Album Appreciation: One by Nova Express

This album is completely new to me, in fact in one sense it is new for everyone… certainly in terms of the track listing. In reality this the sole album from the band Nova Express, released in 2001, and now remastered and resequenced. When you listen to it, however, your first thought is unlikely to be the fact that it is a couple of decades old. Furthermore, I absolutely love the fact that the late Torbjörn Abelli, bassist of seminal Swedish band Träd, Gräs och Stenar, declared on its release, “This album will mature and be perfect twenty years from now”. Well here we are twenty years later and I have to say that Abelli is not far wrong.

There is also something rather perfect in releasing this album in a way that fulfils his prediction, by a label in Rocket Recordings who have done much to further the influence of Abelli’s band through a series of releases by the likes of Hills, OCH, Centrum and Flowers Must Die… all of whom also sit in that earthy Swedish musical tradition. Maybe, in this sense, it has become a deliberately fulfilled prophecy… however, without the music to back this up it would have fallen flat. So it is that when I first heard this revived album I was absolutely blown away and, as has happened with a number of recordings that I have been hopelessly late to over the years, I am caught between having missed out on it for all that time while also revelling in the recent memory of hearing it for the first time… and enjoying that moment… and I must say that I am really enjoying getting to know this record.

The new running order begins with ’Fredhäll’, and to all intents and purposes this feels like a great place to start with the drone of an organ, setting the scene for other instruments to slowly add themselves to the occasion. At this point it feels like it could have been released at any time during the last sixty years, never mind twenty. The addition of a plaintiff sax is particularly atmospheric, giving gradual warmth… it is as if we are witnessing some sort of sonic thaw. Several minutes later the guitar slowly emerges into the mix… gentle and thoughtfully, almost passively. It feels like, musically, hardly anything is happening… but the emotional impact is considerable as the subtle, almost indistinguishable, progress continues… it is around ten minute of utter joy and beautiful relaxation…

The atmosphere changes to some extent with ’Wave To Each Other’… the earthy drone is replaced by something of an otherworldly backdrop. You could be in a classic sci-fi drama or, with the sax floating above it, in a smoky basement in a land far away (and the applause at the end is certainly suggestive of the live element). The upshot is a track that feels quite disjunctive… and yet fits together very well in what could be the jazz club at the end of the universe.

Even before I saw the title of this track I was reminded of Abelli’s old band. Like ’Wave to Each Other’, ’Trees, Grass and Stonehenge’ also has that historical sense to it… except this time into Sweden’s rich folk/ progg tradition with some terrific organic interplay between guitar and flute creating that sort of ’trad’ atmosphere while also giving hints of something more contemporary. This comes with electronic flourishes, giving further evidence that this is a set that is both looking backwards and forwards in its approach to musical traditions.

The beginning of ’Nova Express’ reminded me of some of the early electronic pioneers of the 1970s with what sounds like analogue synths leading the way. This, in many ways, is the centrepiece of the record… at around fifteen minutes it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, even though it does not vary too much from it’s initial remit. This gives you a chance to really get into the beat of this… and once there, revel in the swirling sax and other electronic happenings along the way. So while this was the number that really sealed the deal for me when I first heard it, subsequent listenings have unpacked it further… and actually there is a lot going on here… and this gets more intense as it progresses… wow before you know it you are totally immersed by it.

After that ’Bussen’ feels like something of a come down… actually a soft landing might be a better way if describing it… that’s because it feels like you are falling into a deep bed of cotton wool… you feel cosseted by the smooth tones of guitar and sax as they weave their way around each other, somehow strengthening the hold that this track has on you without losing any of the softness… this, then, is a beautiful track which in one sense takes care of you, but in another is hardly there at all such is its diaphanous nature….

This brings us to the final track in this iteration of the album. ‘Spektra’ comes out of the blocks in a slightly more lo-fi manner. This is contrasted by the sax as it comes in and takes the track in a different direction… actually it feels like it might go off in several ways as the different instruments seem to create a tension within the music… it is almost as if they are competing for the attention, yet at the same time are clearly working off each other in a manner that brings the music in on the right side of chaos… while often teetering on the edge of it. This gives it a certain sense of precariousness which sets challenge, but also invites resolution… something that happens as the instruments coagulate together rather marvellously towards the end…

Whether Abelli predicted the future of not, there can be no doubt that this is a hugely welcome release. It is one which further enriches that Swedish tradition of leftfield music in my mind… whether in 2001 0r 2021. Furthermore, having listened to it again while writing this I have realised how varied the album actually is, and what different emotions it brings up as I experience it… and experience it you must to get the most out of it because this is a release with considerable depth to it, as well as one that I’m sure will still be sounding good in 2041…

‘One’ is released by Rocket Recordings, and is available to pre-order here.



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