(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Recording review - Akron, Voyage of Exploration (2012)

Akron's exotica suggests an alien art walk

Voyage of Exploration presents a fine collection of retro lounge/space music that imagines a much cooler future than our paltry dimension can offer. Like The Traditionalists, a branch of Secret Chiefs 3, Akron shares a love of classic exotica like Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Esquivel!. On the one hand, his sound is utterly 1964 retro, but it also has a timeless quality. These songs mix and match elements from Denny’s exotica, Joe Meek’s production on songs like Telstar, Ennio Morricone’s film scores and early Pink Floyd psychedelia to reveal the inherent stylistic connections they share.

The album opens with a spacy sound that overlays throbbing organic machinery with bits of grinding, tinkling glass. This motif returns repeatedly throughout Voyage of Exploration, like it’s the background sound of some bizarre museum where each song is a holographic display to be entered and explored.

The first installation in this alien art walk is the focused instrumental progression of "Picabu". This retro-hip lounge groove has a tightly syncopated foundation with a simple, repeating guitar line. Washes of synth flutter through like electro-magnetic curtains blowing in the wind. After an accent break of rhythmic breathing, echoplex artifacts hint at Denny’s wildlife sounds in the background. Then the song fades back into the motif as we move towards the next display.

Stepping ahead to "Tricorder", the song begins with a tribal percussion beat. The music initially sounds like an Italian soundtrack, perhaps a Spaghetti Western. But the electronic melody in the left channel wobbles and bubbles like an overheated liquid energy, giving the song a science fiction vibe. It eventually melts down into a strange, open cavern, where odd snippets of sound conjure the sense of small creatures lurking in the shadows. These sonic pictures are perhaps very personal, but Akron’s songs are very evocative that way. Each tonal component seems to represent some element of a greater story.

Another great example of this programmatic style of music comes later on "Memory Hole". The track features a pastiche of various fragments from Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn crossed with experimental Krautrock. The steady bass line at the start suggests a purpose or organizing principle. Burbling electronic tones zip by and create a sense of space along with a steady percussive tap. A steady staccato guitar strum provides a subconscious murmur as a keyboard line seems to be searching for something. Suddenly, a jarring electronic interference breaks the concentration. The bass and percussion reassert themselves, but now, they’ve internalized the distortion into the original principle.

Moments later, the distortion is traded out for yet another sound. Each new context for the bass line feels like an experimental repositioning of base idea. All along, the Krautrock repetition creates a hypnotic focus. Eventually, the bass line theme is abandoned as an ambient, swaying section takes over. Organic creaking suggests sails and ropes as a new meandering keyboard line wanders like a distraction from the earlier focus. But the original theme reasserts itself to finish the song.

Finally, as the stately, nostalgic "Funeral For Euclid" drifts out of focus, we find ourselves at the end of our tour. Linger in the museum atrium a moment and savor the sensations before returning to the mundane world. The exhibits in Voyage of Exploration will wait here for your next visit.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture.)

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