Gazpacho - Soyuz
Calum Gibson's Review
Gazpacho was formed in 1996, in Oslo by a core of Jan Henrik-Ohme on vocals, Jon-Arne Vilbo on guitar and Thomas Andersen handling keys, programming and production. Having had some line-up changes in the bass and drumming sections, they have since settled on Kristian Torp and Robert Johansen respectively. I have been a casual fan of the band for several years, but other than their March Of Ghosts album I have never actively delved into their musical sea for a swim. So, what better album to properly start with, than their 10th release entitled Soyuz.
The album kicks-off with a soft, electronic vibe, before the guitars and proggy/art-rock sound comes in to fill the opener Soyuz One out. The following track, Hypomania has a sound a bit like a mix between Radiohead and Muse. Some not-quite-heavy-but-still-packing-a-punch bits and some nice riffs. This is probably my favourite track.
Exit Suite follows, and is a generally minimalist track. I unfortunately found this to be a bit of "prog filler" type stuff. A shame considering the quality of the rest of the album.
The halfway point, Emperor Bespoke brings in the strings and melody again. Making more use of the keys, this track goes through a mix of melancholy, atmosphere and sing-along choruses. Sky Burial kicks things off with some keyboards and a steady build-up of guitars, drums, bass and violins. It reminds me a bit of what I’d expect Empty Spaces by Pink Floyd would sound like if Muse wrote it.
The start of the closing trio, Fleeting Things is another soft and atmospheric composition. Again minimalistic but with more melody than Exit Suite. This one wouldn't sound out of place on the credits of television shows such as Wallander. Again it offers a nice build-up to a powerful second half.
The penultimate track, Soyuz Out, is a 13-and-a-half-minute epic. A soft intro, before the full band comes in around two minutes with a grooving rhythm. A nice mix of soft bridges, grooving bass lines and heavy sections. It is exactly what you would want from a 13-minute track!
Finally, we come to the end with Rappaccini. This track is another melancholic one, making good use of keys and the violin, adding together for a soft journey through emotions to bring the album to a close.
All in all, this is a good art rock album with some nice elements of prog. It is very well written and melodic, with some punchy bits.
I didn't feel it was quite my thing, as I generally prefer more "stuff" happening, but it is very well executed. If you like the sounds of bands like Radiohead, Riverside, Pineapple Thief, Big Big Train and other such modern prog, post-rock or art-rock bands, then give this a try.
Andy Read's Review
Taking their 2003 debut Bravo as a starting point, Norway's Gazpacho have been highly consistent in the delivery of their unique brand of dark, atmospheric art-rock. Consistent in both the quality of their product, and consistent in the regularity of their releases. Soyuz is their 10th studio album in 15 years.
For me they have also been consistent in the frustration offered by their albums. They are one of those bands whose music works on two levels. They can write songs such Winter Is Never, Vera or River that are immediate favourites, seeping deep into my musical sub-conscious and offering many years of unrelenting pleasure.
At the same time, they can write music that demands a more thoughtful discovery. Some such efforts can be worthwhile, whilst others lead to frustration.
They are also one of those truly progressive bands, constantly striving to evolve their craft. There exists a definite "Gazpacho sound", yet somehow every album is very different, revealing and revelling in the discovery of new sounds and stylings.
Across their ten albums, every release has a songs, or parts of songs, that I adore. Equally, every album has moments that just leave me cold. A Best Of Gazpacho album would undoubtedly be one of my all-time favourite collections. Actually it could easily be a double album. However they have yet to combine their brilliance onto one, single disc.
For my tastes, the two opening tracks will easily fit on my double Best Of Gazpacho album. The opener is one of the best songs the band has yet delivered. A deceptively-simple keyboard motif and a tribal rhythm draws you in behind the haunting vocal, before the song unexpectedly bursts into life with a forceful guitar. There are a lot of wonderful details and dynamics packed into six minutes of musical perfection.
I didn't like Hypomania for the first few listens. Jan Henrik Ohme has to employ a very different vocal style to manage the up-tempo and direct Radiohead and Muse-inspired composition. However this song has really grown on me.
With its sparsely-tense atmosphere, Exit Suite initially impresses, only to disappoint in its brevity. The theme really should have been developed further. It feels unfinished.
Emperor Bespoke is another success. The music-box rhythm; the repetitive, lilting, waltzing, sea-shanty vocal; the violin, banjo and mandolin combo and the wide range of keyboard sounds are all very familiar Gazpacho motifs. Again this track packs a lot of detail into seven minutes.
It's when we move into the second half, that the album loses its way for me. It's where the band has decided to have a bit of experimentation. That is all fine and dandy. But whilst the opening half of Soyuz is a coherent collection of songs, the second half is a muddled melange of meddling.
Yes Sky Burial is truly progressive in its experimental, near avant-garde intentions. The repetitive piano is mixed with orchestral strings, Tibetan chants and instrumentation, and a very off-beat vocal. It is certainly interesting in its attempts at boundary-pushing, but I would be surprised if it will ever feature in too many people's lists of favourite Gazpacho songs.
Fleeting Things pushes the envelope in another direction. It's a schizoid lullaby characterised by minimalist instrumentation. I like the vocal melody but not the cold sparseness of the instrumentation.
Again the opening to Soyuz Out offers great possibilities, with one of the album's best hooks built amidst a streetscape of Talk Talk and New Order-inspired electro-pop. Until the halfway point I love it. But then it gets too weird and ethereal.
Rappaccini is too low-key an ending for such a diverse album.
In a musical sense, Soyuz is not really a concept album, however the songs do share a lyrical theme in being a series of stories about people frozen in a moment of time. As the band explains: "The themes of Soyuz were born from the idea of how beautiful moments pass and cannot be 'saved for later', so within Soyuz are interconnected tales of people and lives 'frozen in time'. Taking inspiration from a multitude of eras and subject matters, including the doomed Russian space capsule Soyuz and its iconic captain Komarov."
Unfortunately my promo copy does not come with the lyric sheet. But from what I can make out, those who wish to dig deeper into the philosophy behind each story, will find many more layers of depth to every song. The album cover is perfect.
It is fair to conclude that musically and lyrically Soyuz is one of those albums that works best on a deep, emotional level. There is an equal weight given to music that can reach you quickly, and that which requires more time. Thus, each track will reach out to different people in different ways, something supported by the fact that in all the other reviews I have so far read of this album, the listeners have all selected different highlights.
And with that I am happy to leave my conclusion in the words of the band: "We can't promise that you'll like the album. You may even hate it, but we can promise you that everything in there is true and it is certainly different from all the other music out there."