Cosmic Analog Ensemble

Expo Botanica

The cinematic arrangements of Lebanese producer Charif Megarbane are sure to put a bounce in your step, finds Zara Hedderman

Over a thirteen-year period, Charif Megarbane has released thirty-one albums as Cosmic Analog Ensemble via his Hisstology label, the home of “Analog Sounds from the 21st Century.” The astounding pace at which Cosmic Analog Ensemble albums arrive is down to Megarbane’s disciplined artistic approach and extraordinary ear for a hook. Sitting down five nights a week, Megarbane serves as a conduit for these unrelenting grooves and riffs to flow freely, committing stream-of-consciousness compositions to tape immediately and then stitching movements together to create arrangements abundant with spirit. Cosmic Analog Ensemble’s latest LP, Expo Botanica is no exception. The songs thrive from a brilliant array of lush textures that elevate the foundation of library music with flickers of David Axelrod-like brilliance combined with dynamic Eastern inflections, blaxploitation motifs and plenty of 60s psych-pop.

Cosmic Analog Ensemble is a somewhat misleading moniker given that the “ensemble” is solely comprised of the Lebanese multi-instrumentalist and producer. To those unfamiliar with his music, the other components to Megarbane’s nom de plume are, however, an accurate representation of his material. Recording using analog equipment, the vast breadth of the songs twinkle and glisten with celestial synth textures that provide rich layers to the work. Because the instrumentation isn’t tonally influenced by modern music nor does it conform to typical narratives, the work is tremendously transportive. On this occasion, his exceptional new release, Expo Botanica takes a leaf from works by Mort Garson and Stevie Wonder as he describes each of the sixteen instrumentals as a “theme for the imagined life of a plant”.

While Megarbane’s intent was to give song to botanical concerns, the timbre and tempo of this work seems more suited to soundtrack imagined environments on planets yet to be unexplored. Sonically, as is the case with much of Cosmic Analog Ensemble’s releases, the record is rooted in elastic library music from the 1970s, with some 60s fuzzed guitar tones for grit and a swell of synthesised orchestration which immediately elevates and captures the listener’s attention.

There’s an inherent jovial nature and breeziness to library music and this is no more apparent on the likes of ‘La Grande Bellezza’ and ‘La Corde Sensible’. The brightness associated with this genre, when being interpreted by musicians outside of library music’s intended purpose, provides a great foundation to cast a sinister sonic shadow. ‘Le cinéma interieur’ and ‘Ohms and Watts’ (which has a likeness to Air in its ambient tone) do this so well, and facilitate moments of contemplation. Meanwhile, ‘Holy Mackerel!’ and ‘Parachute Jellyfish’ come to life with a similar verve to how Stereolab have incorporated library music into their own material (even the song titles perfectly reflect Stereolab’s aesthetic.)

Cinema, too, plays a big role in the songs. There are plenty of moments – ‘À bras le coeur’, ‘Mare Nostrum’ and ‘Version des faits’ – that would fit perfectly in the soundtrack of the 1970 tearjerker Love Story, which featured the work of French composer Francis Lai. There’s a wealth of sophistication guiding these arrangements, which are endlessly evocative in spite of the absence of words to immediately convey emotions. ‘Le droit à l’oubli’, an instant highlight, overflows with wistfulness in the swells of strings and the weighty bass riff which are countered by bright organ interjections.

There are times when a record of instrumental songs can be taken slightly for granted, used to fill quiet spaces as an unintrusive entity. However, to passively consume Expo Botanica is to do both the album and Charif Megarbane himself a huge disservice. This is a dense and rewarding body of work, which is uplifting and hugely rewarding. Coming away from the record, don’t be surprised to find the energy and enthusiasm coursing through these compositions giving an extra bounce to your step.

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