Album Appreciation: Drug Rings of Saturn by Oulu Space Jam Collective

The Oulu Space Jam Collective (OSJC) are a Finnish group that I have come across many times, but never quite got into. Maybe that is because their works tend to be long improvised affairs which take some commitment to really appreciate… I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve been missing out all this time because this triple album… see what I mean… is an absolute barnstormer.

The OSJC have being going as an entity since 2014, bringing out a string of, mainly digital, releases which have contributed to a growing reputation… but perhaps a little bit of frustration from vinyl freaks that there have been few wax releases. It’s true that their long jams may not be best set for that medium, but I’m delighted to say that Adansonia Records have taken the plunge in bringing out this excellent triple album… with one track filling the entire middle disc, more of which later.

The album begins with ‘Nebulus Horn’ a track that starts in a rather steady and sound manner. You very much feel as if you are entering something very grand… the band are straight into their improvisation and begin to build things up… the saxophone adding a certain tone to the proceedings that tells me that I need to strap in for what it going to be a real ride. Then about halfway through the fifteen minute track the OSJC take things up a couple of notches… leaving what I thought was a pretty fine track in splinters at the side of the road… the whole premise of the track nebulised in a frenzy of very well organised chaos… a real opener and a half!

After that ‘Soft Velvet Underbelly’ takes us way back to the start of our journey again… this time a much calmer and more understated start… you can feel the cosmic gases flowing by as we head on out into uncharted territory. After around four minutes an acoustic guitar kicks in and invites the rest of the collective to set course for distant stars in the form of a slow but steady build up. It is during a section such as this that you can really feel the excellence of the musicianship as the pace and togetherness of the band starts to pay dividends… the guitar playing in the section is second to none as celestial themes are developed and you can feel the sonic energy well up inside the band. The track then takes us off on a really zoned out experience which is just what the cosmic captain ordered. The track, like the set as a whole, never disappears into the background though with enough going on to keep you interested as you drift through inner space.

Which brings us to ‘Inside The Dovecote’, at nearly fifty minutes the longest track I have ever reviewed… I’m interested to know how I will do this. Here we see the return of the sax, and this contributes to a overall jazz-like feel of the opening minutes… there is something very seductive about the way this starts… perhaps easing us in gently… energising us for the trip that we are just about to embark on. While listening to this my mind came round to thinking about the ‘slow movement’… the idea that we can appreciate things more when we slow them right down… that flavours come out much better in slow cooking… that travelling at 4mph on a canal boat is far more relaxing than at motorway pace… that walking helps us appreciate the world around us more.

Similarly to get inside such a long piece of music is to escape from the frantic nature of the world… frankly there is plenty to forget these days… and in a saturated age of information becoming emptier seems to be something that is very attractive. Not that ‘Inside The Dovecote’ is empty, rather it is spacious and well-paced… it gives us room to breathe and room to think… commit yourself to this track… to this whole set… and you are going to benefit from it enormously, especially, if I may suggest, if you go off-line.

At about twenty six minutes (I know) the band begins to pick the pace up a bit… the whole piece feels so loose and free with a great mid-section of swirling keyboard and a very slow and deliberate bassline. This gradually morphs into a longish final section which takes the track home… never really breaking that basic pace so keeping the overall tenor of the number throughout, arriving at an end point that feels satisfying… with a personal feeling of calmness and fulfillment.

Following on from that ‘Sax Offender’, at ‘only’ around eight minutes, feels almost poppy by comparison. A much more upbeat number, it nevertheless has that same combinations of jazz/ space improv that marks the OSJC throughout. Nevertheless this is a track that you can really get your groove on with, should you be so minded.

‘Within the Painted Desert’ has quite a different feel to it, with a guitar sound that almost mimics a harpsichord that I guess could be termed ‘space baroque’ as the swirls of more familiar keyboard sounds go off in the background. This gradually emerges with the introduction of a tabla into something that sounds quite Middle Eastern… a mix of styles that is quite heady… at this stage I’m not sure where my head is going with this one.

This changes after about seven minutes which what sounds like a second movement. The introduction of strings here smoothens out the sound and I feel almost immediately transported elsewhere… and the when the sax kicks in… wow, such a lovely moment… I feel enrobed by the music… so soft and so subtle… just beautiful. I will now pause to fully take it in… five minutes or so later and I’ve been totally beguiled by the interaction on the bass and guitar here… gentle taken along by the tabla which is mixed at just the right level on this track by Jan Dirk Müller (Cosmic Ground/ Electric Orange).

Following that simply sublime mid-section the track comes back to some of the themes from the beginning… but now we feel as if in thick undergrowth with noises that sound to me like birds and animals. Alongside them are the reassurance of that ‘baroque guitar’ line which acts as a siren guiding us through to whatever the other side is… again, what a journey… what a trip!

Then out of nowhere the band turn on their Neu! thrusters and we’re headed of on a motorik voyage to the far side of who knows where… this is a brilliant change of pace at the end of such a long and considered journey and, along with the funky ‘Sax Offender’ provides a really great counterpoint to the OSJC’s other works.

All in all I am really happy to have finally found the Oulu Space Jam Collective. They are both what I expected and surprising at the same time… I wasn’t sure how I’d react to such a long set, especially a single track weighing in at very nearly an hour… but it is so well played and considered that in the end I was beginning to wish that it wouldn’t stop at all…. My next hope is that I can get to see this band live some time… because I imaging that will be very special indeed!

‘Drug Rings of Saturn’ is released on Adansonia Records on a limited run of 300 sets as follows:

– 200 x classic edition, black vinyl, 180g, inlay, hand-numbered
– 100 x stardust edition, clear with glitter vinyl, inlay, hand-numbered (direct only)

LP’s come in fully laminated matt slipcase and black padded inner sleeves.



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