Review Summary: Imperfect, somewhat disorganized, and more than occasionally inspired.
Hopefully the minimal synth fanatics in the audience won't have my head for this, but at least to my relatively untrained ears, Space Museum
is clearly inspired a lot by Kraftwerk- their shimmering, crystalline synthesizers, their fondness for repetitive choruses, and their often-monotone vocals (it’s also apparently inspired by Doctor Who, but I didn’t get any of the references they may or may not have made). However, Solid Space’s DIY leanings allowed them to create an album messier and freakier than anything Ralf Hütter or Florian Schneider would have dreamed of committing to tape. With basically no production budget to speak of and none of the conveniences of 21st-century recording technology to fall back on, Space Museum
largely lives and dies on Maf Vosburgh and Dan Goldstein’s ability to craft engaging melodies and ear-pleasing synth and guitar noises. Though the album isn't perfect by any means, they succeed often enough to make the album worthy of its status as a cult curiosity, and perhaps even a bit more if you're into this sort of thing.
shines brightest when it leans a bit further into the post-punk, almost gothic side of Solid Space's sound. "A Darkness in My Soul" and closer "Please Don't Fade Away" are two obvious standouts, both taking the synths in a more atmospheric direction to supplement a core acoustic riff and centering Goldstein's forlorn vocals (or it could be Vosburgh I guess, the album credits list both of them as vocalists but don't seem to specify who sings on which songs). "Please Don't Fade Away" is handily the best the album has to offer lyrically and vocally, a rather harrowing number that feels truly sci-fi on both a thematic and sonic level. Meanwhile, "A Darkness in My Soul" gets a ton of mileage out of the brilliant choice to withhold the beat of the song until a minute or so in. The album mostly works with fairly cheap-sounding, programmed beats, but the simple decision to establish the melancholy tone of the song with NO percussion makes its delayed introduction feel like it gives a jolt of energy and drama to the song. The result is subtly memorable and dynamic while still bringing the same doom and gloom all the best goth music does.
On the more synth-driven side of things, the album features a handful of brief but surprisingly enjoyable instrumentals, most of which feature a simple, repetitive guitar pattern interlocking with an equally simple, repetitive synth melody. They create appropriately spacey, chilly atmospheres, and more importantly they don't overstay their welcome, all clocking in at under 2 minutes. "The Guests" is probably the most impressive of the three, with a slinky groove that I would have loved to see develop into a longer song, but "Afghan Dance" and "Earthshock" definitely pull their weight too. The former has twinkly arpeggios aplenty, and the latter's got some cool weird whooshing noises that add very little to the song but still sound pretty dang neat!
With the aforementioned five tracks hovering around solidly-good-to-great, the remainder of Space Museum
branches out, in ways that are often interesting, but rarely thrilling. “New Statue” is the longest song here, and also the most over-extended, wearing out some admittedly good funk guitar and bassy synth over the course of nearly 6 minutes. It’s a song with solid ideas, but it neglects to develop or expand on any of them, and as a result it stagnates. “Spectrum is Green” suffers from similar problems, though it benefits from being bookended by a cool-sounding film(?) sample at the beginning and a catchy lead guitar line at the end. The chorus of “Destination Moon” is one of the few points where Goldstein/Vosburgh’s limited vocal abilities actively hinders the listening experience, and the song is only hurt further by a somewhat uninspired melody and instrumentation that fails to cohere the way it does elsewhere on the album. Even “Tenth Planet”’s promising space-age melancholia is kneecapped by a dorky indie-pop guitar part that makes the duo sound like a proto-Vampire Weekend (and not in a good way). None of these songs are outright bad, almost universally featuring an interesting musical foundation or a part you’ll get stuck in your head after a listen or two, but they just don’t come together the way they might have if Solid Space had had more time to refine the formulae and mature as songwriters. It's arguably the album's greatest frustration: to hear that the band is probably just two or three years off from really ironing out all the kinks and getting their sound down pat, and to know that the duo disbanded before that potential could be fulfilled.
At its best, Space Museum
is a testament to the unique value of talented amateurs. At its worst, it’s a reminder of why these kinds of underground acts tend to stay underground, gaining influence and acclaim even as their rough-around-the-edges presentation precludes them from real popularity. For a lot of people, synth-heavy music like this is at its best when it’s polished and bombastic and maximalist. If listening to this album has taught me anything it’s that, to an extent, I might even consider myself one of those people. But hey, for anyone willing to look past the scuffs and bumps to appreciate the real potential on display here, to really let the understated sonic palette sink in, Space Museum has plenty of moments of offbeat songwriting brilliance, and it offers a fascinating snapshot of early synth-pop and post-punk music that anyone these days would be hard-pressed to fully replicate.