The High Frontier
, August 8th, 2013 09:52
Modern day space rock is a somewhat perplexing genre. While its original progenitors built on the exploratory leanings of psychedelia to create a heavy expansive music inspired by the Apollo programme and the feeling that man really was taking the first steps into a new frontier, space today just isn’t what it used to be. Now, it stands for satellite TV and mobile communications – innovations for sure, but also instruments of a culture locked in perpetual low orbit, earthbound and inward-focused, the moon landings all but forgotten (or openly disbelieved).
There’s still plenty of space rock being made, but its subject matter inevitably renders it retro-futurist, no longer soundtracking our destiny among the stars, but referencing a golden age that never came to pass. Oakland’s Lumerians understand this implicitly, and on their second album proper, create a sound and concept that captures this sense of cosmic yearning while cruising through the starfields of an imaginary universe.
The High Frontier (great title) is a significant improvement on their debut Transmalinnia, which after blasting off with their superb early single 'Burning Mirrors' tended to noodle and drift, and ultimately failed to fulfil its initial promise. At just 33 minutes, The High Frontier is a lot more focused and sounds fantastic, its fat fuzz organ and shivery guitars underpinned by propulsive, echoey basslines.
Opening track 'Dogon Genesis' kicks off with a massive circular riff that immediately gets the head nodding, but as with all of the songs here, doesn’t just use repetition to bliss you into submission. Tendrils of synth and treated guitar thread between nicely sinister vocals (sample lyric: “If I were agile, I’d slip from these chains, and tear out the wires that criss-cross your veins”), and as the bass starts to play a melodic lead against celestial strings, it sounds like these guys might be as influenced by Joy Division and PiL as they are by Hawkwind.
This feeling of listening to interstellar post-punk is further reinforced by the following two songs. The title track locks into a mid-tempo bass groove before confounding expectations with a series of choppy tempo changes, highlighting the type of compositional sleights of hand that Lumerians use to keep things interesting. Similarly, 'The Bloom'’s queasily haunting synth and rhythm track and stately reverberant vocals wouldn’t sound out of place on the second side of Closer, until needling shards of discordant guitar bring the song to a disorienting conclusion.
'Koman Tong' changes things around again with a neat slice of vaguely oriental robot funk complete with vocodered vox, until we’re back to the dubby, Metal Box-ish intro to 'Smokies Tangle', which evolves into perhaps the most traditional example of space rock on the album.
'Life Without Skin' ends proceedings in total thrall to the space age melancholia and longing I described earlier. It starts off like a Euro library music cut - complete with mournful French chanteuse – before an ornate synth and organ theme powers us towards the event horizon, only for our craft to become stuck in an endless recurrence of nostalgia for a future that didn’t happen.
The High Frontier is a vibrant and thoughtful album that avoids the trap of naff that this genre can so easily fall into. If I have one gripe, it’s that it sometimes sounds too much like music made 200 light years out from Earth on a journey without any specific destination, neither capturing the thrill of first ignition or the discovery of exotic new worlds. But that’s not to say it isn’t hugely enjoyable in its own right – think of it as an alternative soundtrack to Dark Star if that film were a documentary rather than a comedy and you'll be on the right flightpath.