Monday 17 April 2023

Edena Gardens - Agar (2023)

Country: Denmark
Style: Space Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 7 Apr 2023
Sites: none

Here's something fascinating that I found labelled as space rock. I'm not going to say that it isn't a space rock album, because it really kinda is, but it isn't in the way you might expect. Hawkwind this isn't. I could equally see it labelled psychedelic rock, progressive rock or even, most appropriately, cosmic jazz. There's definitely a feeling of being taken out there, way out there, but we're not in a spaceship travelling in a nice neat straight line. We're in a cosmic maelstrom, being thrown about this way and that, but in an oddly delightful way.

I see Edena Gardens described as a supergroup, which I guess they are if you confine that term to a pretty restrictive framework of musicians who record for El Paraiso Records. That's a Danish label, put together by Jonas Munk and Jakob Skøtt of the psychedelic rock band Causa Sui and this is one side project for the latter. I haven't heard Causa Sui, though this tells me that I clearly should, but I hear a lot of jazz in his performance. He's clearly wearing his jazz hat as Forst kicks off the album, but he gradually shifts into a rock mode, eventually helping channel some early King Crimson for a particularly experimental closer, Crescent Helix.

The guitarist is Nicklas Sørensen, who plays guitar for krautrock band Papir but has also released a collaborative album with Munk. I haven't heard Papir either, but I see "deceptively minimalistic" a lot when researching them and that explains his guitar approach here. That leaves Martin Rude, a multi-instrumentalist who plays in a host of projects with Skøtt including the Martin Rude & Jakob Skøtt Duo, the Rude Skøtt Osborn Trio and the London Odense Ensemble. I presume he takes care of the bass here but quite possibly other instruments too.

What they conjure up here on their second album is something truly immersive. I don't know if any of the eight songs on offer were improvised or not. I'm guessing that they weren't, but it seems to be entirely believable that they were. Either way, they conjure up soundscapes that we can simply dive into. These are less songs and more moods to wear like the water from a shower. The cover art may suggest that everything's dark and tumultuous, but it's not always the former and rarely the latter. Sombra del Mar feels like a grey day into which the sun has suddenly decided to intrude. The Veil is plodding doom, almost like a Pink Floyd instrumental recorded at 45rpm but played at 33.

As that might suggest, your favourite piece here—and I should emphasise that everything on offer is entirely instrumental—is likely to be the one that resonates with you the most. For me, while I'd call all of them fascinating, the standout is Montezuma. It's another slow one, but it's a delightful exercise in contrasts. The bass goes low and echoes like it's stuck in an underwater pit, resonating with the gentle motion of waves. However, the guitar finds some beautiful tones, as if it's surfing on a lake sprawled above that pit. Somehow we're seeing both at once because six prior tracks by Edena Gardens had somehoe opened our third eye or something.

I have no idea where the band's influences are, but I hear a lot of diverse sounds here. At one end of the spectrum, I hear drone metal bands like Sunn O))) in the bedrock of songs like The Veil, but Montezuma only hints at that, drifting further towards the primal guitarwork of Neil Young when he's been rocking out for a while but then decided to get mellow. At the band's most soothing, I'm hearing Pink Floyd, especially in the keyboards, but the guitars aren't remotely Dave Gilmour. The name I'd throw out is Bill Frisell, remembering his work with Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz on the Rubáiyát compilation to commemorate 40 years of Elektra Records.

But it isn't remotely that simple. There's post-rock here, alternative rock and stoner rock. Much of it could be described as prog rock, which segues into jazz and right back again, or krautrock, which covers both at once. How else should we describe Ascender, which feels like layers of water flowing over a fascinating set of drum rolls? And it's psychedelic rock above everything else, something I'd expect would be well worth playing through a pair of good headphones in the dark. Of course, the genre doesn't matter. At the end of the day, whatever we call it, it's a gem for anyone who likes to be immersed in soundscapes.

And now I want to dive into the El Paraiso back catalogue. It feels like a door has opened in front of me and I need to walk through it to see what's lying beyond. This may well be a peach of a gateway drug.

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