If, like me, you’ve ever been curious (stoned) enough to wonder ‘what would it sound like inside Jim Morrison’s dying brain in his bathtub in Paris in 1971?’ Euphoric? Spacey? Fuzzy? Perhaps even slightly French? Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s superb new collection ‘Spiritus Mundi’ goes someway to answering that question.
The band is a trio of French space-cadets with more than a slight whiff of their Teutonic neighbours Faust, Can and Amon Düül II about them. The cloud of feedback & skronks & witchy invocations & squeals that makes up opening track ‘Spiritus Mundi’ immediately reminds me of the spookfest title track on Amon Düül II’s 1969 mind-fryer ‘Phallus Dei’. But rather than space their title track out to 20 or so minutes, they condense it into a five-minute eerie lead-in to ‘Up to the Sky’.
‘Up to the Sky’ is why we listen to albums like this, folks – it fucking rocks! Alex Raphaeloff’s fat, slithering bass lolls over Adrian ‘Great name’ Bang’s lazy drumbeat while frontman/guitarist David Sphaèr’os plays you his soaring take on Miki Karoli’s classic Can sound. Then he opens his mouth, and if you’ve never heard Aqua Nebula Oscillator, his voice on this track alone is worth a listen – he sounds more Kinski than Clouseau (although fans of Serge Gainsbourg will get a lot from this record). Dry, deadpan, robotic – he ticks all the boxes. ‘Why some people die of being blind? Dark must the eyes of your mind’ he asks you, sounding like a possessed Yoda, through the guitar haze he’s dutifully laying on the track. Superb start.
The next track is a classic acid rock swerve – slow, stoned and steady on ‘Up to the Sky’ straight to 3-minute Nuggets-alike ‘Turn on Your Mind’. It’s got a fuzzy stomp borrowed from Spacemen 3 and lyrics straight from the 60s playbook – ‘Look at the stars, look to the moon, and relax – everything gonna be alright’. Far out!
I’m gonna be straight with you – a personal highlight of the record is Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s version of Jason Pierce’s Spacemen 3 interpretation of 13th Floor Elevators classic Texas psych tune ‘Rollercoaster’. The fact that this song has been dug up for two separate generations of noisy Heads shouldn’t really be all that surprising – you don’t need me to explain the importance of Roky & Co on modern Psychedelia. But what is surprising is that this new version sounds even darker, more sinister and fucked up (but not necessarily better) than either of the previous versions. Elevators proto-punk haste and shrieking vocal melodies were slowed down and re-fried for Spacemen 3’s tense, drone interpretation, and now David Sphaèr’os’ makes it a whole new level of dark, purely by his gloomy croon.
‘Crystal Man’ adds a slow-burning Gainsbourg reprieve to the record before … ‘Human Toad’. ‘Human Toad’ is not only one of the most ridiculous titles for a song I’ve ever heard (can YOU imagine a human toad?) but it also has one of the baddest, ass-shakingly Iggy-boogy grooves I’ve heard this year – and once you’ve got into the beat, here comes another slashing feedback-drenched guitar riff, then an organ figure straight out of the Manzarek playbook. Check out the genius fragment ‘Varanasi’ for an Eastern wig-out a la Om or Psychic Ills.
I’ve listened to this again and again, and it’s a record I’d go back to – but the downside with this album is the downside to a lot of these sprawling, haunted-house brown acid jams – Spacemen 3, Loop, Black Angels, Psychic Ills, Wooden Shjips fill the gap in a lot of Head’s heads. However, this album is essential if you love those bands and have space for another desert/kraut/jam band that wants to take you higher. Open your mind, light up, tune in and wig out to these Gallic nutters finest release yet.
Scribed by: Ross Horton