Universal Cycle / by Ruben Olsen Lærk
The liner notes that came with this album starts with "You start in the barren dessert, and then you walk through the woods". I do not agree. This is a superbly executed soundtrack to long forgotten genres of science fiction movies about terraforming new planets. It should be treated this way when you listen to this excellent album. If you are only in for the Jazz - go away. This isn't remotely in the Jazz family. It's something different. However, if you are in for some exciting inner eye imagery - then this is a collectible must-have.
This album is not for cold-hearted bastards!
It's dark. Cold. Minus 455 degree Fahrenheit, or more accurately -235 degrees Celsius, or even more accurately -508.15 Kelvin. Cold and dark. Starship Age of Discovery, have been in Outer Space for 341 years. The crew has been frozen for 339 years. Now, in the latest stage of their reanimation, Age of Discovery has been sending out probes to the planet only known as Version 2. Data from the probes has indicated that Version 2 is suitable for humans.
The forward crew is finally reanimated and are double checking the data. All good.
The crew decides to Set Foot On Another Planet - planet Version 2. The forward team is stepping out of their landing vehicle. It's cloudy. No sun. Just clouds. However, the temperature is pleasent, the smell of fresh air is vigorously filling their lungs. Ahhhh! It's the smell of what can only be flowers. It's soft.
The first track on Universal Cycle is soft, low key, guitarish, with some elements of what I like to call "The Anti-Piano". The Anti-Piano is happening when the played piano goes it's own way compared to the rest of instruments and their merry melody. This can of course either be very bad - or - as on this track: Exceptionally suitable. If you enjoy low-key ensembles, track one is for you. You will also find the sound of an upright bass, which will float to the surface when you least expect it. I only found this on the 3rd listen of this track (and oh boy! - I listened to, not only the first track, but the whole album). The gentle surfacing of the upright bass on this track is really what makes the whole album stand out.
The crew walks away from the meadow, and into the forest. A clearing appears. In the middle of the clearing is a creature. One Elephant. Not really, but it looks like an elephant. However, the creature is light on its feet - not like the last elephant which died alone and sick from xchta radiation in the Twycross Zoo, Warwickshire, UK, some 450 years ago. In lack of a better idea, the forward crew name the creature - the New Elephant. New Elephant suddenly stops. Turn it's head towards the crew. Raises its version of a trunk and out comes some really soothing sounds. The New Elephant tiptoes lightly over to the crew. One of the crew members decides to enter the clearing. Stops just 2 meters from the forest edge. The New Elephant slows down. Halts only one meter in front of the crewmember. Crewmember raises her hand in front, and the New Elephant raises it's trunk - slowly approaching the hand. Sniffs a bit.
The piano is the key to the One Elephant track. The bass also plays a crucial role - not really as a supporting instrument, but more as a duet with the piano. A very enjoyable track - and you'll realize that the two instruments really make the elephant come to life. The piano makes the elephant come to life.
Unfortunately - this track could be really prefect had it not been for something that sounds like a fault in the mixing at 3:02 to 3:10. Either that or Andreas Ulvo suddenly got tired fingers. Which I do not believe. Also there is some strange dampening on the piano at the last note at 1:04. The same thing happens at 5:20. Given how low-low key this particular track is, these things really stand out, unfortunately. Because. This Track Is Just Wonderful. This is one of my favourites on the whole album. I firmly believe that both these snags could have been fixed in the final mix, as they do not add anything to this well polished album.
The crew has been exploring the surroundings for several days. Topographical mapping drones have given them great insights on where to go next. It's up. A hill, or, more precisely, a mountain. They climb, up, up, and further up. They are finally breaking through a layer of clouds. They come to a wide plateau with a big lake. It is early morning. Lush, green, plain. Plants that looks like ears of corn. They stop for a break. They see water creatures playing happily in the water. This is the place. This is their new home. This is where the base should be for the new colony. Finally the sun is rising over the island. A bright yellow sun. Healthy sun.
BTW, the full Island Sunrise is actually happening from 0:30 and onwards. Guest player Mathias Eick is portraying the rising sun with great empathy. A great track where the Eple Trio are the supporting cast. By the end of the track - the supporting actors become main players on par with Eick - and the sun has fully risen.
The Age of Discovery cannot land on any planet. However, given how modular the whole construction is, a lot of technical gear and instruments are being shipped down to the plain. During the first few years that the forward crew is working to establish the new colony, the 500 other passengers are being reanimated and sent down to Version 2. Having learnt from the disaster on their home planet, everyone is really careful not to destroy nature. The eco system on Version 2 is to be respected, honoured, and taken care of by not fucking it up. No one is doing anything to their new environment without extensive research on what is sustainable or not. In the meantime, Age of Discovery has enough supplies to last 50 years for all the 550 humans on Version 2.
In my mind, the In Our Home Where We Live track accurately portrays the first 5 years. The gentle trumpeting by Eick along with the rest of the Eple Trio makes for a really positive treat. It could not have been executed in a better way. Everyone is well-balanced against each other, and halfway into the song we are witness to the most beautiful piano solo - shortly joined by Eick's smooth trumpet. Given that the album is a science fiction concept album that is best listened to from start to finish, this track on it's own makes for a good candidate to use as a wake up tune at 6:00 in the morning before getting to work. I would go so far to say that, if Shipwreckords is to release a single from this album, this is the track they should use.
