Severed begins slowly and quietly. Opening track Capsule uses the same trick that Boards of Canada use – woozy out of phase ambience, familiar yet disorientating. Sounds echo from left to right almost lazily, lulling you into a false sense of security for what’s to come.
Things step up with recent single Precautionary Measures – wonky arpeggios, clattering drums, yelping vocals. Hyss starts off with more crazy stereo effects and builds into something that sounds like it could be a prog epic from the seventies with layered vocals and deliberately primitive keyboards. Pigments lays off the stereo but brings back the out of phase wooziness against krautrock beats with a crazy breakdown midway through.
Lux and Lost Ones bring some of the menace that comes with the wall of sound created at Speak Galactic’s live shows, thick slabs of electronic noise which fall away and blend seamlessly into the album’s masterpiece, Solar Sail.
Clocking in at a mere seventeen minutes, Solar Sail is a piece of ambient beauty. Twinkling analogue electronics start things off before swiftly moving into a seventies sci fi soundtrack that never was. Around seven minutes in you think it might be all over – there’s nothing except something which sounds a bit like tinnitus and some ambient noise. Xylophones threaten something more and background noises start to rumble. And then the sound of running water, and some simple chords which take you away to a beautiful place. Without you realising some distorted noise creeps in underneath, but it doesn’t matter because you’re still in the higher plane you’ve been taken to. The white noise increases, but there’s a beautiful majesty to it, and then out of the noise steps the final slow motion melody, towering like a giant over the rest of the record leaving you feeling exalted. It’s fantastic. It’s like Stereolab and Spiritualized at their most experimental jamming with each other. That good.
Severed is an ambitious, uncompromising, experimental record which isn’t for the faint hearted. It laughs in the face of genres and convention, but rewards you for taking up the challenge it offers.
Speak Galactic had a launch party for the album at Fitzherberts last saturday night. Support came ambient out of towners Plurals and Brighton Music Blog favourites Us Baby Bear Bones. Last time we saw them live was at The Great Escape, and since then they’ve been off in the studio recording material for an upcoming EP. They’ve obviously learned a trick or two while they’ve been away because their sound now is even bigger than before. The magic is still there and the songs sound better than ever. I can’t wait to hear them on record.
Speak Galactic live are a much noisier prospect than on record, and one that’s even more impressive, mainly because all of the sound (save for some live drums) is created by Owen Thomas. Everything is created onstage with a microphone, a guitar, a keyboard and a handful of effects pedals. There’s so much energy, and you can see the ideas and the talent fighting to get out, channelling itself through his fingers and voice. Visuals have been a recent addition to the live sets, and these complement the performance well – another assault on the sense with repeated patterns morphing with the music.
Music needs pioneers, people who are willing to push the boundaries to see what happens, and in Speak Galactic, Brighton’s got one they can be proud of.
Speak Galactic is released on on clear vinyl on September 24th by Cupboard Music.