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Jet Black Sea - The Overview Effect CD (album) cover

THE OVERVIEW EFFECT

Jet Black Sea

 

Crossover Prog

4.00 | 26 ratings

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marbles259
5 stars Jet Black Sea - The Overview Effect (2018)

Review by Stuart Ball

Five years ago, guitarist and lyricist Adrian Jones (Nine Stones Close), formed a partnership with Michel Simons to form a duo intent on exploring the limits of their creativity and drive. No boundaries as to genre or style were set for the initial sessions and the resulting album The Path of Least Existence was nothing short of stunning. In 2017, the follow-up album, Absorption Lines, pushed this creativity further still. That thirst for pushing the boundaries, alongside a desire to move ever forward was ultimately to lead Jet Black Sea in an altogether unexpected direction; a direction that would surprise even themselves.

The Overview Effect is a phrase coined by Frank White, who explored the theme in his book The Overview Effect - Space Exploration and Human Evolution in 1987. White has since published several editions of the book, the bulk of which is based upon interviews with astronauts. Astronauts who experience Earth from orbit often report feelings of awe and wonder and being transformed by what they describe as the magic such a perspective brings. This phenomenon is called The Overview Effect.

Opener, Escape Velocity, begins with a mournful, melodic cello and keyboard interchange; a keyboard sound which has become one of the hallmarks of the band. Simons is a master at developing layered soundscapes and the opening is replaced by spinning, sanguine electronics. A throbbing heartbeat begins and we are on board with the astronauts preparing for launch. Two minutes in the unmistakeable power chords of Adrian Jones initiate the final countdown. We are thrown back in our seats - the powerful vocals of Adrian O' Shaughnessy hitting like a sledgehammer, as we leave the ground and begin our ascent. The first short but forceful guitar solo signals the change "from blue to black" as we enter space. Escape Velocity sets the scene, serving as introduction for the extraordinary centrepiece that is to follow and Jet Black Sea have already captivated the listener.

As the final notes of Escape Velocity drift away, the epic title track begins with moments of silence, which echo the transition within the astronaut as he enters space - "for a moment I can't breathe."

What follows, is a thirty-six minute epic, unlike anything I have ever heard before, taking us through the entire journey with the astronaut. We experience each moment, thought and emotion with him. Describing a track of this nature with mere words seems almost vulgar - such is the scope of ambition on display.

Beginning life as a thirty minute experimental drone piece, The Overview Effect has become so much more than the band ever imagined. While putting the drone together, there was originally no planned concept. This came much later in a moment of inspiration for Jones, mere hours before O'Shaughnessy was due to record his vocals.

After more luscious keyboard resonances from Simons, two minutes in, an insistent drum pattern begins. Swirling, shimmering sounds enthral the listener (this is an album that works particularly well on headphones). The astronaut is finding it hard to take in the moment and adjust to his new surroundings. "And I race toward the dark, looking back into the light" intones O' Shaughnessy, an ominous sense of duality in his delivery.

As the journey continues, there is a growing sense of melancholy and loss in the astronaut's thoughts: "Escaping your grasp, no longer attached, a view from afar, I see how lonely you are." He is communicating his feelings on both a personal and global level, speaking to loved ones he has left behind but also the human race, the planet and the atmosphere he knows so well. Energetic, insistent guitars from Jones echo Gilmour at his most aggressive.

In a flash we are ten minutes into The Overview Effect. Simons conjures up a sequence reminiscent of Pink Floyd's On the Run, which alters the mood entirely. The splendour of the Earth now stirs a different response from the astronaut. Splendour which encapsulates him and he realises just what we are doing to our beautiful world and how we all have a responsibility to the planet: "I am part of everything." Simons's sequence continues relentlessly as we experience one of the highlights of the album, an aggressive, awe-inspiring solo from Jones.

Lyrically, the majority of the album is, without doubt, lighter in tone than the majority of Jones's previous efforts but this section is bleak, dark and desolate. "I am changed to be born again in my reinforced cocoon, into a new dawn." The astronaut is losing his sense of attachment with Earth as the mission continues and the distance from home increases rapidly. A gloriously unhindered three minute section in the middle of The Overview Effect illustrates the jarring sentiments within the astronaut. One can imagine Jones belting it out in the studio at this point, playing instinctively allowing the mood to guide him rather than performing a strategically planned guitar break.

