Space Needle

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Voyager, 7.5/10
The Moray Eels Eat The Space Needle, 7/10
Reservoir, 5/10
Reservoir: Pink Machine, 4/10

(Translated from my original Italian text by Jakub Krawczynski and Matteo Frigo) (Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Space Needle were formed in Rhode Island by Jud Ehrbar (Scarce's drummer) and Jeff Gatland (guitars). Lacking a bass player, the duo completely relied on keyboards and Ehrbar's percussions.

When they were about to start the recording sessions of Voyager (Zero Hour, 1995), Ehrbar reminded himself of an old classmate who was now living in Portland, on the other side of the country: Anders Parker, a member of Varnaline , who joined as a second guitarist. Ehrbar and Parker ended up joining each other's band: Ehrbar became the drummer of Varnaline and Parker became the guitarist of Space Needle, which in the meantime had moved to New York.

Preceded by the single Sun Doesn't Love Me (Zero Hour, 1995) and followed up by Panic Delaney (Zero Hour, 1996), Space Needle's Voyager (Zero Hour, 1995) is a highly experimental record. On the surface, it simply looks like yet another amateurish rock album, but going deeper every song reveals a perverted and pessimistic logic.

The first tracks, Eyes to the World (vortex of percussions, minimalistic organ) and Dreams (oniric whispering, industrial overtones), recall the 80s New York-based progressive-rock scene, the one fueled by the likes of Fred Frith and Chris Cutler. On the other hand, the psychedelic component becomes more prominent in the songs based on more regular melodies, such as Beers in Heaven, with its lazy strumming reminiscent of Luna or Before I Lose My Style, with its slow progression and its verse repeated as in a mantra.
The instrumentals expand on this mystical atmosphere, at first with the almost raga-like trance of Put In On The Glass (which only features jangling guitar), and then with the guitar-driven boogie in the angular crescendo of Patrick Ewing, in the vein of Velvet Underground.
Everything is amateurish, temporary, improvised, off-key. But these are only the means, not the end product. It somewhat evokes the first pioneers of the do-it-yourself approach in rock music, Silver Apples and their technological primitivism, as evidenced by the completely irreverent keyboards (whose intensity is almost religious) featured in the bacchanal/nonsense of Starry Eyes. Moreover, it is not a coincidence that the closing suite, the abominable 13-minute Scientific Mapp, pays the homage to them in an ideal way, with its titanic opening for heavily distorted synthesizers, terrifying hendrixian glissandoes flying through a storm of percussions at low altitude, building up to the epic cosmic/liturgical ending for gospel organ; something that could make Gordon Mumma and Klaus Schulze pale.

The Moray Eels Eat The Space Needle (Zero Hour, 1997), Space Needle's second and last album (they disbanded after its release), opens in a grand way with the 13-minute instrumental Where The Fucks My Wallet, following the best traditions of progressive-rock (jazzy improvisations a'la King Crimson, guitar dissonances a'la Fred Frith, rhythmic irregularities a'la Henry Cow). Even more experimental is the second of the three long instrumentals, Hyapatia Lee, a concert of lysergic distortions which paraphrase the Middle East chants and the psychological suites of Pink Floyd, plus a Hawkwind-ian cosmic fugue. The last miasma, Bladewash, represents yet another step forward, and is actually almost an ambient piece in the vein of Seefeel (guitar textures in slow motion). The short Hot For Krishna introduces a bolero for violin that recalls Hot Tuna and It's A Beautiful Day.
The songs run gamut from the catatonic pop of Never Lonely Alone to the mantra for feedback and whispers of Flowers For Algernon; from the soul-jazz ballad Love Left Us Strangers to the nightmarish shoegazing such as More Than Goodnight; from the noise-tinged blues-rock of Old Spice to the martial One Kind Of Lullaby, which closes the album.
The difference between the instrumental tracks and the sung ones is almost schizophrenic: the former being complex and dissonant, the latter being as simple and gentle as possible. The record is, if possible, even more cryptic and introverted than the previous one.

Jud Ehrbar is also the brain behind Reservoir (Zero Hour, 1996), a work of electronic ambient music for synthesizer and drum machine. The nine-minute melodic fantasy Moonstar is unusual, as Ehrbar swings between Brian Eno-ian mood pieces like Tributary and Geneva and industrial soundscapes like Hoover and Gate 21.

Reservoir's second album, Pink Machine (Zero Hour, 1997), changes completely palette, from electronica to lo-fi pop (Go Back, Weight of The World).

Recordings 1994-97 (Eenie Meenie, 2006) is a Space Needle retrospective.

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