Music Review: Deeper Space
After releasing Deep Space Bass in 2001, Joe Boyd Vigil practically dropped off the face of the Internet until 2006, when he returned to the waking world with a MySpace page, a website, and a new album in development, Deeper Space. From the title you’d expect it to be a spiritual sequel of sorts to the original Deep Space Bass, but that’s not really the case. Deeper Space is similar, but has a flavor all its own. The album has 14 tracks and runs for just under an hour. Vigil’s trademark beats and use of ethereal, space-like sliders are present, but in general the two have been transposed in relation to Deep Space Bass. The beats fade more to the background as you listen, replaced by the dreamlike foreground synth. One the whole I would say that the album has departed slightly from the hard electronica that characterized teh Toonami era and shifted more to the New Age genre of rhythm-structure meditation. On the other hand there are a few tracks that are highlyreminiscent of Vigil’s earlier work, namely ‘Buka 24 Jam’ and the title ‘Deeper Space’. Here’s a set of mini-reviews for the individual tracks.
“If You See Something…Say Something”: I can’t help but wonder if this is a reference to horror movies, but the track itself is very laid back. A fresh, slighly muted-sounding loop runs in the background, masked by light cymbals and a rolling drumbeat. The tempo increases to Capslock speed by the end of the track, capped off with some feedback-type dissonance. This one didn’t have much variation, but was a solid enough way to start the album.
“Dream Machine”: This kicks off with a dance bass line, introduces some static, and then launches into a cascading dream-field effect :43 in. The lower sampling quality of this theme serves to reinforce the faded-memory quality of the song. Twice this pattern is interrupted by the gentle glisten of a music box, and the last section marries the two themes into a fluid expression. A very pretty track.
“Voices”: Breaking the reverie of the previous track is a harsh, monotone synth rhythm. A distorted robotic ‘voice’ joins in before the song is drowned by an aural waterfall similar to Dream Machine, which dominates the rest of the piece. This is probably one of my least favorite tracks on the album; the grating elements just didn’t mesh.
“Buka 24 Jam”: As I said earlier, this track feels like a throwback to Anvil Snare Remix from Deep Space Bass. It’s a downtempo stealther that starts out timid and gains steam after the addition of a steady drum kit. After plateauing early on it maintains the same patterns through the entire duration, resulting in a mostly monotonous piece. If it had been any longer I probably would have disliked it; as it is I find it to be pretty decent. Not much more than that.
“Media Blackout”: A more aggressive track that juxtaposes a distorted synth straight out of “If You See Something” with the music-box tinkling of “Dream Machine”. I enjoyed this one a lot; the cool tones of the main groove were very easy to get into and there was enough variety to keep the song fresh. It’s still a far cry from “Walking Stick”, but it’s quality in its own right.
“Legend of White Squirrel”: It’s appropriate that the oddest track title goes with the most offbeat song on the album. First a chirruping ambience, the a bleeping main theme… What is it? I don’t know, but it made me think of a) that white rabbit episode in Samurai Jack and b) Mushroom Hill Zone in Sonic 3. Almost simultaneously. If that doesn’t tell you about this track, I don’t know what will. It’s not bad. It’s just different.
“We Will Not Be Silent”: Another mostly generic beat-and-loop piece. It cleans up its act halfway through, which is nice, but there’s not much to say about it otherwise.
“Ghost Prisoners”: Suitably creepy, with lots of high-pitched incidental noises and surreal sound ripples throughout the 3:26 duration. A piano is also on hand to lend some sophistication. This track is my favorite since Dream Machine. It struck me as a more complete concept with fuller execution than the ones that had preceded it. Its tonal landscape is more complex and there are several definable sections to the progression. Good stuff.
“Jellies Gone to Heaven”: This was one of the demo songs on Vigil’s MySpace that prompted me to buy this album. The understated rhythm line isn’t overwhelmed by the rising, rocket-ship style synth accents (Jellies going to heaven, I suppose), and the composition continues the fresh, relaxed feel that was started with “If You See Something” but lost in the transitory pieces. Another one of my favorites; sounds best with bass amplification to fully appreciate the core beat.
“Warrior of the Light”: After an almost orchestral opening, a toe-tapping beat is melded with shafts of afternoon sunlight – or at least the audio version. This is another of the few tracks on the album that has a feel similar to Deep Space Bass. It’s relatively fast, with a powerful, infectious, tone-shifting bass line. I’m not sure I liked the unstructured hand-clapping (that’s the best I can describe it) at the end, but otherwise no complaints.
“The Last Chimpanzee”: If we’re down to the last one, then I guess it’s appropriate to compose an ode to the hairy, smelly thing, but I wouldn’t have expected it to sound like this. No rainforest samples, no quirky beats. In fact, it sounds much more normal than “Legend of White Squirrel”. Oh well. I dig the rupturous bass pattern, although it was too obscured by the ever-present curtain dream synth for my tastes. A much more typical song than the title would suggest, but certainly worth a listen.
“Time of the Green Spectacles”: Right on, another favorite. The high-pitched bells and synth are reminiscent of knives being sharpened – the perfect contrast to a gutteral bass line. While a lot of the songs on the album sound very similar to each other, this one stands out from the rest and grabbed my attention from the getgo. Much like “Warrior of the Light”, this is partly due to the greater range of themes and instruments present. Variety is good.
“Deeper Space”: The title track at last; a bit of a surprise. It launches with rhythmic static that quickly gets hit by a tonal sound and an NES-type gong; then the whole thing goes out to the atmosphere and beyond, “White Squirrel” style, backed by more of the (inentionally) cheaply-synthed steel kettle drum. “Dream Machine” gets in on the act again in the form of another disembodied, low-quality chord set. Asian motifs raise their head further on, and by the time it all dwindled back to static I was stranded in deep(er) space. Masterful.
“New Records Have Sound All Over Them”: The album climaxed with “Deeper Space”; this one’s almost like an experimental WIP. Morse code fades to silence, and then it’s scratching records and retro-style cymbal rhythms. Halfway through, a symphony of noise (my Speak ‘n Spell is on the blink!) crashed the party and didn’t shut up until the end. Short, strange, and comes with a bitter aftertaste.
I’ll be honest. I think this was a step backwards from Deep Space Bass. It started blandly, finished strong, and was a whole mess of things in the middle. The album never had any direction beyond the generic dream cascades, and I’m not sure Vigil’s style accomodates reflection as well as it does action. In the end I figure I owe Vigil $10 and I’m glad I bought it, but I would recommend you sample some of the tracks before you purchase. If you’re not into general New Age electronica as much as Deep Space Bass, then you’ll probably disappointed. This album’s definitely for fans of the former, and not the latter. Here’s hoping that The Inevitable Course of Events is a return to greatness.