Astro Sonic – Come Closer and I’ll Tell You (Hubro)
Erlend Slettevoll Fender Rhodes, Moog Voyager, Prophet 5; Rune Nergaard bass, electronics, drum machines; Gard Nilssen drums, gongs, bow, tablamachine, vibraphone, electronics.
Mostly improvised over three days of studio recording, Come Closer and I’ll Tell You comprises a handful of compact, atmospheric instrumentals, mostly down-tempo yet rhythmically punchy, in which Astro Sonic emphasise the shadowed cool of analogue electronics.
Closely related melodic ear-worms ripple through”Orbiter” and “Analogue Karma”, two of the album’s catchiest and most substantial pieces, which bookend much of the rest of the set. While the pulse of “Orbiter” is subtle but insistent, “Analogue Karma” alternates between dynamic resolve and borderline evanescence: power tempered by restraint.
If Astro Sonic are sometimes suggestive of Supersilent at their most ambient, there’s more of a krautrock feel to tracks like “The Electric Airbag Police”; and if that title suggests a Radiohead cutup, well perhaps there’s another subtle influence (publicity notes cite Bo Hanssons instrumental music of the sixties).
Astro Sonic was founded in 2008, so this, their debut album, has been a long time coming, and any urge to grandstand has been burned off long ago (for that, check keyboard player Erlend Slettevoll on Grand General‘s self-titled album of last year). Much of the more abrasive, irruptive and dynamically propulsive music here is contained in a clutch of miniatures at the album’s core: “Magnavox”, “The Shell Falls Rapidly and Splashes into the Sea”, and “Lander”, each compact and chock with dynamic contrasts, and each done and dusted in one or two minutes.
“Lander” segues into the comparatively lengthy “Shoal”, which, well titled, skims electronic sustains over deeper layers teeming with involuted rhythmic energy: entropy as energy dispersal. It’s a magical, and highly original track, and like the album generally, it reveals different aspects of itself on each replay.
Bushman’s Revenge – Thou Shalt Boogie (Rune Grammofon)
Even Helte Hermansen electric guitar; Rune Nergaard bass; Gard Nilssen drums, vibraphone; David Wallumrød Hammond organ, clavinet, Prophet 5.
The Nergaard/Nilssen rhythm section has been driving Bushman’s Revenge for over 10 years, and Thou Shalt Boogie is their seventh album: time to ring the changes.
First thing first: this ain’t boogie, more modern prog, and it’s leaner and more contemplative than even that might suggest. Its working title, says Bushmans’ guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, was Yoga: “The idea was to do a more meditative record than we previously have”. He also refers to the sruti box drone at the heart of the 17-minute “Baklengs inn i Fuglekassa” (“Backward into Birdhouses”, says auto-translate) as “a small tip of the hat to Alice Coltrane”.
It’s a gorgeous thing, this track. Nilssen and Nergaard keep the whole thing buoyant and directional while Hermansen creates lines of lustrous, subtly-shaded coloration in combination with the broader strokes from the variegated keyboard palette of fourth Bushman David Wallumrød. The energy surge at the end plays as a flexing of consciousness and collective muscle rather than any mere accumulation of energy, and it dissipates like moisture in a heat-haze.
That power surge at the end of “Baklengs inn i Fuglekassa” picks up from the album’s kick-off track, “I am an Astronaut”, a surging, swirling instrumental anthem that stockpiles energy only to fade away within four minutes. “Waltz Me Baby, Waltz Me all Night Long” is also short, a somnolent slow-burner with a melody cleanly picked on guitar, but suffused with electronic warmth.
The album’s other long track, the 14-minute “Kugeln und Kraut” rides an insistent Hammond riff and tumbling percussion into a freewheeling workout. Hermansen slips the leash a little as the temperature rises, but mostly he sticks pretty close to a tightly-circumscribed pattern of licks. The power in this music lies in collective impetus, not solo grandstanding but a tight, collective focus on cyclic development. The core trio play to the strengths of Wallumrød’s Hammond playing, which instantly identifiable sound he enhances with the Prophet 5 analogue synth without shucking off the emotive connotations of the instrument’s use in the classic prog era.
The album’s coda, “Hurra for Mamma”, blends the fragile dynamic of classic Hammond jazz trioism with psych-era McCartney melodics. Its blend of box-freshness and unapologetic nostalgia is characteristically Bushman’s.