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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Earth Lab

Element

Review by Gary Hill

Fans of Hawkwind should find plenty to like about this release. It sounds quite a bit like that band. There’s good reason for that, though. Several of the musicians on here are Hawkwind alumni. Those who fit that description are Jerry Richards, Ron Tree and Simon House. The disc that these guys have produced does have a lot of Hawkwind textures to it, but that’s not the only tool in their musical arsenal. Indeed you will probably hear world music, sounds a bit like Pink Floyd and other elements in the course of this release. The thing is, it’s a great album with no weak material, just some that’s stronger than others. If you have been a fan of Hawkwind in the past, do yourself a favor and pick this up. Even if you haven’t heard Hawkwind (uh – what are you waiting for?) you might want to give this a try for a taste of modern space rock done extremely well. For information on picking up the disc, check out Earth Lab on myspace.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Separation by Skin
The sounds of a space-based market place (think of the old merchant camps you see in movies) start this. Mind you, only part of this effect is spoken loops. The instruments add to this illusion. As this moves forward it turns into a space rock sort of jam that still maintains ethnic sounds. This is one part Hawkwind and one part traditional Arabic music and a whole lot more mixed up into a haunting sort of journey that is quite cool. The vocals bring a definite Hawkwind (mind you very old Hawkwind) feel to the table. As this carries on it becomes more and more intense with waves of sound and music weaving all over it. It makes for a great disc opener.
Eight and One
The sounds of children playing lead this one off. As the band launch out into the music it feels a bit like the more psychedelic side of very early Pink Floyd. Indeed, this track seems like it could have been released in 1968. They build up on the general modes of the track to carry it forward, and pump it out later into a hard-edged garage rock type sound. As the waves of sound weave across this tapestry the effect is more of that psychedelia merged with textures of early Hawkwind. This has some exceptionally tasty guitar work in an instrumental segment later.
Back Seat Angel
Nature sounds are the first things heard here. Other sound effects join; include footsteps, a beeping and a car. A radio is scanned looking for just the right music, then the jam rises up from there. This has an almost techno rhythmic structure and a rather funky groove. Still there is a space rock element pervading this one. The bluesy vocals remind me a little of some of the more recent King Crimson. This one comes across like a pop rock song twisted into wonderful weirdness. When they power out the arrangement later the Hawkwind echoes are once again quite prevalent.
Thin Air
Here we start off in territory that’s more of a standard rock sound with a decidedly retro bent – sort of classic 1970’s rock. This one doesn’t move far from its roots, but serves as a nice change of pace. Some of the later parts of this feel a lot like ‘80’s Pink Floyd.
Digital Age
Snippets from the radio dial lead this off, and then they turn in a crunch rock sound to bring in the song proper. This feels a bit like “Silver Machine” with its punky mood.
Wheels Part 2 / We Took The Car
The sounds of a car speeding off begin this. Next up it turns into a decidedly Hawk-like hard rocking jam that feels a bit like it could have come from Doremi Fasol Latido or some other disc around that period of the band’s history. They run through like this for quite a while, intensifying the jam as it carries on. Then it drops way down to weird vocals mixed over percussion and some sound effects. From here we are pulled into a spoken piece of weirdness that feels quite unsettling. Eventually they power it back out into the hard rocking jam that came before.
Discovery: The Quest Begins
This is a roughly two and a half minute piece of sound effects strangeness that seems to combine the sounds of Hawkwind and Pink Floyd.
Liquid Crystal Clear
At over ten minutes in length this is definitely the longest piece of music on show here. It climbs up gradually coming straight from the piece that preceded it. Keyboards hold the first 20 or 30 seconds then other instruments (mostly a driving bass) join to create a more full arrangement. As it moves forward the song becomes more and more complete. This gets quite hard rocking and noisy later on and is definitely another that feels a lot like Hawkwind – although the Hawksters would have played it a little differently.
New Light
In a completely different twist, this echoey sort of playful cut has a lot of Asian or Hawaiian influence to it. The first couple minutes are made up of fairly gentle tones in those stylings, but eventually this bursts out into a killer harder rocking jam. While it might not be the most likely choice for a disc closer, it works well in that slot, creating a satisfying conclusion to a great ride, while still making you feel the urge to hit “repeat.”
 
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