At twenty minutes, a staccato percussion further drives the astronaut into his detachment. Simons mesmerizes with eddying, churning electronics that taunt the listener, while Jones slides up and down the frets in a glissando frenzy. It is a section of ferocity, fervour and magnificent power. It is with some relief (of the best possible kind) when a delicately strummed acoustic guitar takes over. The astronaut, alongside us, has gathered his thoughts and a feeling of exhilaration begins to pour through his body. A recorded clip of Dr Mae Jemison (the first African American woman to travel in space), tells us the story of her own time in the void, her own overview effect recollections. This plays over a section that clearly shows the drone origin of the track; background effects repeat, mingle, intertwine and disperse.

At almost twenty-nine minutes, the ever-changing mental state of the astronaut is revealed "Colours start to deepen and change, peaceful and euphoric, an emotional extreme, I can feel your lure from here." Adrian O' Shaughnessy has done a remarkable job with the vocals, the album demanding he use the full range of his power and pitch. The title track is reaching its climax and Jones lets rip with another astounding solo; Simons following him at every turn. The mission is coming to an end and the astronaut is heading back to Earth. Velocity increases once more and a feeling of urgency develops within the music. But there is much splendour and magnificence here too. The astronaut is heading for home.

The whole piece does not seem almost thirty-six minutes long and time flies. While it is clear there are various themes explored, Jet Black Sea did not once consider splitting The Overview Effect into pieces or even naming individual sections, preferring to let the lyrics speak for themselves and for the listener to take the entire cinematic and fascinating journey with them. The whole track leaves us quite breathless. It is a startling musical achievement. Beguiling. Mysterious. Entrancing.

At this point, like the astronauts, we are preparing for the end of our journey through this remarkable album. Home (EDL) (Entry, Descent, Landing) begins once more with the familiarity of a simple but efficacious piano part. Musically, Home was originally demoed for the Absorption Lines album; unexpected circumstances led to the track being side-lined for that particular venture. Resurrected for this album with new lyrics, it serves as the perfect conclusion to the story, the astronaut acknowledging the change within. "A deep red glow surrounds me, a hot sun falling from the sky, I'll never be the same again". Subtle drums by Christiaan Bruin move the track forward and O' Shaughnessy delivers one of his most heartfelt vocal performances on any album. "I feel your arms around me, as I bleed into the light" is the Earth welcoming the returning astronaut, in tandem with a loved one he's been longing to see. An unexpected but moving violin solo by Russian Dimitri Artemenko brings an air of charm to the track. However, this is taken over by a heart-achingly radiant guitar solo. This review was initially sketched out while cruising in a plane at 36,000 feet over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Looking down at the Earth, while listening to this solo, through scattered cumulus clouds was an otherworldly experience. There were initial concerns from Adrian Jones that the track was, in his words, "an obvious ballad" but he need not have been concerned ? it's the most beautiful thing he has ever recorded.

Much praise for the astonishing sound of the album must go to producer Paul Van Zeeland. Producer of Leaves by Nine Stones Close and Jet Black Sea's Absorption Lines, Van Zeeland had already shown he understands how to get the best from Simons and Jones, whatever the venture. Of note is the sound Van Zeeland draws from the bass playing of Adrian Jones. He is known as a remarkable lead and rhythm guitarist but his bass works shines throughout. Such was his dedication to the project, on the day the master was due to be sent for pressing, he presented Jones with a new version of Home, in which the bass drum sound had been "tweaked". Upon comparing the new version Jones found that the sound was slightly clearer in the heavier section, giving the piece more space. An hour later and the new version was sent for pressing. No corners were cut in the making of this album.

Jet Black Sea have produced a simply astounding album. It is one of amazing scope, concept and ambition. It is also one of hope and optimism for both the Earth and for humanity. Although a cult following exist for this band, they deserve much more. This album should be heard far more widely.

This is not just an album to listen to....this is an album to experience.

marbles259 | 5/5 |

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