Various - Space Rock: An Interstellar Traveler’s Guide album review

Splendidly sprawling six-CD set of astral agility

Cover art for VARIOUS Space Rock: An Interstellar Traveler’s Guide

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So many light years beyond the constraints of form and language is this music that we Brits can politely overlook that American spelling of “traveller”. Presented here is a fantastic box of intergalactic grooves, based primarily on the classic movers and shakers of the genre but offering plenty of fresh curveballs from emerging imaginations (Exxasens, White Manna, Earthling Society) too.

Easing us in is 1979’s All Gates Open by Can, dripping creepy, almost subliminal sounds over a metronomic rhythm. Simultaneously reassuring and unsettling, it’s the perfect welcome sign. There’s a lot of music on this cosmic collection, long tracks being de rigeur, so drop any social niceties and settle in. For every three-chord wig-out that follows, there’s an experimental journey into the splashes which occur when incongruous sounds collide. Popol Vuh are as difficult as they always were on Steh Auf, Zieh Mich Dir Nach (1975); Gong, with a 1972 live version of Fohat Digs Holes In Space, lull you into a false sense of security then start making scratching noises under the bed.

Mostly though, the set is radiant with the heat of stars. While legends of the niche such as Nektar, Guru Guru, Faust, (early) Tangerine Dream, Hawkwind and Amon Düül II are each highly individual yet function under a kindred spirit, relatively lesser-known names take that cue and sally forth with stoner fearlessness. Ozric Tentacles, Yuri Gagarin and Brainticket put their own distinctive spin on the stylings. We’re also reminded that Alice Cooper elected to play some Yardbirds/Who-influenced weirdness in his early days (B.B. On Mars, here live in 1969) and Bowie acolyte Ava Cherry mixed soul with out-of-control (Highway Blues). Anyone still not sporting a huge, dazed grin need only hear the Steve Hillage and William Shatner rendition of Elton John’s Rocket Man, a reading which finds that elusive thin line between ‘hilarious’ and ‘actually quite good’.

This whole strange trip is a blast.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.