Review – Rob Harrison – Explode My Head – by John Wenlock-Smith

One of the best things about writing reviews are the opportunities that I get, on a fairly regular basis, when an artist sends me an album that is not generally available for a few months yet. I consider such acts to be very satisfying and rewarding in that I feel that I am entrusted with their creation to listen to and, possibly, review. This is a honour I accept with sincere gratitude as it means that the artist feels secure enough of my opinion to offer me their creativity, as it were. Which is why I am pleased to be able to write a review for  Z Machine’s sax player Rob Harrison, whose solo album, ‘Explode My Head’ is due to emerge in June of this year.

This is a  very personal  album for Rob as he gets to play the music he wants to and on his own terms and, in addition, he gets to play the guitar (something he seldom gets to do with Z Machine). The album is mostly instrumental, although there are a few vocal tracks. In all it has just six tracks with the longest being just short of nine minutes long. Rob is joined by cello and violins on several tracks, alongside flute and bass clarinets. Rob himself plays all guitars, bass and saxophone, as well as supplying the vocals and sound effects and I suspect he plays the uncredited keyboard parts as well. The album is really rather good, although it is not always an easy listen as the sound is quite dense in places. It has touches of artists like King Crimson, Gong and many others of that ilk.

Opening track A Severe Lack Of Gravitas has some delicate Cello from Polina Faustova and violin from Julia Stein (Who Knows Sound), in between which is Rob’s bass and heavy saxophone parts. The song changes tempo constantly and has great guitar fills and runs along some great sax parts too. I especially like this track as it is very inventive and musically driven. A Bountiful Surplus Of Grace is an intriguing instrumental that also contains some spoken word parts to it. These tend to be a bit  low in the mix so it’s not always easy to hear what is being said. I detect that it is about Rob’s own struggles that are being talked about here. It is a very interesting and musically strong track which really impresses greatly.

A Profound Throb Of Dread is an odd tale of an old man. After the opening section, it moves more to be an instrumental piece, although the vocals are repeated at various points in the track, another compelling and thought provoking piece of music. An Absurd Case Of Iguanas is mostly instrumental with almost Middle Eastern sounding notes at the beginning, later superseded by a different tone and melody. There is some sumptuous bass on this track too, really strong, vibrant and funky at times. The pace increases as the track gains in tempo and intensity with some strong, fluid guitar lines emerging to deliver a quite captivating song indeed.

The penultimate track is An Acute Sense Of Being which sounds similar in style and tone to Starless by King Crimson but without that guitar line. However, it does have similarities to these ears, again, some engagingly fluid guitar lines run throughout and it is all rather impressive really. The record closes with A Fragile Harmony Of Desires, this is the track that possibly explains everything within it’s lyrics, which appear to be almost a stream of consciousness about the difficulties encountered in Rob’s life. The music is fairly jolly for such a deep song, Rob says that he is not good at expressing feeling and talking about things, preferring to let his music speak for him, as it were.

The cover art is brilliant as are the short stop/start Aardman Animation-like clay model videos that accompany the album. ‘Explode My Head’ is a really stimulating, complex and compelling album and one that repays repeated listens, Rob writes music for the mind that also stirs the soul and I highly recommend it.

Released 28th June, 2024.

Pre-order from bandcamp here:

Explode My Head | Rob Harrison (