Review Summary: Trippy psychedelic rock/folk with strong Indian raga influences and lots of sitarThe Cosmic Union
is the debut album from Lamp of the Universe, a one-man project from New Zealander Craig Williamson (originally from the obscure stoner rock band Datura). If you hadn’t guessed by the album, band and track names and the cover art, the music here is very trippy and psychedelic. The band website describes it as “early 70's styled psychedelic eastern hippy acid folk music for the body, mind and spirit”. It’s hard to think of a better description of the music.
The songs contain a mixture of repetitive yet hypnotic acoustic folk music, occasional fuzzy electric guitars (with plenty of wah-wah added), dreamy synths and very strong Indian raga influences, complete with sitar, tabla and other Indian instruments. While you’ll find no insane Ravi Shankar style sitar solos here, the instrumentation is still very well done, especially as Craig Williamson played every instrument himself. Except for some guitar solos, the playing here is usually very relaxed, and the album creates a very relaxed trippy vibe.
This atmosphere is helped by the fantastic production. The music sounds incredibly spacey, with every instrument drenched completely in reverb. While Williamson is hardly the best singer ever, his voice is perfectly suited to the music. The singing is very light and mellow and sounds very dreamy and haunting with the reverb added. The lyrics are predictably hippie-esque, but aren’t really the focus here. A lot of the time it’s hard to hear exactly what’s being sung because of the reverb added to the vocals anyway.
While the music is often based on repetitive drones, it never gets at all boring. The longest song is less than 10 minutes, and new melodies are always added before it manages to go from ‘hypnotic’ to ‘dull’. There is also quite a lot of variety, with songs based on guitar-based space rock jams, raga and folk music. These different styles stop The Cosmic Union
from getting samey but still manage to mix together perfectly, all fitting in with the atmosphere equally and never clashing. Williamson manages to blend these different styles effortlessly and it always sounds totally natural and never forced. While the album has an unmistakable late 60’s/early 70’s sound, it still manages to sound quite unique with this mix of styles.
There are also a few upbeat songs, such as ‘What Love Can Bring’, that drive the album forward but never really break the atmosphere. The Cosmic Union
is gripping throughout despite lasting 54 minutes. One of the highlights of the album is perhaps ‘Give Yourself to Love’, which in a way sounds similar to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd with it’s psychedelic synth effects. The effects manage to capture the feel of experimental 60’s music without going over the top, and by staying quite restrained don’t ever sound at all cheesy, but add more variety to the album. Another highlight is ‘Freedom in your Mind’, which features distant echoing drums and some excellent Hendrix style guitar playing.
Overall, The Cosmic Union
is a very impressive album and with it’s trippy atmosphere should be liked by any fan of psychedelic music, especially anyone who likes George Harrison’s explorations into Indian music. The biggest fault is that because it is so relaxed and dreamy and based more on drones than catchy melodies, you really need to be in the right mood to listen to it. When in that mood though, The Cosmic Union
is definitely worth a listen.