Review: JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland ‘Oscillospira’

Five decades into a career in genre busting, JG Thirlwell needs no introduction. The man of a thousand musical aliases (Foetus being his most famed), having created music that has graced everywhere from dingy rock clubs to opera houses and TV screens, he’s a true pioneer. While no stranger to collaboration by any means, his latest pairing here with Swedish maverick Simon Steensland proves to be an outrageously dynamic duo.

JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland ‘Oscillospira’

The two’s shared love of the darker end of progressive rock and particularly the Rock In Opposition and Zeuhl movements (think Magma, Art Zoyd, Univers Zero etc) seems to have been the spark that set the stage for Oscillospira to come into being. Accordingly, the eight lengthy tracks are firmly in that mould, taking in symphonic forms and channelling them through a combination of chamber music and rock instrumentation, often topped with wordless choral vocals. It’s a demanding listen for sure, but the constant shift in mood and dynamic as each song develops, ensures there’s never a dull moment.

While the influences are obvious, the duo meld these elements to their own means rather than simply pay homage. There are so many musical threads blended that its breathtaking. Night Shift has a particular run from a rumbling martial section of drums and brass, into a lilting musical box melody with string backing, which in turn gradually darkens and arrives into a dirgey chord sequence – it’s the musical equivalent of watching a sun shower turn to a full storm in the space of about a minute. Oscillospira is full of moments like this. Lush strings will give way to a sudden series of bass and drum stabs, or a rattling snare procession will halt for a choir of angels.

It can of course be difficult to take it all in on the first (few) listens. Music like this is like a story for the ears, and the plot may take a while to fully pick up and follow. Objectively, the problem for some listeners will be the perpetual motion of it all. The mid-section of Heron for example contains an absolutely massive groove that might be the catchiest moment on the album and it seems criminal for it to disappear just as it seems to get going – but such is the nature of this kind of work.

Lush strings will give way to a sudden series of bass and drum stabs, or a rattling snare procession will halt for a choir of angels…

While Catholic Deceit with its’ dramatic mix of dark sci-fi shuffle and beatless  choral void is one of the less intimidating moments early on, it’s toward the latter section a steadiness appears. The ethereal Crystal Night is a flickering vocal drone allowing a moment of calm before Redbug reintroduces the full ensemble for the one piece that feels like it has a driving beat as an anchor throughout the detours.

Think of this as a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist and you’re probably in the right state of mind to fully reap the rewards Oscillospira has to offer. Part of the joy of listening to this album, if you can successfully give yourself over to listen in one sitting, is to actually try and imagine visuals to go with it. There’s a definite post-apocalyptic feel that suggests something like a modern counterpart to the War Of The Worlds soundtrack taken to its logical extreme.

The irony isn’t lost here as unfortunately we are now in a world that neither Thrilwell or Steensland probably had any inkling of when they gave the album a title relating to bacteria, the unseen enemy that has brought our daily lives to a halt. However, it’s that same pandemic situation, and its’ resulting suspended animation of duty, that might just provide the time for you, dear reader, to sit back and enjoy this challenging, but absolutely engaging, piece of work precisely the time and attention it deserves. You might even surprise yourself and find some comfort getting lost in it.

Hopefully they’ll even find some time to write another one while we’re all in quarantine.

Label: Ipecac Recordings
JG Thirlwell: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Simon Steensland: Official

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes