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Hawkwind

Somnia

Review by Gary Hill

I have to confess to being a Hawkwind fanatic. They are one of my three favorite acts, and I have so many albums from them. Here's the thing - for me there is no bad Hawkwind album. They are all excellent, but some are better than others. As it stands right now, I consider this to be sort of a middle of the road set. The thing is, a lot of the time, Hawkwind albums grow the more time you have with them, and I haven't had a chance for this one to really do that. I do like the fact that they really stretch the sound on this set. Yet, it's still definitively Hawkwind. It's a darned good album and a welcome addition to the Hawkwind catalog.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 6. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
Unsomnia
I dig the cool rock groove that brings this in. As the vocals enter this takes on an almost punky vibe. More traditional Hawkwind concepts come in over the top as this grows and evolves. I like how the punky element and the more artsy Hawkwind ones are merged as this continues. It is both modern and fresh and classic and timeless at the same time. This builds for quite a while, but then settles into spacey electronic zones that seem related to Tangerine Dream while still being decidedly Hawkwind. Acoustic guitar rises up amidst this arrangement as the track continues. At almost ten-and-a-half-minutes long, this is the epic of the set, and they make good use of that time, continuing with mellow space music that has some sound bites over the top.
Strange Encounters
After the mellow closing movement of the last one, it's a bit of shock when hard rocking Hawk music fires in to start this off. This is more the kind of hard rocker one expects from the band. It's driving, trademark hard-edged space rock. It's also on fire. This gets into more smoking hot jamming later.
Alcyone
Now, this is another song that brings a fresh approach. This is more of a balladic tune, but decidedly Hawk-like. I can definitely make out some folk rock on the song.
Counting Sheep
Another that's more traditional, trademark Hawkwind, this rocker is classy. It has a good suitably dreamy texture and some cool rock built into it. There is a dropped back section that brings some hints of reggae to the mix. It rocks out a bit harder as it comes out of that, but drifts back to more dreamy stuff for a section with whispered vocals. The cut starts a fade back during that section. That fade out takes it to the next song.
China Blues
Effects and atmospherics bring this in feeling a bit like something from Electric Teepee. It starts to build from there with some intriguing space rock concepts that include a guitar soloing in the mix. There are some bluesy elements in the mix as the vocals come in. There is a drop back to spacey electronics around the three-quarters mark. The number continues to explore and evolve as it works out from there. The drums become the prominent instrument, and vocals come over the top of that percussion dominated movement. It eventually becomes more of a driving electronic thing to take it to the next track.
It's Only A Dream
An alarm bell sounds, and then guitar and keyboards create a tapestry of sound. This works to more of a typical Hawkwind up-tempo rocking jam. This is quite a tasty tune.
Meditation
Atmospherics, psychedelia and acoustic guitar merge as this gets underway. This instrumental piece is suitably dreamy and mellow to fit the title. It turns decidedly dream-like with spacey effects and a voice of a pilot.
Sweet Dreams
This feels dream-like, but there is a decidedly strange and ominous tune. The cut turns more toward symphonic and driving music and spoken vocals that seem almost menacing at times come over the top. This space-out kind of piece is very cool and very trademark Hawkwind.
I Can't Get You Off My Mind
Here we get another rocking Hawktune. This isn't a big change from what one expects from the band. It is just a very satisfying piece of Hawkmusic.
Small Objects In Space
Now, the spacey prog concepts here feel a little different than standard Hawkwind. Dave Brock's vocal brings a sense of the familiar. This is a decidedly cool space rock sound. After the vocals drop away, this turns out into sort of a jazzy groove that has so much style and charm in it. For some reason I'm reminded just a little Captain Beyond's second album here. The vocals return over that concept.
Pulsestar
This emerges almost as abrupt ending to the last cut. Weird space elements create the motif for a lot of this. It is fairly short and more of connecting piece.
Barkus
Electronic and percussive at the start, this is another piece that makes me think of Electric Teepee to some degree. The piece continues to evolve in a fairly straight line before dropping back to trippy electronics. The pilot's voice returns for a quick announcement, and then space electronics take over.
Cave Of Phantom Dreams
Ambient keyboard textures serve as the backdrop for a spoken piece of poetic speech. The textural music gradually works upward. The voice returns for more lines. The music turns stranger and more space-like, but still remains fairly mellow. The voice delivers more lines. After the halfway mark it turns almost symphonic for a time. Then a driving electronic texture threatens to propel it into rocking zones. Instead that eventually begins a drop back, fade down that ends the piece and the album.
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