By soldering the cogs of symphonic prog, metal, and electronic music onto their compositional spindle, Quebeçois progfusion act Spaced Out have turned out their most well-rounded album yet with Slow Gin. Formed roughly five or six years ago by bassist extraordinaire Antoine Fafard, Spaced Out’s eponymous debut met with critical acclaim in their homeland; the cleverly-titled Eponymus II followed not long after. Spaced Out has experienced three changes in the guitar role, so far—Mark Tremblay plays on Slow Gin. Martin Maheux is still drumming (and thankfully so, as he is nothing short of exceptional), and keyboardist Eric St-Jean only appears on three tracks, this time around, with Fafard adding synthetic touches and programming sequences on the other seven tracks. Tenor saxophonist Ronald Stewart guests on the last two tracks.
The minute-long electronic junior-prelude “Introx” can be likened to the twist of a revolver’s barrel—the threat is apparent, but the full impact isn’t felt until a shot is fired. The eight-minute title track follows after a patch of silence, building slowly with Tremblay’s guitar lurch, suspended triads on synth, and the first of many fret-tap salvos courtesy of Fafard & his 5-string. The achievement of “Slow Gin” is the band’s namesake: spatiality. For much activity, nobody competes to be heard. For every power chord, fill, and uproarious bass lick is a mellower interstice which emulates the revving of an engine, the ease-up of the fuel pedal, followed by another pedal-depress, or flex, in the case of these players. Fafard is basically a monster who handles his instrument with a martial ability that has already brought him some notoriety. Maheux’s drumming leaves nothing to be desired—his influences must clearly be Cobham, White, and Chambers, among others. Maheux knows when not to overplay (and when to let loose), and his fills are very precise and tempo-sensitive. “Spaced In” is the brother limb of “Gin,” with an unimposing synth arpeggio lingering in the background (and adding some character) as the trio strut their stuff.
”Minor Blast” may owe its title to the muscular rhythm section of Fafard & Maheux. This will no doubt become one of Fafard’s signature pieces; his truly agitated line for this track will make many a bass hound salivate. Tremblay sustains long notes as a polarized counter to the hyperactive bassing. The midsection also includes sequenced piano. “The Thing” and “E.M.O.” bring the heat down a few notches; these are quite lyrical instrumentals endowed with melodic bass, tasteful legato guitar, some prepared organ and Floydian synth on the latter—Maheux takes a few bars to shine on “E.M.O.” with barely any accompaniment. However, there is always a given—basswork which will make messieurs Clarke, Squire & Pastorius proud.
The heavily-electronic “Bright Space” sounds at first like a virtual symphony before the band joins in; sweeping pads preface this most restrained composition. Eric St-Jean’s pianofingers finally surface, if too briefly, but he also appears on the next two. “Glassosphere—Part III” (as in Philip—) continues what was begun on Spaced Out’s previous two albums; dancing, pulsing synth-arpeggios constitute the bedrock over which St-Jean’s subtle piano, Fafard’s faux-flamenco bassing, and Tremblay’s screaming notes stratify successive layers in a fraction of the time the Earth takes. “Blue Ron Pipe A.M.” and “Blue Ron Pipe P.M.” are passive-aggressive & aggressive siblings—threats implied or actuated. These final tracks straddle the fringes of avant-jazz & noisecore; slight piano dissonances & soulful sax collide with filter sweeps, noise bursts, sound bites, arhythmic perc-notes, throbbing bass, and menacing guitar. The former is the most, dare say, unmusical track of the album, while both are arguably the most intriguing.
In conclusion, it is difficult to find something not to like about Slow Gin. Criticism arose following Eponymus II that the band was merely a showcase in which Fafard demonstrates his mastery of bass guitar. If anything, Slow Gin will change minds in that respect, as every player
should be heard, and the compositions do not lack. St-Jean is missed on most of the album, but his void was adequately filled for now. Spaced Out is a band coming into its own as one of the best current progfusion groups.