When Earthling Society decided to call it a day last year I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand here was a band that had constantly and consistently confounded expectations. A band who turned out interesting music played well, morphing the way we think about psychedelic music on the way. On the other it was good that it ended on a high with a run of fine albums that will surely stand the test of time… played by people who are always going to put out great sonics.
Which brings us nicely to this album by Taras Bulba, which is essentially what Fred Laird and Jon Blacow did next. In one sense it would be very tempting to say that this feels like just another Earthling Society album, another change and evolution like many of the others that have taken place during the lifetime of that band. Except I really do not think it is.
This feels like something different. Rather it seems that this is a set of music that is looser with generally shorter tracks, and of a greater variety. As such there is more of a feel of experimentation and innovation, a stripping back to first principles… without ever sounding lo-fi.
The album opens with ‘Hashish’, which on one hand has an very strong Eastern vibe with a raga structure, that transports me back to the tour of remote Indian villages I did in my youth. But there is something else here too, a sort of uneasiness that somehow affects the purity of that style of music… it is as if there is another level of consciousness impinging onto the soundscape… a consciousness that gradually takes over and eradicates the original sound.
After that you would expect a track called ‘Morrocan Waves’ to sound just as it does. A free flowing Arabic vibe with some some superb guitar, as you would expect, but also a strong folk feel which drew me back to some of the Harvester-era Swedish sounds. As it progresses, Laird and Blacow add more layers of sound really building up a sonic wall before it all suddenly drops out into an initially less frantic section. This adds a real sense of mystery to the whole thing. A great track which really takes you on an atmospheric journey, leaving you in a different place from where you started.
‘On Mt Kailash’ is different again, a really calm and meditative track that kind of melts into you, or you into it. You feel a certain symbiosis with it the more you listen to it. I really like the atmosphere that it creates, forcing you to slow down and develop your awareness.
This is, to a certain extent, is continued with ‘I Hadit U Nuit’ with its considered tone and soaring guitar. However, if the previous track chilled you out this has the opposite effect. By this I mean that it is so outgoing in attitude, and as it develops it takes you on a journey of discovery that feels so positive and affirming.
Before I saw the title of the next track (I always listen through first) I thought that this sounded like a blues track, without it actually being a blues track. So I was not surprised to see it was called ‘Rising Lazarus Blues’. The first half of the song has an empty/ hollow feel to it, with a palpable melancholy that I find empathic rather than depressive. The second section, however, feels more hopeful and seems like it is building towards some real crescendo… which never arrives, but actually that doesn’t matter because by the end… you no longer have the blues.
Yet another change of pace with ‘The Neon Midnight’ which sees the duo go back into their sonic shell. A tight and, in some ways, claustrophobic track which is given additional impetus with Mike Blatchford’s sax. Yet at times the music breaks out into vignettes of openness and optimism. The night becomes day and the light streams in, before the canopy closes over again and we are back in our cocoon. I really like how light and dark are portrayed here on what is currently my favourite track on the album.
‘The Yo-Yo Man’ sees a real mix of styles compete for attention, with elements of jazz and dub in particular working together to create something that sounds coherent and fragmented at the same time. Around two-thirds of the way through there is a step up which for me is the finest moment on the album… one of those sublime moves that just takes things onto another level.
The set ends with ‘Goin’ West’, which is probably the biggest surprise in an album of surprises. Easily the most electronic track, it really sends you off in a completely different direction with its beats, drones and subtle dub undertones. It is experimental, but in a different way from the rest of the album somehow. It also feels like a fragment of something greater that may emerge from it… a pointer perhaps to some future direction.
…and actually that’s what this album feels like, a compilation of ideas rather than a coherent album. I don’t mean that as a criticism rather that it seems to be made up of nine very different tracks, any one of which possesses its own style which could be worked up into an LP on its own. In this respect there is a similarity with the Earthling Society approach.. but in other respects there is a definite break from Laird and Blacow’s previous outings in tone and approach… a new and very promising beginning.
‘One’ is available now from Riot Season Records here.
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