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Rea, Dennis: Giant Steppes

Giant Steppes from Dennis Rea is the second album I’ve reviewed in quick succession from MoonJune Records and after having savoured both, I think it would be fair to suggest that they aren’t a label aiming their releases at someone like me. Having previously released Views From Chicheng Precipice back in 2010, which was according the man behind it all, “an unorthodox love letter to East Asia’s traditional music”, this latest release in Rea’s travelogue series turns its attention in similarly capricious manner to “traditional and modern music in Central Asia - in this case the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang, the Altai and Tuva regions of Russian Tibet, and” Rea continues, “…it’s not an attempt at authenticity but an earnest inquiry into the enticing possibilities suggested by its musical and geographical sources.” Hence, across the four lengthy tracks on Giant Steppes we move from Russian choral songs to Tuvan throat singing and mutant Tibetan pop.

Rea does to be fair inject a host of his own ideas and influences into these structures, heavy progressive (not ‘prog’) themes interwoven with jazz, krautrock, surf and ‘electroacoustic soundscapes’. Add in field recordings alongside the indigenous people, sounds and genres mentioned above and this album really does throw it all out there and simply ask you to catch what you can. No quarter is given as the Russian choirs shriek, whoop, giggle and howl in despair - or it might be delight - on “Altai By And By”, whereas its Tuvan throat singing that drones into a space rock meets Led Zeppelin groove on the horn infused jazz spew of “Wind Of The World’s Nest”. To these uneducated ears, the vocalising sounds like didgeridoo being fed into a meat grinder with a small rhinoceros for company - and then suddenly that all gives way to some gleeful sax parps and snorts, before once again we are slicing and dicing endangered species as a melodic (yes, a melody) guitar line wonders why it’s been invited into this intentional melee.

“The Fellowship Of Tsering” then takes us into a world where Casio keyboards made 80s synth-pop classics, an echoing ‘snare’ beat playing against Vangelis like chundering and a surprinsly beautiful keyboard underbelly. Then, as the track enters its mid section so eerie sounds, swirling wind and what sounds like horses galloping into fire clears the way for a synth-jungle to make you feel hugely uneasy. That proceedings then build back into a neat little boom-boom-blat beat with a cheesy melody almost feels like a pat on the head for staying the coarse with this album and seeing things through to the end. Something I doubt I’ll be inclined to do ever again.

There’s an accompanying film that goes along with this CD and while I do usually like to be thorough when I review albums, I can’t honestly tell you that what I encountered here inspired me enough to even consider discovering what it’s all about. In the cold light of day every artist has their own motivation when they set about creating a collection of music. Some want it to be consumed by the masses, others to see it become an underground cult classic. For some it’s about stretching musical boundaries and for others the whole idea comes from wanting to reenact and expand upon their own personal experiences. There’s no question that Giant Steppes falls into those latter categories and as such I’ve zero doubt that Dennis Rea cares little whether I feel inclined to accompany him on that journey. The honest answer is that I can in no way connect with this album, its sounds, experiences and motivation meaning less than zero to me. An enjoyable, engaging listening experience without those touching points Giant Steppes is not.

Track Listing
1. Live At Gaochang (Uyghur Suite) (16:41) 
2. Altai By And By (8:44) 
3. Wind Of The World's Nest (9:56) 
4. The Fellowship Of Tsering (14:07) 

Added: October 2nd 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Giant Steppes @ bandcamp
Hits: 700
Language: english

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