Review Summary: If supermassive black holes could talk.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
opens with two and a half minutes of an unpunctuated black screen and only the slow crescendo of ”Kyrie”
from Ligeti’s Requiem
to indicate that the film has indeed begun. And while orchestral overtures were all the rage in late–Golden Era epics (see also: The Ten Commandments; Ben-Hur; Spartacus; West Side Story; Lawrence of Arabia; Cleopatra; Doctor Zhivago,
et al), one gets the sense—from the chilling reverberation as that twenty-man polyphony reaches its climax—that Kubrick had more in mind that simply “setting the tone.” Theorists have long argued that this opening gambit is not a traditional overture, but that we, the audience, are meant to be staring into a monolith—as the primates and astronauts in the film would eventually find themselves doing, accented by the same, haunting arrangement—which effectively represents the beginning of our
subconscious journey; that is to say, the audience’s spiritual rebirth.
Whether you buy into that sort of crackpot posturing is entirely your prerogative and, as expected from an artistic maven of such caliber, Kubrick neither confirmed nor denied any hypotheses regarding the film’s lightless introduction, leaving the world to subsist on mere speculation, thereby ensuring that any
argument will always carry with it a sliver of credibility, however infinitesimal, in the absence of outright disavowal. I’m not sure if getting older has softened up my speculative synapses, or if my gradual coagulation toward a standardized family-man has heightened my predilection for buying into anything remotely outre as a means to engender excitement and novelty from unorthodox sources, but every few years when I inevitably revisit 2001
, I find myself more readily accepting of the meta-interpretation that I’m about to undergo an odyssey of incorporeal enlightenment alongside the organisms in the story—a notion that I’m certain nineteen-year-old me would’ve thought risible and ineffably pretentious. Such is life.
All that is to say: I’ve listened to Neptunian Maximalism’s Eons
somewhere in the ballpark of five or six times in the past week (which doesn’t sound like a major achievement in and of itself, but totally is when you consider my generally short attention span and the album’s mammoth length) and each time as the opening saxophone blares of ”Daiitoku-Myoo no Odaiko”
commence - followed shortly thereafter by an obfuscated assortment of rhythmic, percussive pounding and double-time hand-claps - the notion that wafts across my pea-sized cranium is that if someone were to cobble together a remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey
for contemporary audiences with updated arrangements and structuring (which they absolutely should not do, by the way; this is merely a hypothetical assessment), this album could very well serve as the soundtrack for the whole film. It’s the type of towering monument that clandestinely permeates your consciousness, the kind of enriching orchestration that seeps into the margins of your soul where it’ll take up residence for eternity.
Despite how unnecessarily highfalutin I believed my own personal appraisal of this piece of work to be, I was shocked - though maybe I shouldn’t have been? - to find that the band themselves have constructed a contextual narrative for Eons
, transcribed as such: ”By exploring the evolution of the human species, Neptunian Maximalism question the future of the living on Earth, propitiating a feeling of acceptance for the conclusion of the so-called ‘anthropocene’ era and preparing us for the incoming ‘probocene’ era, imagining our planet ruled by superior intelligent elephants after the end of humanity…The ambitious album trilogy of ‘Eons’ is a musical experience of gargantuan proportions where each chapter is part of a fascinating ritual, a cosmic mass of light and darkness…”
Again, I can feel nineteen-year-old me’s eyes rolling back into his pop punk–obsessed skull, scoffing at the sheer magnitude of pontifical wankery before him. Even reading that description now
, my reflexive impulse is to either wince or cringe: This is a stratum of aplomb and self-mythologizing that so few artists currently indulge in that when one of them finally does
, everyone’s immediate response is ”settle the hell down, guys.”
But you know what? Piss on that. Because if even half of today’s music makers put this much effort and meticulous detail-sculpting into the various nooks and crannies of their work, maybe the crema of music charts everywhere wouldn’t be clogged up with the same, regurgitated carbon copies of mindless, proven success year after year. (On second thought, they probably still would; but the layers beneath the surface would be a lot
more interesting and plump.) And, as jaded people often do, the thirtysomething in me sees not a troupe of pseudo-bohemian cadets hellbent on stroking their own egos until their skin is blistered down to the bone, but a collection of ambitious creators with an uncompromised vision and a boundless passion for carving out an iconography for themselves at any cost. When we really get down to the nitty-gritty, isn’t that what “art” is all about? Or are we meant solely to subsist superficial pleasures nowadays, cycling through new music packs of cigarettes, each chart-topper and buzz-worthy release occupying space in our frontal lobes for only a moment before recessing into the annals of obscurity forevermore; soulless, hollow, and bereft of anything legitimately “human”?
Of course, that high-wire act would be nothing doing if the musicianship balancing it out wasn’t either impeccably executed or sonically appropriate; here, it’s both. In spades. There’s no short supply of talent between the album’s four major accredited composers—Guillaume Cazalet, Jean Jacques Duerinckx, Sebastien Schmit, and Pierre Arese—who shuffle effortlessly through a toolbox that harbors everything from sitars and saxophones to electric guitars and bows to flutes and trumpets, never giving the slightest inclination that they aren’t in complete control. Two of the men are denoted as “drummers,” though that’s a reductive moniker; lost count of how many times I could hear percussion but had trouble readily identifying anything that resembled a “drum.” Vocal contributions range from deep, throaty growls to tonal, neo-Gregorian chants and various combinations therein. Clear touchpoints and influences include Sunn O))) and Swans on one hand, and Sun Ra and John Coltrane on the other. So: What the hell does this thing sound like? At the risk of coming off evasive and smarmy, the record sounds
an awful lot like the cover—a surreal, shambolic painting by Kaneko Tomiyuku—looks
, and I mean that in the best and most enthusiastic way possible.
To be a bit more descriptive, though, the largest and most general isobar is avant-garde jazz, only soaked in squid’s ink and constantly subject to severe electrostatic shock. But that barely scratches the surface of everything that Neptunian Maximalism explores: There’s a heavily progressive element to the whole thing; segments that induce a brutal dissonance; an overarching flavor of weighty psychedelia; segues of indigenous, tribal ambiance; and long stretches of colossal droning. Efforts to reduce this to any collection of standardized genre tags feels dangerously flippant, though, imposing a sort of predefined impotence that this album simply does not possess. And yet each of the three included discs—aptly titled “To the Earth,” “To the Moon,” and “To the Sun”—carries with it a distinct personality; no less internally sprawling in a vacuum, but distinguishable from their two brethren when viewed from a distance, traversing just as an excursion to the end of our species might: From increasingly entropic (Disc 1) to incessantly sinister and brutal (Disc 2) to meditative and cathartic (Disc 3). Even so, it’s a work that reflects on the intangibles: moods, impressions and temperaments. Dealing in absolutes is counterproductive, and it’s that
quality - i.e., the watercolor assemblage of genres and references, the omission of clear limitations, the intent of categorization rendered futile - in lockstep with the zeal of establishing peripheral lore and submitting one’s self so completely to their craft to which I’ve responded so strongly. But no amount of circumlocutory proclamation can capture the experience of actually listening to this behemoth. So what are you waiting for?