[reviewed by/ autorka recenzji: VITRIOL || ENG]
Two years after the excellent “Phantom Ghost”, that signified a change in style for Aun towards a post-rock, shoegaze/ ambient direction, Martin Dumais and Julie Leblanc take yet another turn with “Alpha Heaven”, an album that plays upon the same principles of the previous one, by expanding on its musical concept and adding new influences and sounds to the final result – as well as borrowing some elements from older recordings. Space rock from the 70s, analogue electronics, names like Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Amon Duul, even Popol Vuh; the echoes of that era’s nostalgic longing for mind expansion, space exploration and connection to the cosmic aspect of the self haunt this album. “Alpha Heaven” according to the artists themselves is inspired by 70s sci-fi, and indeed if I had to attach a label to it, I’d go for “meta-vintage sci-fi”. Meta because everything is seen from a current point of view: the electronic sequences may be analogue but they are treated with a contemporary type of layering, the rhythms, looping and montage, the arrangement of the sparsely intercepting vocals and journeying melodies, are all eloquently modern. The project’s post-rock aesthetics and industrial imprint are evident. Yet at the same time the music maintains a traditional aspect, as it allows for a structure to evolve and present itself with beginning, middle and finish sections, in a way that we can speak not simply of ‘tracks’ but of actual ‘songs’.
Taking a first look at the artwork and titles, the concept becomes clearer. A white cross roughly sketched on a black background, accentuated by an aureole of white noise, minuscule white dots centered around the ‘spirit’ – a kind of lifeform existing outside the confines of time or matter. And then the titles: “Vulcan”, “La Luna”, “Voyager”, “Return To Jupiter”, referring to astronomy as well as pop sci-fi, set the tone for this nonchalant trip down memory lane.
In the opening track, “Koenig”, we are flooded with gradual waves of light-filled drones and melodic ambiences, accompanied by ethereal vocals and tempered with a thin veil of static. “War Is Near” is a lo-fi track dominated by Julie Leblanc’s dreamy, refined vocals and electronic sequences and psychedelic guitars in the background. A different version of it remixed by Sun Glitters ends the recording; much more rhythmic and even venturing into the realms of dub/ trip-hop, while the vocals in this version have been de-emphasized. Athough interesting, I infinitely prefer the original.
“Alpha” and “Voyager” follow one another in what is perhaps the most progressive, space-rock interlude of the album, “Alpha” being based on a minimalistic, fast-paced rhythm and “Voyager” – my favourite – being a combination of spacey ambience, intermittent, looping vocals processed just enough to sound slightly robotic, and rhythmic percussions. It ends more ominously in almost dark ambient tones, the whole giving the impression that we’re taking a ride on the spaceship of a highly evolved race. It’s one of the tracks that really show off the two musicians’ technical and compositional skills. Another great installment is “Return To Jupiter”, a 10-minute exercise in psychedelic space-rock with an intensely vintage feel, going darker and deeper into the wormhole, warp speed with destination unknown.
Listening to “Alpha Heaven”, that time in the recent past when science still maintained a modicum of a child’s enthusiastic curiosity, and NASA’s space programs were a source of excitement and hope for the future, is almost tangible. It’s like watching old footage of black and white sci-fi films on an analogue TV set, lying on the bed in a dimly lit room in some off-road American motel. The image is blurry and fades in and out of tune, the sound is off, you find yourself in that peculiar state between sleep and consciousness. Everything becomes magnified and suddenly makes sense. The figures seem to move in slow motion, a feeling of inner peace overcomes you, you are floating in space, everything seems beautiful and harmonious. That’s the cosmic part of Aun’s music, transporting you directly to another dimension. It’s what they excel at, and “Alpha Heaven” is one of their best instances yet. I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since it got on my hands, and it will most likely remain on my playlist for quite a while. Literally and metaphorically – stellar.