Anubian Lights - "Naz Bar"
(Crippled Dick Hotwax! 2001, CD-27601-2)
From Aural Innovations #17 (September 2001)
The Anubian Lights' first album in three years is a significant departure in style from their previous albums, and it certainly won't appeal to all the space-rockers, but I think it's a blast. The production and recording here is of the cleanest sort, nowhere near the spacious wall-of-sound technique, but the sound is lush as ever due to the usual multiple layerings of sound. It may be a step short in spaciness but further on in terms of diversity, though if a consistent feel persists, it's that of "chill", though the intensity towards the end of the pieces can be pretty dramatic. It's a great sonic achievement, and even if I didn't like it, I'd still have to give Tommy Grenas and Len del Rio their due for moving on, interpolating new styles, with no loss of integrity.
The action begins with "What a Bagdad Had", which retains the Arabian flavors, adds in loungey horns and xylophone and freaked spacey organ. A masterpiece, sonically and compositionally. The direction changes every so often, building in complexity and ambience. The drums are probably programmed, but have that catchy AL bass-and-snare kick in the ass, á la "The Fire Breathes" (Let Not the Flame Die Out). Dancing is only optional! "Smoke and Mirrors" has some catchy mid-eastern type crooning for a few verses over a simple beat, before the music takes over and melodic delicacies are scattered all about. "In Flight" and "Out Flight" is a semi-ironic tandem of pieces about a metaphysical airline backed by funky synthesized bass-lines and (of course) creepy, farty keyboard-work. "Epsilon" is another vocal tune (this time in English) with a great chorus and classic AL lilting keyboards lines. "Dreamstate in the Mainframe" is a completely different thing, featuring an android narrating in first person, apparently frustrated with his situation. The careful purity of the voice shows off the prowess of the production. Then there's something like an air-raid siren... interesting. "Micronite" begins simply enough with a standard beat, then adds layer upon layer of changing beats, melodies, vocal bits, synth-lines, piece by piece. The building blocks are simple in and of themselves, but once added all together make for a dynamic but very clear accessibility. More culture shock for the average space-rocker (including myself) is "Starvox" which begins with a great beat but also some totally lounging/chilled-out dude singing "It's a groovy day, you're a groovy girl", etc, followed by some spacier female-vocal parts. "The 3-Step Formula" is similar in terms of strange electronic-retro-culture vocal samples, but is also one of the most fun and spaciest tunes on the disc with more unbelievably catchy beats. I think AL will continue to win over more space-rockers to electronic-dance music... they just do it too well and too subtley. "Smoothing Out Of The Curve" is another quick-paced number, with more funky moments but also throwing in a spooky theramin-like keyboard bit culled from AL's own stash of self-made samples going back to Pressurehed. "Outer Space Music" closes the album proper and is there for those who miss AL's older style in its purest form--the title is self-explanatory. The live version is titled "Mars", but this thing goes way out there, at least as far as Pluto. It's a beautiful thing and reminds me that as endearing as their new style is, a return to pure space music will always be welcome, as here they are almost incomparable. There's a dancable beat again, but the sonic content is so spacey that the lines between musical genres become blurred and insignificant. And this is one of the great advantages of having the Anubian Lights in your music collection. PS: Hidden bonus track is a remix of "South of Dashur" (Let Not the Flame Die Out), but varies little from the original.
Reviewed by Chuck Rosenberg
In an e-mail he sent me a few years ago, Tommy Greñas complained to me that he was frustrated about how much work he and Len Del Rio put into the Pressurehed albums, which received little notice, when the far simpler to produce electronica albums they had worked on were the talk of the town. Back then, only the first Anubian Lights album, The Eternal Sky (and it's associated re-mix EP The Jackal and the Nine), had been released.
It seems that Greñas and Del Rio have done a sly thing. Gradually working more complexity and variety of instruments into the Anubian Lights sound, they have come up with an album that is not only a logical extension of the previous Anubian Lights album, Let Not the Flame Die Out, but also of the last Pressurehed album, Explaining the Unexplained. The result is an album set far apart from so many other fading electronica artists who are limping their way into the 21st century.
Eschewing famous guest stars from Gong and Hawkwind this time out, (though featuring an appearance by Pressurehed bassist Paul Fox), Naz Bar, as the title suggests, conjures up a mystical lost world of clandestine meetings in smoky 60's Cairo lounges, prop engine airplane flights over Egypt beneath starlit skies, night time excursions on camel-back into the shifting sands of the Sahara, exotic women in a leopard-skin bikinis, martinis shaken not stirred, and a kitschy array of space-age futurisms. With its eclectic mix of bossa nova and mambo rhythms, Les Baxter style horn swells, funky guitar breaks, and punchy, melodic, and spacey electronics, it bridges the gap between past and present, and between fantasy and reality.
Something new this time out for The Anubian Lights is the inclusion of vocals on some tracks. I was a little leery going into this, worried that the great instrumental sound they had cultivated on past releases would be compromised, but the vocals add a surprising freshness to the sound. Greñas himself sings on several tracks, including Epsilon, which has the uncanny sound of a lost Pressurehed song. C.J. Suez provides bewitching female vocals, and there are also a bevy of processed vocal effects floating in and around the mix.
Highlights on the album include the splendidly jazzy What a Bagdad Had, the thompin' yet mysterious bop of Smoke and Mirrors, the deliciously dreamy Out Flight, the rockin', percussive Hot Sand, the very groovy Starvox, and the psychedelic guitars of Lazytown.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald
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