Mooch - "The Pagan Year"
(Ambientlive 2010, ALR3091)
From Aural Innovations #42 (May 2011)
The Pagan Year is a 2 CD set that features Steve Palmer and Erich Z. Schlagzeug as the core Mooch band, plus various guests across 8 tracks, all of which are in the 15-18 minute range. Imbolc opens the set and features the duo of Steve and Jez Creek on keyboards and synths for 17 minutes of instrumental Space-Prog with a groove. Vernal Equinox includes Chris Gill and Linda Harlow on vocals. It starts off with a nice organ sound, bubbling psychedelic keys, melodic trippy guitar and a steady rhythmic pace. After a 5 minute introductory bit the song portion begins, with the vocals accompanied by mellotron waves and liquid psych guitar. I love the way the music trips along but it all occurs in a linear song oriented way. And it all gets nicely spaced out as the music progresses, with lusciously hypnotic keyboards that will lead you pied piper style into the cosmos.
Co-written by Steve and Bridget Wishart, Beltane features the trio of Steve and Erich plus Bridget on saxophone and vocals. Bridget has her hands in many pots these days and has a Midas touch track record of adding gold to just about everything she contributes to. For the first 3 minutes we're treated to a gem of a melodic Prog instrumental. When the song begins there's a brief vocal section before another thematic shift, and on we go through a number of thoroughly enchanting instrumental segments. The last minutes are my favorite, with Bridget jamming on saxophone to a cavernous spaced out symphonic sound.
Summer Solstice starts off Bluesy-Bluegrassy, with acoustic guitars and percussion. Steve and Erich maintain this theme but a horn is soon introduced which adds a trippy edge to the music, and as more instrumentation is added it all starts to gel like a bunch of space rockers down in the Mississippi delta. But the Bluesy style soon melts away and the music settles into a grooving brand of spaced out Prog rock. Steve cranks out some tasty rocking guitar licks with a nice psychedelic sound, soon joined by Ozrics-like synths, jazzy drumming, and now we're really jammin' in space!! Wow, lots happening on this 15+ minute instrumental.
And speaking of the Ozrics, Alex Pym, who plays in Dream Machine and has collaborated with several of the Ozric members plays guitar on the next track - Lughnasadh. The first half consists of ripping, down 'n dirty Space Rock, with non-stop soloing from Alex. Steve and Erich lay down a noisy drone-like power jam over which Alex explores. Then things quiet down for a brief bird chirping breather, and then the band take off again, with Alex soloing along with keyboards, soaring alien electronics and staggered dance beats in place of the power jam. Sweeeeeeeeeet!!
On Autumnal Equinox Steve and Erich lay down a head boppin' energetic Space Rock groove with a solid rhythm section and lots of cosmic keys and synths. There's Prog influences and dance beats and eventually this sucker rocks as hard as Lughnasadh. Then near the end, just as I was spent from the assault of this and Lughnasadh back-to-back, the storm recedes and Chris Gill and Linda Harlow return to wind things down with a peaceful song finale. (By the way, Chris and Linda are a very nice vocal pairing.)
Samhain starts off as a peaceful song that could easily be a continuation of Autumnal Equinox. Like Bridget Wishart, Cyndee Lee Rule has contributed to numerous artists' albums and her Viper violin is always a welcome addition to anyone's music. Near the 5 minute mark the vocal portion ends and Cindy's Viper takes the lead on a rhythmic instrumental workout. Her playing is beautiful and augmented by playful dancey rhythmic pulses and keyboards that are both choir-like and spaced out. Later on Chris and Linda return for a reprise of the song that opened the track.
Wrapping up this epic set is Yule, which sees Ambientlive label honcho John Sherwood join the fun on synthesizer. Yule is an appropriate title as the synth melody and lyrics feel like Christmas, and it's all surrounded by deep space keys and steady drumming. As has been the pattern on this album, once the vocal portion has ended we embark on an extended instrumental section. The sound of distant thunder, howls and wails, some to the point of screaming, and angelic waves wander about, and it eventually gets very quiet, communicating intense solitude. But then around the 11 minute mark we take off into what starts as electronic Tangerine Dreamy space and then takes on a slightly more rocking edge, and then returns to a repeat of the song portion.
Mooch have a sizable catalog of albums and in my book The Pagan Year is a highlight and easily made my best of 2010 list. HIGHEST recommendation.
For more information you can visit the Ambientlive web site at: http://www.ambientlive.com
Reviewed by Nulight