ShapeShiftingAliens are a strange and rare phenomenon in that they seem to make music which seems to sound like part of the future yet openly tip their collective hat, some sort of neon-lit, metallic fedora presumably, to many eras of past musical exploration. It’s a musical mixing pot that names such as Bowie, Eno and Reznor have drunk from to great effect and this Swedish duo are perfect company for those fellow future-retro musical contradictions.
If the musical genre that went by the name of “goth” quickly got weighed down with pantomime pretensions, corny cliche and primary school theatrics until it disappeared into its own black hole, Gothic Novel is the perfect antidote to such silliness. Taking the general theme suggested by the title it is a collection of tales based around gothic literature, dark romance and moonlit encounters. Some might label such a device a concept album, but better perhaps to call it an album of concepts, especially given the collaborative and fluid nature of the music.
For a man who admits to an equal love for the rock antics of The Who and Led Zeppelin as much as the likes of Bowie and Japan, Fake News certainly leans more heavily towards the latter sound. But we live in a world where lines have thankfully blurred, musical tribalism is out of fashion and even genres have had their day. So why can’t a rock drummer also grab a keyboard and make 80’s infused synth-pop? Nothing sounds more healthy to me. And as the man himself says, “music isn’t just entertainment: it’s an important form of expression” and sometimes you need to find different ways of saying what you feel.
Well, that’s a new one on me. Hip-hop has always had something to say, at its most basic it is boastful and self-aggrandising, at it’s most clever it is observational and socially aware, but listening to Land of The Lost I have stumbled upon another incarnation. Hip-Hop as philosophy and philosophy on the grandest of scales. Not merely the street philosophy of the underdog but pure, unadulterated cosmic thinking and musing on our place in the universe. But then again anyone taking the moniker of Black Astronaut is probably not going to be bounded by the usual physical barricades.
This, of course should have been obvious from the start, the album is after all called Life on Mars after a fairly faithful rendition of the Bowie classic which sits within but also threaded through the title and subjects, the samples and the lyrics is a stargazing attitude and a enquiring mind. Lunar Lunatics takes the drifting vibes of a Pink Floyd classic and projects them like alien voices and the ancient echoes of the universe being picked up by deep space probes whilst the insane rap increases around it.
Is The Galaxy Just Pimping Me reminds us that Charles Luck and his collected lyrical cosmonauts never take themselves too seriously, something many of their contemporaries could learn from and over a De La Soul pop-hop vibe they take their universal musings to its almost illogical conclusion. When You’re Down approaches the cosmic embrace from a different angle, lyrically it asks some big questions, throws in some poignancy but does so whilst adopting a psychedelic groove reminiscent of 60’s sci-fi themes, the past sound of future possibilities.
Some might call this a concept album, a journey across vast distances and across vast subjects. I prefer to see it as an album of concepts. Science Fiction has always had the ability to give us the framework to tackle the biggest questions; the ones that have plagued philosophers and existential thinkers since Copernicus first said “ wouldn’t the map of the planets look better with the sun in the middle?” Iain Banks built vast million year old galactic empires, Arthur C Clark predicted technological advancements, Ursula Le Guin explored gender fluid societies and Douglas Adams took the piss out of it all. So the why shouldn’t hip-hop get in on the action and rap it’s way across the universe too, exploring those same big issues and asking those same unanswerable questions.
We all set our own limits, especially musically. Some artists are happy to talk about their small lives, loves and concerns, some embrace the world and join dots between cultures and creeds. However I suspect that if ever we send a probe to the other side of the galaxy the first images that NASA sees through its grainy glimpse of this alien world will be Charles Luck grooving away to the dying echoes of the big bang and adding some hot beats to the galactic groove.
Who knew that cosmic hip-hop was even a thing?
There are many perks of being in a band, one of the less obvious ones is being perfectly equipped to pay tribute to your musical heroes, those who shaped your formative years and who may have even been the reason for you taking up musical arms in the first place. Fassine are no strangers to the idea of paying tribute your heroes, their cover of XTC’s That Wave saw them merge the original’s acid-tinged, hazy psychedelic vibe with their own future-pop sound to great effect. Here they set their sights on an even bigger figure.
Ursa Minor sees the band write their own musical love letter to David Bowie’s Berlin years and the ambient nature of the songs found on the albums Low and Heroes in particular. This feels like a drifting neo-classical passage built from a collision of cool technology and warm instrumentation with cellos drifting through electronic landscapes and celestial vocals weaving their way through the backbeats, softening the edges like a dusting of snow.
I’m always amazed at the Fassine‘s ability to create music that feels wonderfully chilled yet so dynamic at the same time, ambient yet anthemic, a quality which is built from clever choices of space and texture rather than merely where you set the volume control. Yet again they have set a benchmark for nu-pop, ambient dance or whatever it is they do….the Ursa may be minor, but what they have created here is major achievement.
A lot seems to be made of the passing of our rock icons these days but not only the continued existence of Ian Hunter, but the fact that at the grand old age of 77 he is still releasing records, should be more of a cause for celebration. And here he returns with his first record in 4 years doing what he does best – wonderfully lazy, knowingly loose, groove laden rock’n’roll carrying wonderfully gravel voiced salvos.
But if anyone were to write a musical eulogy for the passing of David Bowie, then why not the man who’s own band, Mott The Hoople, have him to thank for their resurrection and commercial kickstart. Having already paid his respects to Mick Ronson two decades earlier with the song Michael Picasso, Dandy sees Hunter pay homage to his old friend and do so with a tune dripping in Bowie’s own musical motifs and Motts signature sound palette. The two were always so closely related for obvious reasons anyway.
Inspirations are drawn from history, mythology, musical reverence, travel, street smart words of wisdom and personal reflection but if you were expecting him to show signs of slowing down, you will be pleasantly surprised; when it has the desire to, this album rocks as hard as anything from his impetuous youth.
In fact aging seems to suit Hunter with his string of 21st century releases Rant, Shrunken Heads, Man Overboard, When I’m President and this current collection all showing no let up in the quality of his song writing and if anything gaining an increased eloquence to match the ferocity and passion which as always been the hall mark of his music.