It's one of those strange quirks of fate that I should spin this disc for review straight after my disappointment with Øresund Space Collective's recent album Good Planets Are Hard to Find. The thing is that Siddhartha's Trip to Innerself is attempting to occupy virtually the same area of musical space as Øresund Space Collective: somewhere between space-rock and psychedelia. It's an area of musical space that I habitually enjoy and, as you may have read, I was disappointed by Good Planets are Hard to Find. And fate, or was it Lady Luck, has chosen to restore my faith in this genre with the delivery of this gorgeous album from Siddhartha.
But, what fate gives with one hand, it takes with the other. The joy is bitter-sweet. Not in the album itself, no, that is simply wonderful: the sting in the tail comes on researching the band's history and the quick realisation that, well, this is it. There is no more. Enjoy Trip to Innerself for its own sake, but there is no looking forward, no real hope of more honeyed music to come. You see, Trip to Innerself, despite being their debut album, is actually the culmination of the work of this Turkish band from Istanbul. It was originally released in 1998 and the band split soon after, the various musicians going on to work on different projects. Very recently, perhaps inspired by the resurgence in progressive music, a new company called Trail Records from New York re-released the album with a brand new cover design, re-mastering, a new version of "Baroque", and a conceptual sequence of the songs. Inspired by this, three of the founder members of the group, Özgür Kurcan (vocals, guitars) and Ulas Akin (bass) with Orkun Öker (keyboards), have rejoined forces to work on a revival project called Saint-ethique, but a brief listen to that project's samples on MySpace failed to convince me that a serious, synergistic follow-up to Trip to Innerself is on the cards. I hope I'm proved wrong in time!
History aside, let's concentrate on the matter in hand, which is a contender for the most enjoyable album of the year to date!
Trip to Innerself has all the elements that I found lacking in Good Planets Are Hard to Find. For a start, whilst there may be some improvisation here, the balance is definitely towards composition, and it shows. These are well thought out and constructed compositions. There is an Eastern influence in the music, but it is much better integrated into the overall album than on Good Planets Are Hard to Find: here it is an element that enhances the soundscape and it is always enjoined by many other elements. The pacing of the overall album is also well thought out: the variation between slower and faster tempi making it feel that the band are taking you on a journey, which I think will have been their intention. The "inner psyche" trip has become quite popular in rock and has resulted in some excellent albums - this one can be added to the list. There are occasions of sumptuous melody, hard rock edges, lead guitar soloing, wonderful keyboard sounds, singing and vocalisations as well as totally instrumental pieces, space-rock rhythms - it is lush!
"A Trip to Innerself" kicks off wistfully, Eastern phrasing just dominating over a rich sonic background, there's a vocalised mantra that develops quietly in this soundscape before some gorgeous organ-sounding phrasing from the keyboards, and the guitar comes in powerfully at the end - an awesome start! "The Explorer" is more straight space-rock: great pace and riffing; then "Desert" acts like a little oasis - acoustic guitar, sweet vocals - beautiful. As its name implies, "Baroque" gives you a mediaeval flavor, starting quietly then becoming rocky towards the end. "Nervous Breakdown" is awesome, alternating between psychedelia and space-rock, and ending with a blistering passage of lead guitar flying. The beautiful organ sound, which had returned on "Nervous Breakdown", continues to adorn "Beyond Destiny", which has some wonderful passages where this keyboard playing in combination with the guitar are sublime; some piano is added to the mix towards the end, to great effect. "Distant Cry" is extremely beautiful: reminiscent of the Canterbury sound with its soft vocal, piano and keyboard accompaniment. Finally, "Black" ends the album as well as it had begun; with an atmospheric rhythm and phrasing that recalls visions of Eastern dancers, flowing silky dresses and starry night skies;, its mood changes in the latter phases, recalling images of a new dawn, all fresh and bright. Truly, you have been on a trip, and the destination is full of hope.
It's a brilliantly conceived and executed album. Recalling my most recent favorite "innerself" album, Riverside's Second Life Syndrome (my favorite from their conceptual trilogy), I think this holds up extremely well against it; whether it betters it only time will tell, because it is really only after some months, or sometimes years, that an album's true worth can be judged. As for now, I can find no reason not to award it full marks!
1) A Trip to Innerself (10:15)
2) The Explorer (6:51)
3) Desert (3:30)
4) Baroque (3:57)
5) Nervous Breakdown (11:51)
6) Beyond Destiny (9:33)
7) Distant Cry (6:42)
8) Black (8:45)