Album Appreciation: Floating Islands by Jalayan

Over the last few days I have had my head deep in music from the excellent Castles in Space label, following a mega delivery… it is essentially a label of British electronic music reflective of modernity and hautology… I mention this in part because I’m feeling particularly evangelical about this label at the moment, but also because that’s where I started off with this sophomore album from four-piece Italian space rockers Jalayan… a vibe that was fairly quickly shattered as a massive wall of guitar crashed the party taking me somewhere else altogether.

OK, so that was the bit of the review akin to scene at the start of a crime series where they find the body and then need to step back to see what happened… and what happened here was the beginning of what I can only describe as a massive record… massive because it is powerful and dynamic, and will not only blow away the cobwebs… but quite possibly your mind as well…

Let’s see why… well as I suggested the opener ‘Tilmun’ does not initially give you any indication of where this album might be going until just after the minute mark where the guitars are taking over from the electronics and the whole thing just blacks out into this joyous frenzy of a space monster jam which is so fucking exciting you just want to scream out ‘hell yeah’ at the top of your voice (fortunately I’m home alone and my screams are being drowned out from the outside world… the ideal crime scene to continue with a theme)… anyway track one gone and I’m utterly sold on this masterly melange of styles which I can’t really describe without invoking Ozric Tentacles.

‘Nemesis’ gets right down to business straightaway with another phat riff that doesn’t so much power along but threatens the very fabric of space… this is real edge of dimension stuff as your brain (well my brain anyway) struggles to keep up with the whole thing… that’s because there’s a power trio banging it out here, but then there’s all sorts of things going on in and around it as well… things that you really want to hear, while your mind is telling you to just enjoy the pummelling that you are getting… it’s amazing… but it is tiring.

Perhaps the band recognise this because ‘Edination’ takes a couple of steps back… we’re no longer careering along but have taken refuge in the local bar where there’s a band playing some lovely jazzy prog… until halfway through that is when it heads out onto another absolutely glorious flight of fantasy into a technicolour metal nebula… one where you don’t just rock out but somehow can enjoy the view too.

I am very much into the whole thing now so welcome the sinister dank beginnings to ‘Star Stairs’ which evokes what you might expect from the title… a steady journey into the firmament… invoking a number of different genre with a particular Middle Eastern vibe hitting my ears at some points… as if staring at the stars from the desert… here is the craft minus the pummel and this helps reveal the variation and complexity that these musicians are capable of… without taking away the immediacy of the music and how it still feels like a live jam at route… right through to the heavy ramped up denouement.

After that ‘Fire of Lanka’ brings the electronics higher up into the mix without sacrificing any of the spontaneity with a series of stop start riffs and fills which add nuance to the record and effectively take the listener even further out into the cerebral cosmos… while at the same time feeling quite grounded. That’s because, and this is the case throughout, there is a mixture of elements going on here which combine the cosmic with the folk which is what gives it such a different feel… but then, as with most of the tracks here… any tension is resolved at the end with a massive fucking freak out!

This is perhaps even more the case with ‘Colliding Orbits’ which is perhaps the most experimental track here… it is one of those that you wonder how it works when you take into account the constituent elements… but work it does, and without the freak out at the end. It heralds ‘Narayanastra’ which, as you might expect, has more of an Indian feel to it… but is also perhaps the most prog track here too… having recently written about the new Upupayāma (also an Italian musician) it’s intriguing how this is such a completely different take on the integration of Eastern and Western styles… each great in its own way.

…and actually the comparison is perhaps closer with ‘Shem Temple’ with the seeming addition of a Japanese element, along with a soaring guitar and some interesting electronics which contribute in multi-dimensional ways. It is almost as if this is a summary of the album and a mark that there has been an overall move from the start of the set towards music that is more and more out there… a journey and a dynamic that we are taken along with until the band hit the thrusters for the final time and reach some sort of escape velocity before disappearing into a cloud of unknowing.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the way I came to this record I am a little overwhelmed by how much is in there… it is an intense but joyous experience throughout, and one whose nature I have not come across for some time. In that sense it is also refreshing because it does not lean on the sort of dystopian tropes which much of the music I listen to does (and actually I do enjoy that… whether or not that makes me weird) and I am looking forward to it being a light in my music rotation for some time to come. I never did find out whodunnit though.

‘Floating Islands’ is out now on Adansonia Records as follows (click here for more details):

200 x black vinyl, 180g, hand-numbered and 100 x clear splatter multicolour, hand-numbered



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