While time and space are inherently omnipresent, both are slippery concepts that demand examination and often elude it. They can be used in a figurative sense or in a more literal one and in music they may determine everything from structure and tempo to the motivation which drives it. It makes sense, therefore, that My Brother The Wind, in fusing these two concepts, have created a work which seems to surpass them – what may seem to be empty space can be filled with intent and texture; what is reflective may be simultaneously propulsive. In stepping backwards to recapture the spirit of Sun Ra and Amon Düül (an aspect furthered by their choice to record this album to a 2” tape recorder from 1968), they move forwards with colossal strides, their cosmos-journeying ways pinpointed and honed in on Oriental vibes and West Coast fugue.
The album’s early moments are dictated by their nostalgic souls, Song Of Innocence dictating a loose manifesto that they will henceforth adhere to. Part 1 is a Wadi Rum campfire jam, soft flutters of snare and wispily spidering guitar lines that set the senses at ease and transport the listener to a place of smoky tranquillity before jolting them upright with frenetic cascades of sound, an alerting effect that is replicated, in a fashion, in Part 2 – one half, swathes of kosmische drone; the other, an exercise in Krautrock momentum, propulsive in scale, sound and energy. These moments act as templates which the band dabble in at will, pulling in opposing directions yet always retaining a sense of movement and inertia, even as their liquid languor threatens to pull you deeper into the void of slumber.
Normally, it’s this that proves the downfall of improvisational bands. They become lost in their own meanderings and build up a microcosm they may never escape from, but nothing ever seems static with this bunch. Into The Cosmic Halo is the most blatant exploration of this, a cosmic journey in the good ship Hawkwind (with an explosive dollop of Monster Magnet as fuel) that builds up slyly behind a wall of looped guitars before exploding in a blizzard of shrieking solos that whirl dizzyingly overhead, Daniel Fridlund rattling off loose, effervescent fills to add that extra kick.
While these moments are thrilling, it’s the hazy slices of Tangerine Dream-inspired bliss that are the album’s most memorable moments. Sure, a massive, fist-pumping jam is fun, but Thomas Mera Gartz’ brief moment of simple, transcendent bliss is nothing short of being lowered into heaven by a flock of hummingbirds. Garden Of Delights and the title track do their part in trying to replicate these feelings of perfect relaxation with their kicked-back psychedelic hues, but the effect is never quite as strong. They work, but there’s an edge there that always threatens to blow back up into something huge and unstoppable.
In short, Once There Was… has the potential to be many things and, for the most part, it hits the mark with each of them. It’s thrilling, it’s beautiful and reflective, and they have achieved something great in using the improvisational energy of its recording into a potent asset, providing these songs with a strong sense of direction and progression. When they name-check legends like Popol Vuh and Pink Floyd, they’re not simply trying to score brownie points with the prog crowd, nor are they shamelessly purloining from the greats. Instead, they are showing that they share that same creative spirit, an unrestrainable soul that yearns for ascent, and while both time and space will continue long after they, and all of us, are gone, they have made a brave stab here at transcending them.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes