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“The Space Project” may have been doomed for fragmentation since its inception. Lefse, the record label that organized the project, invited a wide assortment of artists to compose songs for the album using “sounds” (really electromagnetic radiation interpreted as sound waves) picked up by the Voyager space probes. The album itself is divided into seven pairs of songs that act as A- and B-sides to various celestial bodies: Jupiter, Miranda (a moon of Uranus), Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Earth, and Io (a moon of Jupiter). The many-sided, Holstian endeavor seems to have been put together remotely, with no significant communication among the musicians themselves. As far as collaborative albums go, “The Space Project” is a fairly disjointed one, but the album revels in this multifaceted soundscape, turning its diffuse style into its greatest strength.
Ten minutes slip by before “The Space Project” offers any words; both Porcelain Raft and The Antlers choose to let their tracks grow without any vocal contributions. On “Terraform,” Mutual Benefit’s Jordan Lee breaks the silence, gently intoning, “The view from here, well it is a Martian sight: / some cratered ground and a distant, glowing light.” When the artists on “The Space Project” do speak, the vocals act as ornaments to the sampling, using simple ideas to add emotive elements to their respective tracks. The relative wordlessness of the album is apt—not only do the songs reflect the silent vacuum of space, but they also unite the 14 tracks in a showcase of expertly minimalistic songwriting.
This sparseness doesn’t hinder “The Space Project,” but rather gives each contributor the freedom to put his or her fingerprints on each track. The metronomic clicking that opens The Antlers’ “Jupiter” is a washed-out variation on the guitar part that opens their 2009 single, “Two,” and the lone trumpet line that joins in thereafter recalls the forlorn outro of 2011’s “Hounds.” Lee’s track is just as characteristic of his own previous discography—the arpeggiated guitar and melodic flute lines of “Terraform” could have been lifted from “Advanced Falconry” and “Golden Wake,” respectively.
Spiritualized (which changed its name to “Mississippi Space Program” for the sake of the project) assert themselves as the most experienced songwriters on the album, forging sample and simplicity into a slowly-burning love song that lies close to the band’s noise and space-rock roots. The lyricism in “Always Forgetting With You (The Bridge Song)” is mind-numbingly simplistic, primarily mirroring the opening lines, “If you want a radio, I will be a radio for you. / If you want an aeroplane, I will be an aeroplane for you.” But Jason Pierce’s repetitive, tin-can vocals are soon joined by splash cymbals and a sung countermelody, giving the track renewed life at the right moment and propelling it through its extended outro.
The album’s biggest detractor, however, is its second half, which loses momentum amongst celestial dirges alongside jumbled electronica. Beach House’s Victoria Legrand sounds tired and uninspired on “Saturn Song,” stretching out insipid lines such as “I was looking for a four-leaf clover / White snakes play summers for that gunpowder” over tedious expanses of time. Instead of feeling suspended, “Saturn Song” drags its feet throughout its four and a half minutes. Similarly, Absolutely Free’s “Earth I” is an art-punk symphony that tosses around fragments of several promising compositional ideas before dissolving, having developed none of them. “The Space Project” ends with Greek producer Larry Gus’s “Sphere of Io (For Georg Cantor),” which confusedly skirts the lines between jazz, disco, and electronica in a soup of samples and muttered vocals.
The tracks also treat their respective samples with varying amounts of dexterity. Porcelain Raft’s opener, “Glove,” immediately introduces the dazzling Jupiter sample to the foreground of the track before allowing it to ebb behind a steady, psychedelic waltz. Dance duo Benoit & Sergio also do justice to their sample from Io, using the glistening loop to gently introduce “Long Neglected Words.” Other samples, such as the one from Uranus used on Blues Control’s “Blues Danube,” are incorporated in a clunkier fashion. In the track’s final moments, the sample is crossfaded into a laid-back jazz-waltz, making it sound like an afterthought rather than the focal point of the track.
Though at times frustratingly diffuse, the incoherent nature of “The Space Project” is assumed confidently, making it impossible to doubt that Lefse intended for these tracks to grow independently of each other. The songs drift in and out of emotional immediacy, transitioning effortlessly (if abruptly) from the foreign tenderness of Youth Lagoon’s “Worms” to the aloof “Blues Danube.” Aside from the origin of the samples, there is little holding the tracks on “The Space Project” together—but like space itself, “The Space Project” builds and grows from its own entropy.
—Staff writer Se-Ho B. Kim can be reached at email@example.com
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