Edward Ka-Spel - High On Station Yellow Moon [Soleilmoon Recordings - 2017]The Legendary Pink Dots have been a powerfully unique, visionary force uniting goth/industrial and psychedelic music since the early 80's, charting a relentless prolific path of avant pop music centered around the transporting and detailed lyrics of front man Edward Ka-Spel, who often describes a dystopian or totalitarian future. Amazingly, the pace of their releases has never let up in almost 40 years. "High on Station Yellow Moon" is a new solo album from Ka-Spel, released last year in 2017.
Familiar elements are immediately apparent as the album begins with a melancholy, spiralling piano and a lamenting vocal melody from Ka-Spel with his usual symmetrical cadence. He seems to be making a sad commentary on Trump and those like him, with lines like "we may lose a couple monuments, but now we're full armed". Never has his lyrical affect felt more applicable to the world we live in.
The first 'song' lasts a little over 4 minutes, although the opening track actually runs 19:40. The melody and lyrics trail off into a swirl of soundscapes. This collage-like 'suite' structure, in which a track contains many shorter, contrasting parts, is in keeping with many of LPD's obscure side releases, and their early cassette tapes. It makes for a well paced listen.
Soon after this opening ballad, Ka-Spel says "Do stop me if you've heard this one before...", and begins a satirical story in which a Russian, a Chinese and an American billionaire decide to live on a space station (amusingly called the "OMG666") together, which proceeds peacefully until a solar flare erupts from the sun and disrupts all electronic devices on the planet below, and the three inhabitants find themselves unable to speak to each other in the midst of a technological failure.
He's done storytelling and spoken word before, to great effect, on LPD songs such as "Godless" (in which he describes the obliteration of reality), or his guest spot on Cevin Key's "The Ghost of Each Room". He has a great talent for bending the tone of each word to fit its meaning. Ka-Spel's voice feels a bit withered, raspy and vulnerable compared to the Pink Dots' 90's and early 2000's releases, which adopted more of a snarky, spirited rock aesthetic at times. Old age suits Ka-Spel's music well, which has never relied upon testosterone.
Upon initial listening, it's not immediately clear how some of the parts relates to the story, but there is certainly a pervading feeling of paralyzing fear, the utter helplessness which one would face during a technological failure in space. Many of the lyrics are clever in that they are applicable both to the narrative and to a variety of other emotional situations, such as "Naked as a baby, there's no need to fear the void".
Ka-Spel has always preferred to sing over backdrops of atmospheric loops, without heavy percussion, and this has not changed. That said, the instrumentation has a different character when Ka-Spel is outside of LPD, and Ken Silverman is not present. Pianist/keyboardist Amanda Palmer attempts to fill The Silverman's very large shoes for this album, and her tuneful contributions feel informed by modern indie, post and art rock. We wax dramatic, with real strings, bells and flourishes of harp. Elsewhere, there are murmuring, warm synthesizer pads and skittering, heavily processed micro beats with an IDM business. Even when real instruments are used, the rhythm of the album is dominated by the rigidity of the electronic loop. In the sparsest moments, the character of LPD's old tape loop experiments has not been lost.
The CD bonus tracks are "The Leary Cloud (slight return)", an alternate version of one of the sections of the titular suite, and "No One to Hear You Speak", a 7 minute ambient piece. "The Leary Cloud" has been transformed into a piano ballad. The emotion of the piece feels generally unchanged from version to version, to my ears, as both versions are sensitive and tuneful. For this reason, I'm not sure this was a necessary inclusion. However, the rain stick soundscape of "No One to Hear You Speak" is a wonderful decompression after the heady lyrical density of the main album, and makes for an effective epilogue.
This is a deceptively complex album, brimming with sounds and lengthy lyrical texts despite a pervading sense of anticipatory quiet. It is considerately paced and easy to play repeatedly, though this does not make it accessible. Its most melodic moments are perhaps its most lyrically obscure, and the point of its strange satirical narrative are lost on me. It doesn't contain Ka-Spel's greatest melodies or songwriting (that honor goes to late 80's LPD), but it has a cerebral depth and oddness which make it a special sort of strange gem. I would especially recommend it to those particularly enamoured with Ka-Spel's concepts and words.Josh Landry