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Vangelis - Albedo 0.39 CD (album) cover




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3.68 | 170 ratings

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4 stars "Maximum distance from the sun: 94 million 537 thousand miles Minimum distance from the sun: 91 million 377 thousand miles Mean distance from the sun: 92 million 957 thousand and 200 miles"

After flirting with the moderately successful infernal synthesiser epic 'Heaven and Hell,' Greek electronic composer Vangelis retreated to a less bombastic, space-jazz style and entered his most creative and productive era. 1976's 'Albedo 0.39' is a precise forty minute skilful, catchy, melodic, new-age journey through the universe.

Fused within the layers of synthesisers are samples of sounds and speech that enhance the otherworldliness of this listening experience. The speaking clock opens 'Freefall' somewhat oddly, and irrelevantly, until the sound of an old fashioned phone being dialled introduces the excellent 'Alpha.' 'Mare Tranquillatis' features dialogue from the Apollo astronauts on the moon, the crackly radio distortion lending an extra air of discomfort to the peaceful music, while the final track, the eponymous 'Albedo 0.39,' is reminiscent of a planetarium in its soft recitation of facts concerning the solar system and the planet Earth.

Synthesiser fans will be interested in this album, as Vangelis plays an early Yamaha keyboard that he really put through its paces; from the quiet bells of 'Freefall' to the organ of 'Nucleogenesis I' and the rip-roaring 'Nucleogenesis II.' The main sound that dominates this album is an airy, pulsing tone overlaid onto a reasonably simplistic-sounding riff.


1. Pulstar 2. Freefall 3. Mare Tranquillatis 4. Main Sequence 5. Alpha 6. Nucleogenesis I 7. Nucleogenesis II 8. Albedo 0.39

"Length of the mean solar day: 24 hours and 3 minutes and 56.5555 seconds at mean solar time"

'Pulstar' provides a necessary opening, dropping the listener into the midst of things with a cyclical melody that begins low and staccato before being bombarded with lighter and much louder accompaniment. This is one of the most popular tracks on the album and an excellent opener, whetting the appetite of those who have heard it before as it gradually builds up. Although essentially a simple repeated series of melodies, the music does become more complex and difficult to follow towards the end, the levels of different sounds occasionally deviating from the built-up structure and eventually drawing to a dramatic and again very loud finale after five minutes.

'Freefall' is the complete opposite, a muted, lightweight song of two minutes with oriental-sounding keyboards (something Vangelis would really get to grips with in 1979's 'China') and a clanging bell, before an almost unnoticed transition is made to the spooky 'Mare Tranquillatis' ('Sea of Tranquillity'), coming in at an even shorter length in this transitionary phase. An low extended note lies behind the haunting high keyboards and becomes more noticeable by the end, the whole thing overlaid with unintelligible astronaut conversation, before fading out. These tracks border on ambience, but are kept punctually short before they are allowed to drift into the listener's subconscious.

'Main Sequence' is the second substantial outing, and the dominant jazz influence harks back to Vangelis' earlier, less refined compositions and work with Aphrodite's Child. The keyboards here don't follow a set melody in any way, the (synthesised) percussion being the gravity that prevents the different meanderings from spinning away. As such, this is a less instantly likeable track than the more orderly 'Pulstar' and 'Alpha,' but its position at the centre of the album and its grand title do add immensely to the chaotic sound of the album overall. The synthesisers sound incredibly like trumpets here, perhaps due to the jazzy background. The final minute takes a different course, sounding restrained, soft and relaxed.

'Alpha' is the other stand-out track here, and the second that finds its way onto every Vangelis compilation. Beginning very relaxed and chilled out, the slow melancholy melody is repeated seemingly endlessly and continues to increase in intensity with the introduction of accompanying instruments and additional layers, most noticeably the slow pounding drums introduced after the first minute. Very spacey, very catchy and a song that can be listened to endlessly. Although the song becomes a little too grand and pompous-sounding by the end, the deviation in the main sequence sounds far more natural and organic than the rockier 'Pulstar,' making this the better of the two tracks.

'Nucleogenesis I' breaks into its organ tune before the legacy of 'Alpha' is allowed to sink in, a radical departure from the futuristic sound of the album until a bass melody replaces it and a faster drum march struggles to make itself heard. Another unrestrained track in the vein of 'Main Sequence,' but this time possessing a core riff towards the end that the chimes and synth sweeps gravitate towards. The final minute marks a sudden turn and is perhaps the most beautiful and majestic part of the album; the music seems to reach some sort of conclusion, but the insanity that is 'Nucleogenesis II' swings by before it becomes clear what exactly that is.

If its predecessor was unrestrained, 'Nucleogenesis II' is chaotic. The bass-driven melody is kicked up in tempo and accompanied by ever-changing meleodies that avoid the high notes completely, a contrast to the way the more accessible tracks developed. This main sequence (the 'Main Sequence' itself returns later in the song) is even usurped by a more rocking rhythm backed by what sound like live drums before Nucleogenesis takes another of its turns and becomes dominated by slow, elegant high notes. More jazz influence here, until the music suddenly disappears and the dialling tone from 'Alpha' returns, followed by an explosion of heavenly sounds that mark the real conclusion of the album and hark back to the much-loved 'Third Movement' of Heaven and Hell.

'Albedo 0.39' is less a musical experience than an astronomy lesson, Vangelis reduced to ambient backing swooshes and dark sounds similar to his contemporaries Tangerine Dream. A soft English voice calmly lists the length of days, distances between celestial objects and concludes by stating the albedo: namely, the Earth's ratio of reflective power compared to the radiation it receives. While nothing striking, this does leave the listener in something of an ambient, new-age trance.

"Equatorial diameter: 7927 miles Polar diameter: 7900 miles Oblateness: one 298th"

'Albedo 0.39' is by no means an incredible album, but it is a great piece of electronic music. Many attempts have been made to capture the sound of space, from Stanley Kubrick's use of Strauss in '2001' to the unimaginative techno present in much low budget modern science fiction. 'Albedo' is a somewhat typical outlook: modern instruments experimenting with (then-) new sounds and sweeps to try and convey the vastness and complexity of space science, but the jazz influence and lack of much reverberation hold it back from being much more than an interesting progressive album.

Vangelis would soon discover tricks of feedback and density with the following year's 'Spiral,' and had he used these here, perhaps Albedo would have achieved its goal even better. This missed opportunity didn't prevent 'Pulstar' and 'Alpha' featuring heavily in Carl Sagan's television series 'Cosmos' however, the title music of which came from Vangelis' earlier 'Heaven and Hell.'

The excellent 'Blade Runner' soundtrack and the fun experiment 'China' both owe great debts to this earlier part of Vangelis' discography, his first successful attempt to trim his sound to a more consumer-friendly style without losing any of his loyal fan base.

"Albedo: 0.39."

Frankingsteins | 4/5 |


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