Tuesday 22 September 2015

Spaceheads - A Short Ride on the Arrow of Time

Electric Brass Records 

A Short Ride on the Arrow of Time comes in two formats, CD and vinyl. Whilst ‘First Ride on the Continuum’ is common to both, ‘Third Ride on the Continuum’ is exclusive to the vinyl, and ‘Second Ride on the Continuum’ and ‘Fourth Ride on the Continuum’ are exclusive to the CD. After the appetisers of the last Spaceheads releases - two EPs – this feels like a feast. And, with the CD clocking in at over an hour, with an additional and equally essential twenty minutes on the vinyl, that ‘Short’ in the title might be perceived as a misnomer.

Two things to note here: a glance at the titles indicates that Spaceheads have swallowed a book on popular physics, with quarks, entropy, Schrodinger, kaons and pulsars abounding. What Spaceheads are dealing with here is deep time, of which an hour and twenty minutes is an infinitesimal blip. This in contrast, and an antidote to, the everyday experience of shrinking time. 

Time never drags on A Short Ride. This is because (on one side of the duo), Andy Diagram on trumpet, live looping and electronics, ensures that the sonic adventure is rich in incident. Just when you think you have his exotic multiphonic trickery pegged, he comes up with something that surprises or/and a melody that delights. And (on the other side) Richard Harrison’s drums are constantly rolling, broiling, inciting and only ever a hair’s breadth from out-and-out Burundi beat. In other words, Spaceheads precipitate a very rare and enviable condition: the wide-awake trance. 

Miraculously, this richly detailed palimpsest was improvised live in the studio with no preparation and no roadmap. This is especially amazing, as the whole is crammed with hooks, beauty and breaks enough to fill the record shop at the end of the universe. 

Talking of deep time, Diagram and Harrison have been making music together for a quarter of a century now. Such longevity is surely key to the ease and free play of imagination: Diagram and Harrison, are opposites that attract. Diagram is an artist of the floating world, a spellbinder, who creates an expansive sonic canvas by co-opting electronica. Harrison provides the gravitational force to sustain it. (Though Diagram is an extremely rhythmic trumpet player, as well as an incomparable melodist.) 

Of course, I realise that 'opposites attract' is rudimentary stuff besides the quantum science that provides the inspiration here. The floating stuff is either mesmerising – try ‘Celestial Timepiece’ from ‘Second Ride’ – or a pristine state to be subverted at whim, as when ‘Carry on crazy coan’ segues into ‘Running out of time” (‘Third Ride’), where diamond-hard beats propel a dream Bacharach and David melody which proceeds to fracture into urgent stabs. Rhythm is the thing, and rhythm provides a portal to a whole parallel universe of pop culture, suggested by the music. These are doubtless accidental and subjective, but I glimpsed Dobie Gray in with the in-crowd, and Joe Strummer lost in the supermarket (possibly one and the same in the topsy-turvy world of advanced physics). And so it goes: the Spaceheads yin and yang and push and pull all along the strange celestial road to reach some kind of apotheosis in ‘An Air of Gentle Gravity’ (Fourth Ride), which is music of the highest order, spontaneous or no.  

There’s fun and playfulness too: munchkin voices unexpectedly appear in ‘Flip to the Future’. In fact, the  chief  bafflement about A Short Ride is the complete absence of dark matter or negative energy. Those physicists might need to re-write the rules (again): there’s a new paradigm and it’s name is Spacehead. 




  1. This review came unstitched in time too. That is, Dick told me yesterday that the release date was October 21, in other words, Back to the Future Day! Andy Diagram doesn't miss a trick. Whereas Dick has never seen any of the Back to the Future films, and grouses about USA cultural imperialism (or he did 20 years ago; he might have mellowed since). I only caught up with Back to the Future I the other week, on an aeroplane's in-flight entertainment. It beguiled my time in the clouds quite nicely.

    Btw, you can have a giggle at Andy's cheeky promo video on youtube here: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOmlDBnZP7E

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