Fxa - "Accretion" (Mind Expansion 1998, me204)
Asha Vida - "Nature's Clumsy Hands" (Burnt Hair 1998, singe016)
Tomorrowland - "Sequence of the Negative Space Changes" (Kranky 1998, Krank029)


From Aural Innovations #5 (January 1999)

Following with my journey to southeastern Michigan to meet up with the Walk on Water and Asteroid #4 guys, I thought I should at least check out some of the other area bands that are often lumped together (rightly or wrongly) under the Space Rock banner. From Detroit, Fxa (pronounced 'fuchsia') is normally a duo comprised of guitarist Randall Neiman (ex-Windy & Carl band member) and bassist Ryan Anderson (ex-Asha Vida), though for the Accretion mini-CD, they've added full-time drummer Eric Morrison. Neiman and Anderson both play Moog synths also, and we hear a lot of these throughout the album. Accretion is a apt title for this collection of single-themed vignettes that hover close to Kraftwerk/Neu! territory.

The opener "Standing Under (" is a pleasant up-tempo poppy tune with guitar strumming and repetitive Moog lines that carry the piece along. [The Feelies (a New Jersey 'krautrock' band masquerading as 'alternative') used to do this sort of thing back in the 80's, though with only the guitar.] "City" falls along similar lines, though with the gliss-style guitar soloing and cool synth bleeping, this one is more cosmic. Following the ambient interlude, "Metro," we're treated to more bleeping synths and peculiar farting noises that make "Some Soviet Station" an interesting work. This one features more cosmic guitar playing, but it's a bit too thin and distant here. Morrison contributes the 5-minute funky drum/bongo solo that comprises "Landings," but which I found rather boring. "Tonality" quickly picks things up again though, a Neu! style romp conjuring up images of a railway journey with its rumbly bassline, and frivolous fun with the 'roller-rink' Moogs. Ninety seconds of ambient space entitled "Spruce" closes out the brief (36 minutes) and to-the-point Accretion.

Asha Vida is quite a different entity, leaning more towards loose, improvised psych jams with duel guitars (Craig Badynee and Eric Pieti), bass (Nick Sheren), and drums (Jessie Rafferty). Badynee is also the group's vocalist, and handles most of the keyboard/sampling duties. Clumsy Hands features six tracks totaling over 60 minutes, so you know there are some long-winded compositions here. I found it to be a real hit-and-miss affair, the three odd-numbered tracks being the worthy ones. Both "Per Aspera Ad Astra" and "Sic Itur Ad Astra" quickly fell into an inescapable abyss with monotonous twangy guitar chords and soft-jazzy electric piano noodling. At 10 and 18 minutes, respectively, these two tracks amount to a large portion of the album wasted. Fortunately, the opening track, "Il Buono Tempo Vera," is an excellent 6-minute improv jam including effects-laden guitar and wild electronics, reminiscent of Yeti-era Amon Dl II. "Poena Sensus" also works well as a tripped-out journey very much like Hawkwind's first album...sort of a controlled miasma of sonic expression. The lone lyric line, which reads (I think) "All beauty is marred by nature's clumsy hands, which would explain your teeth to me" is an interesting bit of prose to say the least. "Diem Paridi" (love these Latin titles) clocks in at 19 minutes, again a Yeti-style sonic symphony with very little in the way of melodic lines, but still quite interesting and space-happy throughout. The band explores everything from minimalism to droney fuzz guitar on this one.

Tomorrowland hails from nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan; the ambient/electronic duo of Nick Brackney and Steve Baker, playing a full complement of instruments (guitars, bass, keys, percussion but no drums per se). Sequence offers 10 tracks of similar length that, like Fxa, pretty much stick to one central theme. However, most of the tracks failed to put forth many ideas, instead tending towards minimalist ambiance and 'sustaining a mood,' as it were. Echoed effects and simple, repeated synth motifs carry most of the tunes in a way that only Cluster have done truly effectively (on Sowiesoso and Zuckerzeit) in my eyes. And here, I just don't find much that keeps my interest. I can point to "Dustbot," that featured some interesting 'computerized bleeping,' insect noises, and some actual movement to the underlying rhythm. And also "Sunbeam," a five-minute excursion into ambient euphoria embellished with some backmasked synthetic tones. But much of the remainder really didn't contain enough expression or musical ideas to warrant much further thought. Another case of 'style over substance,' in a genre that makes it difficult to produce anything but (I have the same response to most Tangerine Dream). This is why Sowiesoso rates so highly in my book.

In the end, I found that both Fxa and Asha Vida offered enough interesting music to warrant further investigations. Although Accretion is the more even recording, it also seems a little 'safe' if you know follow my drift. With Asha Vida, the high points of Clumsy Hands are worth the effort of skipping around the slow spots. And 'safe' is the last adjective I'd use to characterize them. As far as labels go, I'd be hard-pressed to say any of these releases fall into the SpaceRock genre in the classic sense, but then these are modern bands with modern sounds, and I really can't think of any one thing they should be labeled instead. And what's wrong with that?

Reviewed by Keith Henderson


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