Tuesday 7 November 2023

Ozric Tentacles - Lotus Unfolding (2023)

Country: UK
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 Oct 2023
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This is the sixteenth studio album for the Ozrics and surprisingly the first that I've reviewed here, because I missed 2020's Space for the Earth, though I did cover Ed Wynne's solo album, Shimmer into Nature, a year earlier. The core of the band nowadays seems to be Wynne, who's been there since the very beginning in 1983, and his son, Silas Neptune, who wasn't even born then, but who joined the Ozrics in 2009. Also in the current line-up is Vinny Shillito, who has been their bassist a couple of times before going back to 1990 but who rejoined this year.

If you haven't heard the Ozrics before, this is as good a place as any to be introduced to what they do, which is an enticing and unique combination of sounds. They play instrumental rock, but with a keyboard presence as fundamental as the guitar, individual pieces of music often moving from one to the other. Sometimes they seem to play entirely synth-driven landscapes, only for the electronic clouds to part so that an electric guitar can emerge from them and suddenly they're a guitar band again with us focused on the soloing. Needless to say, this is usually seen as psychedelic rock.

The thing is that there's a lot more in this sound than just keyboards and guitars. There are points when the Ozrics play space rock, as on Deep Blue Shade and midway through Crumplepenny, when Hawkwind inevitably spring to mind. However, they're looser and less driven, because they take as much from world music and new age as they do from, say, the Grateful Dead and Tangerine Dream. There is a drummer in the band, who's Pat Garvey, debuting for the Ozrics here, but there's also a lot of drum programming, so Storm in a Teacup opens up the album sounding more like pop music than rock. Of course, it soon develops into something deeper and more complex.

You probably won't be surprised that these pieces of music tend towards length. Storm in a Teacup runs nine and a half minutes and it's not the longest track on offer, Crumplepenny almost reaching ten. The shortest, Deep Blue Shade and Burundi Spaceport, are still over five. However, it covers a lot of ground. From that pop intro, it becomes a lively psychedelic rock track, but there's prog and space rock in the mix and it also moves through jazz and funk before it wraps. Like any good Ozrics track, it's all about immersion. You can lose yourself in these pieces of music like you're in a jungle and you haven't seen the sky in a couple of hours, but you're OK with that.

Each of the six tracks here works that way, but they explore different jungles, if you'll allow me to stretch that simile. It's not a bad word to use for Storm in a Teacup and Deep Blue Shade anyway, because they're both bright and warm and rich. If we could turn them into visuals, jungle wouldn't be inapplicable. However, Lotus Unfolding, befitting its title, is far more open. It's slower and far more interested in wide open space than dense jungle. Saskia Maxwell's flute takes the lead and we feel like we can see forever, even though life is bursting into bloom all around us. It gets richer and denser as it goes but the keyboards never stop emulating flying creatures.

That may suggest that immersion into Ozrics tracks is immersion in nature and that's roughly fair, the greens all over the cover art entirely appropriate, but it's not always the case. Crumplepenny feels far more artificial because it plays with odd sounds and rhythms that feel man made. It's not remotely industrial in tone, but it does the same sort of thing that industrial does, especially early on, in a new age kind of way. Also, when the guitar solo shows up three minutes in, it sounds like a guitar solo rather than a bird or a treetop or a meandering stream. Again, of course, it evolves to something more organic, adding some space rock in the process.

Oddly, while the titles of Green Incantation and Burundi Spaceport might suggest which way they lean, that's not entirely true. The former has artificial aspects in addition to organic ones, while the key word in the latter is Burundi rather than Spaceport, as it dips neatly into African rhythms. It all highlights just how diverse the Ozrics can be within the framework that they defined so long ago. It also highlights how much there is on this album to discover, once you've allowed it to wash over you a couple of times without digging deeper.

As with so much of the Ozrics' output, this is immediately accessible but also neatly immersive. It's not the best album they've ever put out, but it's consistently strong even if there isn't a standout track. Maybe that's why it's consistently strong, because whatever these songs are doing, they end up working well together and we end up happy for three quarters of an hour. Of course, if you're a fan of the Ozrics already, you don't need this review. If you haven't heard them before, dive in and see what you think. If it's up your alley, then there's quite a back catalogue for you to explore.

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