A breast. Front and center, that's what's on the cover of Saturnia's laconically-titled 'Muzak.' No title, no caption. But it's no sex thing, either. In fact, if you take it in context with the rest of the album art (photos of honeycomb, splashes of milk) it takes on a warm, nurturing glow. Like the music itself. Food for the mind. The German label Elektrohasch, connoisseurs of all things psychedelic, have ventured over to Portugal this time, to dig up yet more quality musical trippage. Portugal, of all places! Well, it's obvious that Stefan and the Elektrohasch boys will leave no turn unstoned to bring you the finest in mind-altering tuneage.
But. Listeners with a jones for The Heavy may want to look elsewhere. Saturnia, which basically revolves around the talented musical visionary and multi-instrumentalist Luis Samoes, dwells on a different branch of the stoner tree than what you may be used to. Through carefully constructed yet simultaneously loose psychedelic exploration, this branch yields a fruit for the mind that's not afraid to draw on a few elements that are strange to the average offspring of Big Mama Kyuss and Father Sabbath. It's kind of like comparing early 70s Hawkwind to the early 90s version. The early 70s variety, as heard on 'Doremi,' plays to the gut as well as the mind, while the latter version, perhaps best exemplified by 'It's the Business of the Future to be Dangerous,' is rich in electronica. Both have value, but to my taste Hawkwind is best downed with a nasty shot of Lemmy. It's more satisfying that way.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Saturnia may be great for stoners, but don't expect Sabbath. Instead, think more along the lines of post-Barret Pink Floyd, ca. 1969-72. Great years indeed! But the group doesn't stop there. In fact, Luis has drafted in two old school space rock overlords on a couple of tracks, namely Hawkwind cofounder Nik Turner and the Chancellor of the University of Errors himself, Gong cofounder Daevid Allen. Talk about 24-karat cred: these guys have been producing remarkable music for decades. And while he's at it, Luis & Co. bring in a couple of unusual musical strains as well. Stoner rock for triphop lizards? We'll see. This free-flying trip begins with 'Mindrama,' introduced by a sharp plunge into a musical freakout that levels off with the aid of hypno drums, retro organ, and buttery-smooth vocals that blend the best of Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters into a soothing whole. 'Organza,' featuring Turner on flute, is a slightly trip-hoppish song featuring Hawkwind synths and jazzy vibraphone. Hmmmm. It doesn't quite gel for me, but it keeps me listening. 'Kite' has clompy drums and bachelor-pad theramin evoking a 60s kitsch film soundtrack. 'Analepsis' starts off with a tennis ball being hit from speaker to speaker, not unlike something off of side 2 (think vinyl, man!) of 'Atom Heart Mother,' with some nice guitar strumming that is unfortunately marred by an irritatingly simplistic synth figure. The star of the show is 'Aqua,' a damn-near perfect evocation of 'Umagumma'-to-'Meddle'-era Floyd that almost made me weep with joy. This song would be the perfect closer to an album with Floyd's great unknown 'Embryo' as the leadoff track. You fill in the blanks in between. Last is the 10+ minute 'Syrian,' with Allen narrating words of electric bliss over a soundtrack of tabla, sitar, and electronics.
This album is a mixed bag for me, mainly because I like some grit with my alkaloids. There is no doubt, however, that 'Muzak' is a brain-bender of great quality, one that will cause your mind to wander far in nights unknown. Just don't operate any heavy equipment while listening, 'k?
Hellride music 22/02/2007 Kevin McHugh