I learned a long time ago that even the most dedicated of music seekers simply can’t hear it all and it used to really bother me knowing that there are bands in existence that I would absolutely love but will never get a chance to hear. So when I heard Norway’s front-running art rock band Gazpacho for the first time in 2015 after the release of Molok, I felt fortunate to at least be able to discover the band at some point during their active timeline. Even if I was two whole decades late to the party, I still get to join in the excitement and anticipation of new albums to come. That day of anticipation came earlier this year when Gazpacho announced and released a track from their upcoming tenth studio album, Soyuz, releasing on May 18th through Kscope records.
Gazpacho is known for creating dark and complex concepts with each release, and drawing beautiful sounds out in the emotion of it. Soyuz is an album about being frozen in time. Its title (and two tracks within) are about the failed Russian space mission and its ill-fated captain, Vladimir Komarov. “Soyuz One” opens up the album and sets the pace with a pairing of electronic drums and a guitar lead that makes me feel as though I am about to delve into a Tycho album. Sustained notes, slowly crooned vocals, and piano arrangements take up most of the space of this slow track. However, lightly distorted guitars find their way into the mix in this song – as well as other key moments on the album – and provide an atmosphere similar to progressive rock acts like Porcupine Tree and Pure Reason Revolution.
The second track of the album is “Hypomania”, an upbeat rock offering. Stylistically, this track is the odd man out on Soyuz. It is appropriately named, however, as it has an angst-ridden and manic quality that sounds straight from a Muse album. Long time Radiohead fans will find something to like with this track too. Personally, I’m not a fan of either of these bands, so “Hypomania” is a pass for me. However, the third track, “Exit Suite”, pulls me right back into the atmosphere with its calming keyboard and violin melodies. “Emperor Bespoke” includes some really nice mandolin and accordion interplay that effectively keeps Soyuz an interesting journey.
“Sky Burial” is my favorite track on the album. It draws the strongest comparison to the sounds of Denmark’s Efterklang in their similar utilization of ethereal vocal delivery combined with melancholic key and string arrangements. It’s four and a half minutes of pure beauty, and, at this point, it is worth mentioning what a subtle ear worm most of keyboardist Thomas Andersen’s arrangements are. This isn’t the type of music that is outwardly catchy and full of hooks. Nonetheless, I still find myself having sections of most of these songs stuck in my head at the most random of moments.
“Soyuz Out” revisits the cosmonaut as he and the Soyuz capsule are crashing down toward the earth. This track feels like the climax of the story, clocking in at a hefty thirteen-and-a-half minutes, and is full of aurally pleasing surprises. Be it a section of heavy power chords, a clean jazz guitar solo, a vocal choir backing, or 80’s synthesizer modulation -my interest and investment in Soyuz only continues to grow at this point. By the time the last notes fade out on “Rappaccini”, my emotional and mental facilities are fully satiated and, much like eating a great meal, I am happy to simply bask in the experience I was just provided.
After over 20 years as an active band (a rare feat these days), Gazpacho has nothing to prove to anyone, and that is exactly how Soyuz presents itself. Never flashy, the band embraces moments of beautiful instrumentation and crooning melodies. Although there are a few short stretches of the album that don’t exactly develop into the poignant climaxes that I would hope for, the overall tone of the album settles deep into the psyche with conflicting feelings of serene beauty and cold isolation. Pairing this with the meaningful and poetic lyrical themes from Jan-Henrick Ohme makes Soyuz an emotionally compelling record that is well worth investing your time in.
Notable Tracks: “Soyuz One”; “Exit Suite”; “Sky Burial”; “Soyuz Out”
FFO: Efterklang, Grizzly Bear, Muse, Thom Yorke