Review Summary: 3001: A Drum and Bass Odyssey. Mesmerizing percussions meet our expanding Universe.
One fascinating asset of electronic music is how well you can create sonic atmospheres. After all, why are synthesizers so appealing to the human ear? Maybe it is because they feed our imaginations in the same way that dreams do. In explaining how he made Selected Ambient Works Volume II
, Aphex Twin
once said that he drew inspiration from his very own dreams. Throughout its history, electronic music has often been about making us visualize or feel wonderful and not-yet-seen things, from the gloomy and enamoured keyboards of Depeche Mode
's Black Celebration
to the urban, elegant landscapes of Underworld
as well as the mysterious and sorrowful alleys of Burial
. Synthpop, progressive house, dubstep, it doesn't matter because each electronic genre has something to say to the world, and a world to create on its own.
With The Astral Traveller
, James Clements, A.K.A. ASC, prolific electronic music producer hailing from England, makes us travel far, far away with the assistance of drum'n'bass. Although the album is danceable (like DnB regularly is), you can very well listen to it in a state of contemplation. It is one of those electronic albums that have both a "chill out" quality and a "club" quality to them - Reform Club
of Claro Intelecto
is one of many examples of that. You can blast it in the car when on the highway, or appreciate it before going to sweet sleep. I have listened to it several times during a ride on the bus when it was late at night, watching the stars rise and the dark buildings pass quickly before my eyes, losing myself in the adventure it offers.
Yes, what an adventure it is! The spaceship is ready. It all begins with "Cassini". Discreet and subtle sounds emerge from the International Space Station. Looks like we are set. Some indistinct vocal samples give the impression that we are about to take off. Roger that. The 1:30 mark arrives and the amazing drums start to inhabit your ears. As the opener for the album, "Cassini" is perfect: it is definitive, but not yet as hard-hitting as the later tracks, and the soundscape makes you feel like you are quitting the Solar System, on your way to unknown galaxies, gearing up for the next step. The drums and the bass symbolize the human touch - they are kind of a statement before the tremendous Universe.
"Lightyears" is next and, oh boy, the drums are already pounding as if our spaceship reached maximum speed. The track features a very interesting sound, like some air gets sucked out in a black hole in a split second - Autechre
's "Rotar", from Tri Repetae
, comes to mind. "Lightyears" pictures the starry whirlwind of the Milky Way: fast, intense, larger than life, and very danceable. "Space Technique" opens next and is probably the most anxious track of the album. A single note is repeated throughout all of it. Are we alone in the Universe? What will happen to us? The drums are paranoid and thick and clumped altogether, almost breakbeat sounding, while the synthesizers create an ambiance that feels both empty and ghostly, almost pale and desolate. It challenges our spaceship to stay strong despite any anomaly that might happen.
Enters "Juno", hard and courageous, the glorious comeback to the severe "Space Technique". Here again, the drums and the bass picture the triumph of our knowledge and of our exploration. God is Love! It is perhaps the most optimistic track of The Astral Traveller
and perpetuates the dancing streak "Lightyears" has started. You feel strong like in a video game, like nothing could ever harm the odyssey and the thirst of discovery we live for. Then "Logical Regression" emerges from the depths of constellations, more organic, lush, almost exotic, reminiscent of FSOL's Lifeforms
. Our speculations find, at last, an answer: we are not alone in the Universe. There are other civilisations than ours. The percussions and the atmosphere sound more tribal in this track. They satisfy our dying curiosity.
"Zero Gravity" is the most mesmerizing track of all. Our conceptions about life and the Universe are constantly challenged. The amount of knowledge we have acquired since we have left Earth is overwhelming. Remember the psychedelic and colourful scene in Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece, near the end of the movie? The drums are restless. The sounds make our spaceship tumble down the rabbit hole. What is language anyway? Even the Milky Way is behind us and we don't know anymore where we are heading. Fortunately, "Projections" brings back some order in the dizziness of our travels. Here is another track of wonderful discoveries in the same way that "Lightyears" was. The drums and the bass engulf you so much in contemplation, they sound from beneath the ocean.
Watch out for "Collision Course", though. It is an almost brutal track in comparison to the others. This is the other-worldly attack: unknown beings want our demise. Lasers burst out within the fighting drums, accompanied by a dramatic soundscape. Everything breaks the stillness of space, until victory comes under the namesake of "Delta Shift". Our journey meets a vivid ending with this track. Ethereal and sweet vocal samples surround us with blossoming electronic sounds. The drums are some of the best on the album, marching and progressing from everlasting loops. "End of the Line" ends it all on a chilled out breakbeat. It features a floating melody that creates the perfect "open ending". What is to come next? The music says: well, it's your turn now.....
Even if you are not that much into electronic music, let alone drum and bass, I suggest you give The Astral Traveller
at least one listen, especially - however ridiculous it may sound - if topics like space, aliens and galaxies are of interest to you. It is an album so detailed and polished that it takes several listens to grasp it all. If it doesn't give you at all the sensation that you are in space, then I don't know what else could other than being out there with an astronaut suit. Plus you can dance to it - what more could you ask for?