwurbel’ (sworn): another lucid track that is both lush and beautiful. There’s a real feeling of coming down here with some lovely soft psych guitar amidst darker and more ominous sounds.
‘Schönheit’ (beauty): lots of space in this track, which has a sort of hollowness to it until that begins to be filled towards the end. If this is about beauty, then its a dark sinister beauty with flashes of Morricone adding to a feeling of unease that grows here.
‘Wurmloch’ (wormhole): as you might expect from the title this is where things get really spacey and, although this could be said to be a space rock album in concept, this is probably the track most recognisable as being a number that is firmly within that genre… and a pretty impressive one to boot. The music really drives you forward, always on the leading edge… probably my favourite here.
‘Duftnote’ (fragrance): the final track wraps things up with gentle come down that is both easy on the ear and the mind. It is almost a lullaby that is no doubt reflective of the long and challenging sonic journey that the listener has experienced, and now needs to integrate back with some level of reality.
‘La Grande Bellezza’ is a hugely ambitious project which Sounds of New Soma just about pull off. It is by no means an easy listen, but it is ultimately a rewarding one, and while the taking of certain substances may help your experience of this (and I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t) there is plenty there for those of us who do not indulge. In short it is well worth the eighty or so minutes it takes you to journey around the different places of your psyche… leaving you in a tired yet strangely cleansed state by the end.
‘La Grande Bellezza’ is released by Tonzonen Records, and is available in the following formats:
2LP, orange marbled high quality vinyl, gatefold cover, 12-page booklet and download-code.