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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mooch

Dr. Silbury’s Liquid Brainstem Band

Review by Gary Hill

This is a double disc set from Mooch and while you might be reminded of The Beatles’ Sergeant Peppers… by the title, I don’t get the feeling this is any kind of massive concept album. Instead it’s a series of slices of electronic space rock with a strong emphasis on the “space” part of that moniker. There are moments that will call to mind early Pink Floyd and some others that might make you think of Hawkwind. If this disc has a shortcoming it is that some of the tracks seem to go on a bit too long. That said, this only applies to a few parts of the set and overall this is pretty awesome.

Mooch is the brain child of Stephen Palmer, who, going by the name of Dr. Silbury, is the main performer and songwriter here. A notable guest is Bridget Wishart, who is probably best known for her work in Hawkwind. While this disc may be a bit too “out there” for a lot of music lovers – and some space rock fans, it has a lot to like about it. I personally wouldn’t put it in my list of favorite space rock albums, but it is one I think I’ll be spinning from time to time far into the future.

For more information, including insights on how to get your hands on this, turn your browser to the official website or official myspace site.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Eight Spokes
Spacey keys lead off the event and they begin to power this up by increasing the volume and complexity. They move through a number of shifts, but the general musical themes remain solid. Eastern tones are worked in over the top in the form of a killer space rock guitar solo. At over nine and a half minutes in length, this instrumental serves as a great lengthy introduction to the sounds and textures that will pervade and direct the proceedings. They drop it way back later to mostly percussion with some odd sound effects. It rises back up from there in nice fashion to carry on. It moves down to sheer ambience for a while to end.
Cwmyoy Dub
Percussion leads this off with a much more rocking approach. Guitar comes up and we get looped vocals for a short time. This one has more of a garage band approach to it, but the space elements are still all over this. This powers out as it carries on into a very Hawkwind-like jam. As they move back into the more trippy electronic modes later, eventually overlayers of sound bring in some dissonance and new dimensions. They continue altering and adapting the sounds in a cohesive, but intriguing way until finally ending.
Jupiter Event
At just over sixteen minutes in length this is the longest cut on show here. It starts with spacey ambient keys that remind me just a bit of very early Pink Floyd. They begin to build upwards very gradually with this format in mind. As the vocals and waves of keys wash in melody (these are the first real vocals of the disc) that Floyd leaning is even more apparent. This is a great track to fully realize some of the musical visions that were presented in the works of the earliest of PF’s works. The lyrics are strictly space oriented and later in the track a fusion-like guitar solo glides over the surface of the soundscape and some more Hawk-like elements also appear. We get a killer keyboard solo and then another even more potent guitar excursion. As another keyboard dominated segment takes over we get a revitalized and invigorating jam. The pattern of alternating keyboard and guitar solos continues on in great fashion. At just past the nine-minute mark it drops back to just textural keys and then what sounds like whale song flits over the top against the sounds of ocean waves. Weird sound effects, pieces of distorted voices and other madness take it for a while. After a time, though, a new jam that is quite melodic and very much in the vein of Hawkwind takes over. This eventually powers out into a reprise of the song’s main musical themes. This finally gives way to a few bleeps to end it. This is one of my favorite pieces on the set.
Saz Interval
Dark, mysterious and rather dissonant sounds lend a feeling of impending doom to the introduction here. This short instrumental really never moves far from that point, instead serving as a potent little piece of atmosphere and a respite between the longer pieces.
Anderson Council
This one rocks out more than some of the other material here. While it has more of that garage band texture it also has some of the most progressive rock like changes and twists to it. Odd non-lyrical vocals are a nice touch on the arrangement here. More of that early Floyd texture can be found on this one. At around the two and a half minute mark it wanders out into more pure space, feeling a bit like Hawkwind’s “Sonic Attack” at times. The space becomes more twisted and frightening as it moves forward. The dissonance builds up, as well as this becomes stranger. At around the four and a half minute mark, though, we move back into the familiar bouncing melody line that preceded this astral journey.
The Falcon
While the keys that start this one off have a mysterious and spacey tone, the ambience is also quite pretty. This rises ever so gradually upward. This never really rises past the point of ambient music, but non-lyrical vocals do come over the top to lend a new texture and the instruments manage to imbue a certain energy and vitality to the work at times. My only complaint on this one is that it’s a bit too long without enough variation.
Silver Violet Flame
