Alien Planetscapes - "Life On Earth"
(Galactus 1997, G/AP 107)
From Aural Innovations #1 (January 1998)
New York's Alien Planetscapes plays a heavy style of space rock that is sometimes jazzy á la Gong and Soft Machine, often soundscape experimental, and sometimes kick ass rockin'. On this release the band consists of Matthew Block on drums, Chris Altenhoff on bass, Blais Siwula on saxophones, Rob Alfonso on guitar, and Doug Walker on keyboards, synths, reeds, and flutes. All members contribute to some degree on electronics and effects.
The disc opens with "Radiation King", a high energy, almost punkish cosmic rocker that made me think of Happy Family on an acid trip. This is the heaviest tune on the disc and jars the listener to full attention for the songs to come.
"Chris In Space" is a somewhat Chrome-like layering of electronics and heavy guitar with manic sax playing throughout. Symphonic keys and mellotron sounding washes pop up as the song develops providing an interesting contrast. This is very busy music. I was into the sax playing and was treated to more in "Gravel" as wailing sax and flute supplied an intro that lead into a light cosmic jazz jam. Just as I was settling into the groove a heavy grunge guitar came in while the sax and flute continued merrily in the background.
I'm willing to bet that "Soft Martian" is named as a tribute considering the song is clearly influenced by Soft Machine circa Third. The band cranks out some rockin', psychedelic free jazz that Soft Machine and Gong fans should love. And at eleven minutes all the musicians have plenty of room to stretch out.
"Birds Of St.Albans" is a wild, somewhat avant garde collage of electronic effects. At twelve minutes its also the longest tune on the disc. Imagine Jodie Foster in the movie Contact listening through the alien tracking headphones with all the accompanying sounds and radio waves. These guys are not afraid to explore. "Lucky 13", the last tune on the disc, starts off very much like Birds, but then launches into a heavy, rockin' Hawkindish jam. With its acid-tinged guitar licks, it's almost as rockin' as Radiation Kings but without the manic punk tendencies.
My favorite tunes on the disc were "Radiation Kings" and "Soft Martian". I think the band does equally well with heavy, manic material, and cosmic jazz explorations. According to the liner notes the band is just now releasing their first recording after being together for 17 years. This must just be the tip of the iceberg.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz