Laniakea is the new duo project of Massimo Pupillo (Zu) and Daniel O’Sullivan (Grumbling Fur, Ulver, Guapo) – not to be confused with the Progressive Trance group of the same name.
Pupillo and O’Sullivan met when Guapo and Zu played shows together, but this album is elegiac and expansive (“four galactic heart songs”, in O’Sullivan’s own words); in keeping with Grumbling Fur, but nothing like Guapo’s heavy progressive rock, much less Zu’s hardcore/Jazz facemash or the aggressive free jazz Pupillo plays alongside Peter Brötzmann in Hairy Bones.
A Pot of Powdered Nettles (House of Mythology) is devoted to the memory of the late Coil affiliate/artist Ian Johnstone, in whose home O’Sullivan worked on albums by Ulver, Æthenor, Mothlite and Grumbling Fur. A Pot of Powdered Nettles was recorded there too, soon after the birth of O’Sullivan’s son, Ari, and then the death, in the spring of 2015, of Johnstone, Ari’s godfather. The album seems suitably infused with paradoxical emotions, and touched, somehow, by Johnstone’s benevolent magick.
In the first of the album’s four cuts, “Elakoyah or The Contagious Magick of the Superabundance”, deep bass riffs bloom alongside laminate Melotron, organ and viola drones and O’Sulivan’s obfusc chanting of “E La Ko y Ah”. Hildegard von Bingen is a cited influence, but Sunn O))) also merit a credit.
The tolling bass riffs on “The Sky Is An Egg” frame a lyric in measured rhythmic phrases, with high-pitched mono-synth and vocal harmonies very much in the style of Grumbling Fur. In the very, very slow climaxing of this ritual ceremonial—”The inky black dark / Of the superabundance / Dreaming in reverse”—O’Sullivan’s viola first adds a note of heavy-hearted melancholy, then makes a connection with other musics: John Cale’s early experimentalism, and Pelt’s meld of folk, drone and Indian raga.
Pupillo gives “Zone In Parallel Rose” an abrasive, mechanistic chug that pushes through a brief polyphonic gabble of female voices, combining with much darker synth drones to carry another sung lyric, obliquely touching on life and transcendence, ending with a coda of massed organ sonorities and an audio after-image: chidren’s voices and the chimes of an ice cream van.
On the most expansive cut, “Calcite”, Pupillo’s bass is just one muted element in a textured weave alongside cello, tape loops and fingerbells. Touchstones here: William Basinski and Philip Jeck. A child’s voice on dictaphone. Then a brooding swell of sound, the bass darkly resurgent, leading to another, more rarified plateau of sound, where bamboo flute seeps airily into the organ’s interstices, bass drones set chimes vibrating, and airy choristry enshrouds a wordless vocal by actor François Testory – all combined in a rich cloud of sound, which eventually dissipates in a sworl of mewling cats and trace static. Also in the mix: the personal Gamelan of Johnstone’s partner, Coil’s John Balance.
It’s a heady concoction, as meticulously crafted (arthouse derivations given a pop sheen) as any of O’Sullivan’s best works. And it seems credible, given the recent birth of a son, the death of a mentor, and the fact of recording amidst the vestiges of Johnstone’s former home and refuge (the album notes include a touching scene-setting text by Luke Turner), that all of this bled into the mix of this album, and gives it its peculiar richness.
Massimo Pupillo & Daniel O’Sullivan bass, voice, Elka crescendo 303, M-tron, Jen SX 1000, viola, cello, bamboo flute, fingerbells, chimes, dictaphone, Uher 4400, Jhonn Balance’s Gamelan, sound recordings.
Æthenor – Hazel.
Grumbling Fur – Glynnaestra.
Charlemagne Palestine – Ssingggg Sschlllingg Sshpppingg.
Long Story Short – Wels 2011 Curated by Peter Brötzmann (feat. Massimo Pupillo).
Buy A Pot of Powdered Nettles direct from House of Mythology.