Given that this is almost certainly the first Von Hertzen Brothers album to be absorbed by a substantial audience outside of Scandinavia, it may seem a somewhat redundant statement to exclaim that Stars Aligned represents a moderate stripping down of the Finnish trio’s trademark sound.
It’s a notion that becomes even more irrelevant when faced with the reality of the band’s fourth record, which even during its simplest or most mellow moments sounds like the entire Led Zeppelin and Yes catalogues hurled, with a fistful of hallucinogenics, into a giant sequin- encrusted blender manned by Jeff Lynne, Frank Zappa and Andy Partridge.
But just for the record, the previous album, 2008’s Love Remains The Same, was even more over-the-top and barking mad. We kid you not. But it’s the present that matters most, and the Von Hertzen Brothers are a band who could hardly be more in tune with the fervently prog-saluting end of today’s rock continuum. Stars Aligned begins with Miracle, a fuzzy, lurching slab of ominous psychedelia, replete with blissful vocal harmonies and a steady stream of melodies that twinkle and soar. As with everything the band does, this is knowingly linked in spirit to the febrile splurge of creativity that drove rock in the early 70s, and yet there is an otherworldly quality to these songs that makes it seem equally (and oddly) futuristic.
The succinct, pitter-pat grooves and rhythmic fidgets of Gloria continue to illuminate that illusory haze between yesterday and tomorrow, while emphasising what a fiery and intelligent rock’n’roll band this is too. Meanwhile, the stately pulse of Voices In Our Heads slaps a different shade across Stars Aligned’s broad canvas, with an eerie backdrop of shimmering mellotron and an almost Muse-like sense of mortal dread.
Whether indulging in the mellifluous drift of Down By The Sea’s aquatic blues, exploring the cosmos with a head full of skittering licks on Bring On The Snakes or casually serving up a platinum-plated psych-pop like Always Been Right, the Von Hertzens’ beautiful but strange world of multi-layered analogue warmth and limitless imagination is a consistently mesmerising place to be.
With all due respect, Finland is simply not big enough to contain records this distinctive, this smart, this exciting. It’s never too late to discover your new favourite band, is it?