It has been 7 years since the first human set foot on Version 2 - and the unexpected has happened. Pregnancy. Which mean that this is a good place for humans to live. No stress. Cosy warm happiness. Yeah - cosy - autumn cosy. No real winter where the base is located - just the resemblance of autumn. Everyone rejoices and the young colony has a veritable baby boom.
The First Sun is simply happiness-by-strings in 4 minutes and five seconds. This may be the coolest track on the album - when the first few seconds hit your auris interna, you may believe that the Trio has invited Andreas Wollenweider on board. They may have been inspired by using waterish-sounding percussion as the foundation sound, and making one of the string instruments sounding like a dampened electric harp. However, this is their own thing. Maybe a tribute to Wollenweider ca 1991. I am biased towards Wollenweider, so this easily became my other favourite track on the album.
One of the colonists has the name Tippler. This is not her real name, but everyone has always called her Tippler. She got the name back on earth because her Flying Tipplers held the last world record - before they also became sick of xchta radiation. On Version 2 she cannot sleep. She really misses her Tipplers, and because of the agreement on not having a bad footprint on the new world, holding any of the local creatures in captivity for entertainment or hobbies is not permitted. Except a furry thing that purrs like a cat from the old world. The furryballs, as they are called, began to approach the colonists on their own. After a while the furryballs became the only domestic pets allowed, but on their own terms. Some of the humans are not comfortable around the furryballs, and as it seems that the furryballs can read emotions - they keep their distance to these humans. Tippler's furryballs (she has 4 of them) seems to understand the sadness that Tippler has. The furryballs and Tippler are siting on her roof and watching the stars - almost every night.
Tippler has insomnia.
I really spent a great deal of time on this track - really trying to understand how pigeons can have insomnia. I do not get it. Seen from an objective point of view, this track title does not match the mood of the other track titles. The track itself is very good – and warm. Nearly choral like - but still a eerie feeling during the whole play out. The bass drumming by Jonas H Sjøvaag resembles the beat of the human heart. The steady drumming is the foundation of 2nd half of the track. When listening to the first part of the track, I get the distinct impression that someone has made a clean up of Tom Wait's piano playing on Closing Time. This is a very beautiful track - a third favourite for me.
And Now Many Days Have Passed, and the colonists have been on Version 2 for more than 50 years. The new generations are, by the wonders of some brain bending technology that is capable of transferring feelings and knowledge directly into the brain of a subject based on the input from the population, well aware of the bad shit that took place in the old world. Even if brain-bending is performed, people are still able to have free will. There is some heavy discussion among the colonists of maybe forking the colony into two or three - and explore other parts of the new world. Letting the newer generations create their own societies based on well-established, sane, working values.
And Now Many Days Have Passed is a track that is not very easy to get your head around compared to all other tracks on the album. Gone is the warm feeling the 6 previous tracks gave. This is chaos. This is dark matter. Messy. Smelly. Sadness. Until the last 44 seconds - then we are back on track. In terms of composition, the track has a high degree of technical Excellency. On it's own, the track is super-good - but not in conjunction with the rest of the album. It does not fit. Period. The track is not bad, on the contrary. Period. But it does not fit. End Period.
The colonists have been preparing for the New Explorers to move away from the island by boat. Early in the Morning Stillness, in the Crisp Air - the New Explorers are leaving the plateau and venture down to the beach where the ship is waiting. The ship is aptly named Age of Colonization. The New Explorers are casting off into the sea. Setting sail. Going where no colonists have ever been, except through the images from the topographical drones which were used many years ago.
Even if you do not care for this science fiction story, the Morning Stillness, Crisp Air is easily found almost any place which has real seasons . Really crisp air is found in the autumn on the upper, or lower, half of the globe - and is close to the ocean. The track is correctly portraying this feeling. I also get the distinct feeling on being on a sailing boat.
More than 1500 years have passed since the first colonists arrived on Version 2. Starship Age of Discovery is still lying in orbit and is still being maintained. Even with a lot of colonies around the new world, peace remains. The peace is held because of the still-mandatory brain-bending when children reach a certain age. No one will ever forget what happened because humans did not take proper care of the environment on the old planet. During the last 100 years, the Age of Discovery has been prepared for another mission. Going back to earth to see what has become of their old home. Everyone knows that the travellers that are leaving Version 2 may never return - or if they do return, it will be nearly 700 years later.
A lot will happen in that time.
On a Road That Never Ends is a very melancholic track - and albeit not (in my opinion) a suitable ending, it is a very interesting one. In light of the story, this track would have been a better start - like a retrospective from the old world. I really like the track - it's very different from the first 8 tracks (except track 7). It's colour are bleak - like a Nordic forest in the winter. Cold, uninviting. A place you simply will freeze to death, when the night is coming. This is a very strong track, and unless you are missing a few, it might make an impact on your mood. It's not a happy track by any means - but that only makes it very beautiful.