Friday 15 December 2023

The Cosmic Gospel - Cosmic Songs for Reptiles in Love (2023)

Country: Italy
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Dec 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

I could swear blind that I received this album as a submission for review but I can't find any details of that anywhere: no download, no e-mail, no message, no nothing. So maybe I was dreaming, but I took a listen anyway on Bandcamp and found it an interesting album, especially immediately after the weird but wonderful new Gama Bomb album, which is different in almost every way. This is pop music that's far too interesting to be just pop music, with the Beatles's psychedelic years the first point of reference. It's also often psychedelic rock, occasionally progressive rock and sometimes a little garage rock too, though this latter is rarely forceful.

The Cosmic Gospel is primarily one man in Macerata, Italy who writes, records and mixes, as well as singing and playing most of the instruments on this debut album. He's Gabriel Medina and he even painted the cover art, I believe. The only other musician involved is Louie Cericola who contributed some keyboard work on Core Memory Unlocked from his Korg Sigma. The Bandcamp page suggests that these songs were either inspired or grew out of songs by other bands that Medina must have been involved with that were either never finished or not released, so its patchwork nature makes sense.

If there's a common thread, it's that most of these songs create a particular mood that is utterly subverted by their lyrics. Usually, that means perky moods and dark lyrics, but occasionally that's reversed. I often let albums wash over me without actively seeking out their lyric sheets, but this only works that way if we refuse to let odd words and phrases grab our attention because they're not remotely part of the mood we're in. I'd suggest that following the lyrics isn't the best way for a listener to go, because Medina delivers lyrics in an unstructured manner, almost conversationally, finding whatever melody works. Letting it wash over us is better, treating it as an instrument, but it's going to get jarring when you realise what he's singing.

Exhibit A, your honour, is the opening track, It's Forever Midnight. It's a perky opener, with garage rock guitar, synth handclaps and Medina's soft psychedelic voice. It's laid back but catchy, masking dark lyrics about our narrator breaking into his neighbour's house to save his baby from perverted Mr. Goose. It's a happy psychedelic pop song with some subdued garage rock emphasis until we're in on the story, at which point it only gets darker the more we think about it. Is this an actual baby or a term of endearment for a girlfriend? Does that make it better or worse? What precisely does perverted mean here? Maybe we don't want to know.

Exhibit B would be the song after it, The Richest Guy on the Planet is My Best Friend. It opens with sugar sweet synths taking the place of the guitars, which only show up on slightly more emphatic sections. It's less perky but it's still happy until the lyrics start to make us wonder. This one's open to more interpretation but it could easily be read as a cult suicide. Whatever it means, it doesn't mean anything sugar sweet unless there's something seriously wrong with our brain.

Exhibit C works the same way but the other way around. Core Memory Unlocked opens soft like a folky psychedelic pop song from the late sixties, flutes behind a strummed acoustic guitar. It's less Beatles here and more Vashti Bunyan, maybe as covered by Tyrannosaurus Rex. There's a sadness here that wasn't on the opening couple of songs, but its lyrics reflect simple melancholic longing rather than anything actively dark. So, as the music darkens, the lyrics lighten. That's not a usual approach, but I found it fascinating.

What else I found fascinating is how this often feels relatively simple, built on simple melodies in that Beatles-esque way. Their most powerful songs were often the most simple and Medina knows that. However, there are a number of places on this album where he dips into something far more complex. There's some of this on Hot Car Song, which is more emphatic from the outset, its John Kongos beat shifting into almost a Cramps vibe at points, but this mostly kicks in at the end of the blobfish song, Psychrolutes Marcidus Man, when it shifts into what sounds like a kazoo orchestra.

The Demon Whispers opens like avant-garde classical, but its ominous nature is overwhelmed by a folky acoustic guitar, the unusual returning halfway with the advent of a theremin-like melody. It gives way to Wrath and Ghosts, which starts out unusual and only gets more so as it builds. This is an almost entirely electronic track onto which voices are added, though they may be manipulated samples. It becomes an avant-garde choral piece for a while, like Henry Cow taking György Ligeti and shifting his polyphony into something prog.

It's been too long since I've been this surprised by an album in any way other than quality. Sure, it happens that I expect a lot from a band who fail to deliver or not much from one that utterly nails it this time out. Here, I had no expectations of quality because it's a debut album. What I expected was something psychedelic, with influences beyond the Beatles listed on Bandcamp being Damon Albarn, Beck and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I wasn't expecting this experimentation and the thoroughly unusual contrast between music and lyrics. So, thank you if anyone actually did send a copy of this over to me. If not, I must have dreamed my way into an interesting find.

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