I’m old enough to remember that way back in the 1960’s I loved a children’s program called “Space Patrol”… The main characters flew around the Solar System in a craft called the Galasphere 347… And there ends any similarity with this grand musical offering from a new Anglo-Scandinavian band!!
The combined members of Motorpsycho, White Willow and Änglagård (Ketil Vestrum Einarsen, Jacob Holm-Lupo & Mattias Olsson), along with Stephen Bennett, have come up with a trio of super-melodic tracks here…
Track #1 – The Voice of Beauty Drowned (10:43) kicks us off quietly and
builds into a tour de force of symphonic prog beauty!! The “beauty”
here was never drowned… The mixture of harmonic vocals, guitars and
keyboards I find very uplifting – all held together with a melodic bass
line and measured drumming. KVE’s flute soars and searches out
tuneful heights, together with the “prog” ingredients of key-changes,
time changes, we have a special piece of music that I’m sure will be a
benchmark others will seek to emulate!
Track #2 – The Fallen Angel(15:35) Perfection!! A relaxed beginning with
an overlay of chiming guitars and soothing keys… The lyrics narrate a
tale of loss and woe but aren’t depressing in any way… “Reach out”
they urge us and yes, the proggy formula of guitar and keys do just
that!! The inclusion of a sublime piece of brass sets the tune off to a tee!
More virtuoso key work interspersed with harmonies from this talented
gathering of musicians brings this longest track to a fantastic finish!
Track #3 – Barbarella’s Lover (15:18) A ballad of heartbreak and elation
together? “Passion always gets us in the end…” The tried, tested and
perfected combination of excellent musicianship, song-writing, and
delivery leave us wanting more!
I hope this is only the first of many more recordings to come from Galasphere 347…
This album, only in my possession for a few hours, has already become a contender for my album of the year!!!
What is ‘Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progisch’? Roughly translating to ‘Very Cosmic, Entirely Proggy’, this debut album from Weserbergland is…well, exactly what its title claims. It’s a classically progressive take on Krautrock, masterminded by White Willow’s Ketil Vestrum Einarsen. Comprising four extended instrumental compositions, the album is layered, moody, musical, and intricate. The arrangements alternate between playful and austere as Einarsen and band dance around the motorik beat. ‘Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progisch’ is immediately enjoyable but reveals its true depth gradually over many listens, making it somewhat difficult to review, if easy to recommend. Let’s take it track by track.
Tanzen Und Springen: This album opener features tight drumming that moves around quite a bit such that the motorik never approaches monotony. There’s quite a bit of textured flute here w/punctuating fuzz bass and angular lead guitar. The overall impact is not unlike that of an extended modal jazz composition. Five minutes in the track switches gears for a dark interlude buoyed by that dependable motorik and coloured by a bit of synth prancing.
Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde: The album’s longest track, this composition executes a minimalist opening with the illusion of off-beat drumming and down-tuned synth before a more aggressive beat takes over. Over the course of the track’s more than 15 minutes, the drums say rock, the synths suggest ambient, the bass and guitar reference fusion, and the flute leads invoke world & new agey jazz. In the second half of the track, the arrangement seems to agree that, whatever else you might hear stylistically, bombastic prog is the underlying theme. The track’s closing minutes explore experimental territory somewhere between the opening moments of Close to the Edge and the sound of a cassette tape being eaten in the player. In other words, very cosmic, entirely proggy.
Die Kunst Der Fuge: Is this the soundtrack to a tropical sunrise? There’s a relaxed quietness to the beginning of this composition that again evolves gradually over its length. Despite sometimes frenetic guitar work, the mood remains laid-back in a groove featuring lyrical synths, flirty woodwinds, and the rare appearance of (programmed?) vocals. The band show incredible restraint as the track builds and builds, paradoxically sounding both jam-packed and minimalist at the same time, always taking two rounded left turns just when the proceedings seem about to arrive somewhere. It’s a lovely exercise in patience and the self-rewarding activity of virtuosity. Am I speaking in euphemisms for ‘noodly’? No, I don’t think I am.
Tristrant: Utilizing some tight reverbs and programming that would make Fripp-era Peter Gabriel turn his head, this track sounds the most mechanical and spacey of the album’s four movements. It also features more sustained, ecstatic energy, encapsulated in the almost combative dual soloing of flute and clarinet in the last few minutes. In this manner, the album closes on a more traditional jazz styling, albeit one outlasted by that motorik right to the end.
