Album Appreciation: Szabodelico by Causa Sui

This may sound like sacrilege to many readers, but one of the things that I’ve done during the lockdown is slim down my record collection. Lack of space and restricted access to my turntable have meant that opportunities to play wax have been more limited than ever, and I must admit that I have found the controlled and focussed letting go of vinyl has been somewhat cathartic.

There were, however, a number of bands who were definitely off limits as far as this sell-off was concerned, one of which was Causa Sui. This is because they are an act who I know that I will play over and over again… and a group who, when I do get an evening alone with my record player, I will devote hour upon hour of listening to their music.

This is because their sounds are always thoughtful and innovative, as I explained in my review of their previous album, ‘Vibraciones Doradas’:

So why do I like Causa Sui so much? Well for one thing I think that they are a pretty unique band, not an easy thing to achieve with so much great music about these days. OK, interesting answer but that doesn’t really take us any further forward, so let’s take another step back and ask what makes the band unique? Actually let’s start with some basics. According to Wikipedia ‘Causa Sui’ (a Latin term meaning “cause of itself”) “denotes something which is generated within itself. This concept was central to the works of Baruch Spinoza, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ernest Becker, where it relates to the purpose that objects can assign to themselves.” Without going into some great philosophical treatise how might this apply to four amazing Danish musicians (Jakob Skøtt, Jonas Munk, Rasmus Rasmussen and Jess Kahr) let’s take another tack. This is because the name does hint to their uniqueness I think. Each of these guys has gone off and explored their own musical path between Causa Sui recordings and come back with what they have learned and added it into the mix.  This is an exploration both jointly and, perhaps even more important, severally means that each time they get together there has been a shift in ability and knowledge that they are somehow able to almost seamlessly integrate. This, for me. is why they are unique and why their music is a ’cause of itself’.

…and this stands again for this new release.

‘Szabodelico’ marks yet another shift for this band, and will be yet another candidate for a long listening session with a good malt whisky once this pandemic is all over.

Until then I can also say that this is a set of tracks that is very much welcome to my ears. That’s because as the Autumn sun streams through my window for a change, this accomplished and relatively upbeat music is hitting just the right nerve as I seek the positives within the considerable current negatives of life.

But this is an overview, let’s see what a closer look at the 13 tracks over four sides of vinyl bring us.

Well, the first thing to say is that the fact that there a so many in itself marks something of a departure… only the title track (7’14”) and the final number, ‘Merging Waters’ (9’52”), could be classed as anything like long, suggesting that this set requires something of a different approach.

This is something which is not perhaps clear from the beginning… the pop-single length ‘Echoes of Light’ being something of an overture, almost a tune-up for the band, a chance for us to settle into our listening positions and clear our sonic palettes…

However, as soon as this segues into ‘Gabor’s Path’ you find yourself in the sunlit uplands, in a place where the fuzz of past albums is behind you… it feels clean and it feels fresh… and it also feels beautiful and right. This is a different Causa Sui… but it is not a radical departure as an El Paraiso release… and for that go back to what I said about the members of the band going away and doing their own things between records. This is just a fantastically positive track that seems designed to make you feel happy.

After that comes ‘Sole Elettrico’. Where ‘Gabor’s Path’ was all about the organ and funky bass, here the guitar takes centre stage with the sort of presence that you would expect from a Causa Sui release, but it is what is going on behind it that is different… with a bucolic ‘backing track’ that brings to mind a sun drenched clearing just after the rain… clean and fresh… this is brought into sharp focus by a fast central section which is as exciting as it is unexpected in that setting.

“Under the Spell’ brings a sense of melancholy into the proceedings… a time to take stock and think about where we are. And while the guitar again takes the lead and sets the narrative there are elements underneath that prove to be so atmospheric and… especially with repeat listens… take the track to the next level.

After that welcome moment of introspection we are back with the more upbeat groove of ‘Vibratone’. All of a sudden it feels like I’m driving along the French Riviera in a vintage Ferrari, in one of those 1970s series that seemed so sophisticated, especially to my teenage self. And yet there is so much more going on here when you get down to it… and the sophistication actually lies in the complex lattice of jazz beats and ‘kraut’ sensibilities that really make this a journey to remember.

That effortless sophistication continues with ‘Laetitia’, the introduction of the flute being of particular note… there are elements of desert rock here, the sort that you might hear from The Myrrors, but this is within a framework that, again, is far more clear… as if you are picking yourself up after a sandstorm… seeing the clear horizon as if for the first time, and wonder at the peaceful new topology that the storm had wrought.

Hitting the title track somehow gives us a chance to stretch out a bit… The shorter numbers on this album take a little bit of getting used to because you expect longer and more freaky jams… and I suspect that a number of the tracks will turn into just that when played live. Anyway that’s just another way of saying that while the heavy fuzzy Causa Sui is nowhere near back, this does have the feel and tempo of some of their work on previous outings. And while the other tracks here by no means feel stifled, this does have that gradualness to it which sees the band open out into a sound that is progressive (not particualrly in the genre sense) and hit a psych sweet-spot that we would miss were it not there at some point.

I’m not sure how the tracks fall on the vinyl, but the end of ‘Szabodelico’ feels like it should be an album closer, and equally ‘Honeydew’ feels like a new start. Simple and stark, yet strangely mellifluous… it acts as a lovely way to reset and go again.

This is strengthened by ‘Lucien’s Best’ which has an almost classic rock feel as you sort of just fall into the track… from there the band take you off on a mazey journey through the undergrowth… you never stray far from the path… but there again it’s such a rewarding path that you would never want to… All the tracks on this album are like a breath of fresh air… but the air in each case is different yet affirming.

On ‘Premonitions’, as with “Under the Spell”, we get a tinge of despondency… a short reality check which, as with its predecessor, nicely punctuates the ‘feel good’ nature of this double album. It is like a reality check which then only goes on to accentuate the rest of the set, and here leads nicely into ‘Rosso Di Serra Bel Tempo Is Spera’. This is a thoughtful and mediative track that leaves you feeling calm and relaxed, in line with most of the second half of this album.

This is confirmed with ‘La Jolla’ which continues along the same lines with laidback/ easygoing sort of vibe… the sort of music that evokes the feeling you get as you watch the sun slowly go down on another day, a sense of achievement and experience, tinged with the regret that it is nearly over… yet living in hope for what is yet to come…

Which brings us to the final, and longest, number here: ‘Merging Waters’. Here the more reflective tone is maintained as you find yourself being taken along a path that is as empty and stark as anything that Causa Sui have, to my knowledge, done. There is a real sparseness here… and intent to allow the music to breathe…and with it the listener, and while the tracks on this album do have their own feel there is a sense that these are brought together here… at least psychologically. It is like we have stopped at a number of different places, taken the air, absorbed the atmosphere, and can now make sense of them in this almost ambient piece.

As you will have gathered by now this, in many ways, is a departure for Causa Sui… and yet their music is still a ’cause of itself’. Each track here is evocative of something, and that will surely be in the ear of each listener. For me these different ‘somethings’ combine to ultimately become greater than the sum of their parts. So while I am sure the band did not set out to create a musical journey, the vignettes that they bring do seem to awaken something more substantial when taken as a whole.

‘Szabodelico’ is released by El Paraiso Records.



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