A more melodic and energized texture leads this one off. You can hear hints of a European café at times on the mix, but this is in general all space rock. The vocals on this are wonderful, as is the interplay with the keyboard layers. While listed as Cora Cornicopia, that voice is provided by none other than Bridget Wishart, who was the voice of Hawkwind for a while. I really enjoyed her work with that band, and this song feels as if it could have fit on the Space Bandits album. Glad to get the chance to hear her again. She’s got a great space rock voice. The arrangement and performance on this track overall is just stellar and it might well be my favorite of both discs. It’s a great way to give you incentive to put the second CD into your player.
Disc 2
Sandman
Starting with percussion this piece combines mellow space rock with psychedelia for great effect. Wishart again provides the vocals here. This is a more “song” oriented track. It really has its own flavor and style. It’s not as effective as some of the other material on the set, but definitely has its moments, include a tasty jazzy instrumental segment. Later on they turn it even further into the jazz realm for great effect.
Cycad
Wishart continues on as the vocalist here. Dark and mysterious tones start this one in sedate, ambient ways and the cut begins to rise up from this backdrop. This track remains in this mellow format, feeling almost classical in approach, but manages to convey mood and tone in such a way that makes it one of my favorites here. We do get some cool keyboard soloing. In some way this feels to me a bit like “Wings” from the aforementioned Hawkwind album Space Bandits. I particularly enjoy the layered vocal segment and the killer, energized jam that follows it.
Damien's Drums
Starting with sedate keyboards, very quickly we get this cool little segment that seems to me like passing a space buoy that’s emitting some sort of homing signal. As the track carries on the instruments seem to recreate that encounter. They drop it way back and a poetry reading begins. This poem seems to me to talk about a drummer starting to play after inducing a psychedelic substance. Drums enter after a time and the song intensifies, with more potent space rock jamming taking over. It works up into a killer number until it drops back to ambience for another section of the poetry, “Damien is told by the pixies to do something different.” Apparently he, and the band, listen as they turn in a hard rocking jam here that’s the most crunchy music on the set. Violin joins in and the track turns into something that resembles music from Hawkwind’s Hall Of the Mountain Grill album. This ends and another line of orders come to Damien and then the group launch into an odd, spacey open jazz type wandering. Eastern tones emerge over the top to great effect. This shifts almost toward Native American inspired space rock and then it drops back to more pure space and we find out the final fate of Damien.
Outback Event
This starts in near silence and then acoustic guitar rises, bringing other elements along for the ride. This is a bit playful and quite mellow. It serves as a nice respite, but at almost eight minutes it goes on way too long for what it is.
Piano Interval
Here we get a pretty and rather classical piano solo. This represents the breath of fresh air that “Outback Event” should have been.
Houri
This cut features a poetry reading by Wishart. The music that leads this off is melodic and tonal in approach. A bouncy sort of rhythm brings in more traditional space rock elements to the fray. At about a minute and a half in it drops to a dissonant sort of noise, rather like white noise. This rises and falls as it moves forward. Other sounds emerge later above this ambient soundscape. Eventually this starts a bit of building motion, but everything here moves incredibly slowly. I’d have to say “too slowly,” as it drags on a bit too much. The poetry reading doesn’t happen until about the five minute mark and it’s only a few lines, and then we get a more energized space jam that’s still a bit strange.
The Gulhane Gardens
This has a more dramatic texture and is rather melodic as it builds its themes. This is an instrumental. At around eleven minutes in length it’s also one of the longest cuts on the whole set. It gets quite powerful and rather jazzy at times and is one of the highlights of the album. Whale song and other more noisy sounds emerge over the top of this after a time. OK, for the literal minds out there, it’s not really whale song, but it does remind me of it. This doesn’t change dramatically at all, but, as much of the best space rock, it derives its variety from slowly moving alterations and additional layers bringing power and intrigue to the piece. It does manage to turn into a harder rocking incarnation of itself for a while later, though. This eventually shifts out into more sedate forms to finally take the track out.
The Aliens Trilogy
Aliens' Song
This trilogy leads off with a bouncing sort of pop-like track that feels like Klaatu meets Kraftwerk in a Beatles arrangement. This is fun and a nice change of pace with its processed vocals and, I believe, theremin. We get a cool, guitar solo, too, that at times reminds me a bit of Steve Howe.
Eat, Eat, Eat
Drums start this off in a pounding repetitive pattern. This carries it for a time and keyboards begin to build over the top of it. The vocals here are also processed. This is rather powerful in its arrangement. It’s a cool track.
The Sound of Emptiness
The sounds of nature and ambience lead off here. While varying bits of strange sound are added here and there it never rises far above its origins. I’m not sure this is the best choice to end the set with, but it does a good job of grounding this trilogy.
 
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