Unless (and even if) your record collection consists entirely of Can, ‘Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progisch’ will occupy a unique space on your shelf and in your headphones. A successful tribute to Krautrock, Weserbergland’s debut will also be accessible and attractively mysterious for fans of prog, ambient, electronica, and moody jazz. Don’t pass by this gem because you didn’t know to be looking.
I shall be brutally honest: I had forgotten that White Willow was still running as a functioning band. Maybe The Hedvig Mollestad project has made me think that way? The lack of any profile in the last few years or output had put them well in the back of my musical memory. I was at HRH V Prog talking to old friends about the forthcoming album when it occurred to me how important profile is in the Biz we call ‘show.’ Therefore, essentially, I have come to this as if it’s a fresh band out of the box.
Sporting a cover courtesy of Roger Dean himself, this is a product that has set its sights on being a truly prog album in the classical sense but it is also a real challenge for the band themselves to achieve the aspiration worthy of such a historically artistic cover. Have they achieved it? We shall see by the end of the review.
White Willow are Venke Knutson (vocals), Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, backing vocals), Mattias Olsson )drums, percussion, e-bow, sounds & noises), Lars Fredrik Frøislie (synthesizers, keyboards), Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (wind controller, flute) and Ellen Andrea Wang (bass guitar), Hedvig Mollestad (guitar), David Krakauer (clarinet), Ole Øvstedal (guitar) and Kjersti Løken (trumpet).
(Band photos by Dagfinn Hobæk)
By producing a seven track album (including the two bonus tracks) the band have not fallen into the trap of needing to fill a CD’s worth of material for the sake of it but, instead, have focused on the quality of the product rather than blitzing it with a ton of excessive material that could swamp the real calibre of the music.
Future Hopes, the eponymous title track, opens with booming bass pedals and a lilting melody with a melancholic vocal. The guitar and keyboards come in and the whole thing has an analog feel to it, but decidedly not old fashioned. The music has a crisp clean sound, nothing muddy or thick here. Complex harmonies and rhythms wind through the track, twisting between the possibly positive or negative world that we have to look forward to right now. It’s a fine opener and sets the bar high for the rest of the album
Silver and Gold is very folk-like in style with an acoustic introduction and almost a duet between guitar and voice that has a poetry all of its own. There’s also a very Moogy keyboard subtly coming into the background followed by a doom laden drum instrumental middle 8 then back to the guitar and voice. This has hidden depths and would make an outstanding live track for atmosphere and melancholy.
In Dim Days jumps straight up a gear and has a sonic landscape that is the total opposite of the previous track. You get distorted guitar and phasing through and through, it has a real symphonic feel to it reminiscent of Floyd in the Division Bell period. There is an open fullness to the track, if that makes sense at all? It has an epicness to it that allows a really effective exploration of the theme musically and lyrically without having to fill every second up with a million notes that swamp the listener. It’s definitely a high point of the album and this alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.
Venke Knutson is the new vocalist on this album and a stable back line from Opium Cartel . She provides a great vehicle for the lyrics and slots well into the line up. Now these guys have evolved over the last 21 years from a very folk base line to a band that has mature song writing and looks at adult themes. White Willow have placed their colours very firmly in the Traditional Prog territory but have retained a definitive identity of their own. I often do a sounds-a-like for reference in my reviews but not for the sake of “do they do a good … insert band name…” but mainly so you can have a point of reference as to whether this is going to be my cup of tea or not.
White Willow have a very firm identity of their own but sit very firmly in the atmospheric open grouping of bands that allow the music to breath and express itself. If Pink Floyd merged with Yes and Steve Wilson then recruited a female vocalist and then listened to Steeleye Span for a month before going into the studio, you may be close but it sounds nothing like any of the component parts.
There is an interesting version of Animal MagnetismBy The Scorpions as one of the bonus tracks that shows a great sense of musical history and humour. Fans of the band won’t be disappointed by this album and it will also attract new listeners. It does not bring down the walls of innovation but it does a sterling job of improving on White Willow’s reputation.
Gig with this album guys and gals. Your classmates Anekdoten and Anglagard seem to have been far more in the fore-front recently. This album has amended that and set a line your turn to deliver!