studio album no. 4
7 different tracks
7 different atmospheres
further explorations to the electronic sound of the 1970s and beyond
This is basically all I needed to know to become very intrigued by the latest Cosmic Ground release, the solo project of Electric Orange’s Dirk Jan Müller. Further delving revealed that in addition to the instruments that he has used on the previous three albums, i.e. analog modular synthesizers, Mellotron, string ensemble, Minimoog; Müller is also experimenting with such as tape echoes, an audio generator, and a vocoder. This, it seems to me, has added another dimension to what is a great set of atmospheric recordings.
This album begins with ‘Possessed’, and every time I’ve listened to it so far it has felt as if I am in some sort of dark cavern inside someone’s head. Only later finding out the track’s title I found it a little freaky to think that maybe I was the one doing the ‘possessing’. This is a dark piece full of deep pulses of sound and competing beats that give me an uneasy feeling as I imagine myself inside this cranial cavern watching the thought patterns and synapses throb and glow around me. The overall veiled nature of the work also gives me a sense that there is some sort of hidden denial going here… wanting to be heard but somehow never breaking through. It’s a dramatic and atmospheric start which is for the most part quite claustrophobic, although it does open out with a dark beauty at the end leaving me in a weird sort of stunned silence.
Given the information at the top I am very much treating this as an album of seven individual tracks rather than one which has a central concept running through it. That said ‘Stained’ does flow quite nicely from it’s predecessor and begins with a more soothing repeating electronic mantra that gradually overcomes my defences. This time rather than being the ‘possessor’ I feel like I’m the ‘possessed’ as the piece gradually intensifies and inhabits my brain somehow freeing it to engage in deeper thought… simple yet magnificent.
I’m not sure if the opening of ‘Obscured’ is inspired by Pink Floyd’s ‘One Of These Days’, but it is one of those that once you’ve thought of it you can quite get it out of your head. For what it’s worth that is one of my favourite Floyd tracks so I’m very much loving my comparison and how this track feels for me like a mediation on the Floyd track. As a result it takes me off one some interesting flights of fancy that are at the same time familiar and new.
Then comes ‘Greasy’. Bloody hell I love this. It’s full on early Jean Michel Jarre for me. Let me fill you in here. The first ‘proper’ album I bought was Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ and I stuck with him despite going off big time into punk in the late ’70. I still kept on listening to Jarre I guess almost as an escape from the fetid anger of the punk scene. As such ‘Greasy’ reminds me of those times, but also adds something new as well as this gives way to something else three minutes in. Actually that’s the point at which this track absolutely takes off and, for me, sends the album stratospheric. This for me is just brilliant electronica with complex beats and helixes of sound twisting my brain as I try to latch on to them as the spiral upwards. This is another track that seems to just build and build as I imagine myself standing in a dark room just taking it all in and feeling my body move to the sound. This is because it feels like there is a weird soul within this which I think emanates from it’s almost organic nature, as if Müller has created some sort of artificial lifeform from the electronics… an idea that has me reaching for some Future Sound of London albums from the mid-1990s.
After twelve plus minutes of that I am totally chilled and pretty much ready to take on anything, which is this case is the album’s centrepiece. At over twenty minutes ‘Progeny’ unfolds slowly and has me wondering just how it will develop. It begins with a panoramic sound that has you imagining that you are travelling through dark space with a strange feeling of hope in your heart. Then after something of a hiatus you hear something bubbling up, very faint at first but gradually getting stronger and stronger until, before you know it the universe melts in front of your eyes to reveal something altogether more colourful as the flashing lights of a cosmic club draw you in and as the beat grinds its way into your body and mind you begin to wish that you were there dancing to this cerebral music as it almost imperceptibly ramps itself up. The beat goes on and on for minute after minute and I can imagine the exhaustion and elation of being there and the after effects of this intense experience as the sound implodes in on itself at the end. Here there’s a return journey of sorts, but it feels very different… it feels like you know more than when you left… just stunning!
I feel like I should really take a break after that but really want to get straight into ‘Plains’ to get a genuine feeling of how it stacks up after the previous epic. This is far more understated and simple with a central drone carrying the track, making it feel like the fragment of something longer… probably a hang over from ‘Progeny’ here. As such this acts as something of a meditative device for me helping me to slow down and enjoy the ambience of this music. I’ve said many times in this blog that as far as this sort of sound is concerned ‘ambient’ does not equal ‘passive’ and I find myself really engaging with that central drone and letting it take me somewhere… and this is why it feels like a fragment to me, because it’s something that you can grab onto at any point and just drift with it.
I cannot believe that I’ve already got to what is the final track of this double album. Even before I knew the title (I always listen to albums through first before knowing anything about them) I already had this feeling of being under water. So when I found out it was called ‘Deep End’ it came as no surprise. There is a deep drone-like echo to this work that really imbues a feeling of being down in the mirky waters floating about alone with only barnacled hulks for company, the metallic sounds cutting through the drone as they clash together. Of all the tracks here this is the most atmospheric for me, conjuring up a very vivid scene that I had not expected. Alongside this is a deep element to the music that I find harder to describe as it it’s also hitting me on another level… I’m sure this will become more apparent the more times I listen to it.
I have to say that, even by the high standards of Müller’s earlier recordings, this is a quite astonishing set of tracks. Yes I can see how they were inspired by the 1970s in a number of cases, but I quickly moved beyond that when listening to them. What I found is that if these recordings do have something in common it is their depth. They seem to pull you in in different ways, but in a manner that is quite profound. Most of all these a very accomplished pieces of music that will only get better and more profound as time goes by. Without doubt one of my albums of the year so far!
300 x black/yellow/blue marbled vinyl – hand-numbered – 180g, fully-laminated thick matt gatefold sleeve, black padded inner sleeves
100 x green/white split vinyl – hand-numbered – fully-laminated thick matt gatefold sleeve, black padded inner sleeves
Spofity playlists here.