Empty Space Orchestra explode into your lounge with their intense post-jazz, crunk, progressive rock, frenetic spasmodic beats and noise-a-plenty. Then with an instinct for mood, they drop back to some ambient meandering post-rock driven by guitar, drums and bass but heavily beefed up with a computer. There’s even a flute tucked in there playing counterpoint with some great arpeggio picking.
The easy comparisons to make are with King Crimson and The Mars Volta, particularly the opening moments, but this ignores the originality and modern sensibility in the record. The musicianship is superb; the music is fun while challenging at the same time.
Being so many styles at once can go horribly wrong; losing direction and forgetting to be music with an identity. Not having enough variety, on the other hand, will see your record becoming background music, monotonous, disposable, or simply too energetic to sustain for more than half an hour. Empty Space Orchestra get that balance right most of the time, and although the music didn’t evoke the sort of emotional response that keeps me entranced by a record, it kept my attention for the full length each of the five or six times that I’ve played it.
The record starts with a handful of danceable afro-punk/ jazz tracks full of saxophone and bouncing rhythms. They are liberally infused with stop-start blasts and more hooks than a deep sea fishing line, without any being allowed to develop into traditional rock melody. Opener “Brainjar” is over seven minutes long and employs more dynamics and change of pace than the next two tracks, but that jazzy sax is the common undercurrent.
“El Viento” takes you to a Hawaiian beach before it transforms into piano, guitar and sax writing over driving rhythm and indulges in a little chugging and indie pop hooks that try to burst free but can’t shake those proggy hands grabbing at their ankles. In the end they lose the fight (ha!) and experimental rock wins the day, snorting fire and roaring in victory.
“Get Some” serves up some self-indulgent fruity Hammond organ and swinging sax over marching beats, and in this track the drums also get a much earned solo. This is a track for a dark and claustrophobia-inducing band room at 2am and, dare I say it, cries out for a singer, or at least backing vocals. This is a marriage of the best of 60’s psychedelic garage bands and musicians who know how to play.
“Tiger Puss” is the eighth track and just over as many minutes long, with four or five movements that meld into each other. It speeds up, slows down, explores dynamics and uses a variety of instruments. Starting with great drum machine reminiscent of New Order‘s “True Faith”, the song progresses through to a wonderful duel between piano and bass, each presenting their own view of the world before the other takes its shot.
“Tennessee Red”, less than two minutes long, can best be described as “Copperhead Road” played at 20 rpm with buzz-saw guitar overdub. It’s a great bridge to the classical piano in another short track “The Hanger”, and the two pave the way for the epic final track “Clouds”, which runs well over 11 minutes. Filled with piano and guitar from post-rock tremolo to driving metal the closing track is a long way from the opener, and completes the musical journey without taking you back to the start.
I’ve really enjoyed listening to this record. It’s one of a growing number of releases exploring similar sounds and ideas, but is a cut above most of those going around. Empty Space Orchestra is a musical experience that you should take the time to discover.