After a short holiday break, I am back to writing my weekly "On Mondays I listen to..." music review. The featured artist for this week is the Detroit, Michigan power trio Cosmic Light Shapes, with their new (November 2016) album, Nebula. The record release party was held at Detroit's UFO Factory last Friday night (December 2016). Paid admission included a golden ticket, redeemable for Cosmic Light Shapes' Nebula.
(Photo by Lisa Joan)
Cosmic Light Shapes is the beautiful "psych-pop-lo-fi-rock" creation and melding of minds by guitarist/vocalist Eugene Strobe (The Witches, The Sights, Gore Gore Girls, The Sirens, The Alphabet), drummer Zenas Jackson (You People, Siddhartha, High-Speed Dubbing, Big Pink Black) and bassist Adam James Fuller (the Phantom Cats, The Dead Wings, You People).
The accomplished trio has approached Nebula with a spaced-out psychedelic garage vibe, suggesting a feeling of dystopian blues. The listener is hypnotized by the world that Cosmic Light Shapes has introduced within the album. Nebula is just "far out" enough for you to be a visitor to the galaxy, but not a stranger.
Released on Jett Plastic Recordings, Nebula was produced by Jim Diamond, mixed by Jim Diamond and Eugene Strobe, and recorded at Ghetto Recorders in Detroit. The vinyl was pressed at Archer Records, also located in Detroit. According to the product listing on Jett Plastic Recordings, the Nebula release is limited to 300 copies on Maraschino Cherry Red vinyl, and 200 copies of random marbled Mystery Berry vinyl flavors, including Blueberry, Raspberry, Grape Ape, and Snozzberry variations.
When I pre-ordered the LP, I chose the Mystery Berry option and received a wonderful deep red Raspberry variation with marbled blue within the vinyl (the fourth variation from the left).
(Cosmic Light Shapes - Nebula. Cover artwork by Eugene Strobe.)
Cosmic Light Shapes' nine track album is a compilation of songs from the past and present, including many of Strobe's early solo works and demos as well as newer songs co-written with Jackson. In an interview with Eugene Strobe, by Aaron Cooper at 50thirdand3rd.com, Strobe says, "The record also has songs from when I first started writing as a teen, til present day". Nebula is an evolution of Strobe and his writing, as well as a montage of his different influences and styles. At the beginning of each song are sound bites from previous performers/artists.
The Nebula LP opens with the catchy track "Can You See In 3-D?". Strobe's vocals take the lead for this song, with grounding drums following his immediate vibe that shouts classic Detroit garage. Simplistic guitar and bass cleverly compliment the ebb and flow of "Can You See In 3-D?" As the song progresses, the track swells and backing vocals join the floating anthem. A buzzing guitar solo breaks the peace at 02:10, adding countering attitude and color. The clean guitar at the beginning of the track continues to build its psychedelic fuzzy emotion throughout the song. Cosmic Light Shapes takes you on a trip through the dimensions of red and blue with their opening track "Can You See In 3-D?"
"Doom Dimension" is the second track on Nebula, a raw dystopian blues experience. I absolutely love the guitar tone on this track. Crunchy and fuzzy = all things good. As Fuller's bass dances with urgency, Strobe's vocals warn, "Don't go to the doom dimension". At 00:40 we get the first taste of a vocal spiral, a back and forth of "No, no, no..." and "Go, go, go..." This twists and builds into a sonic galaxy of extraterrestrial rendezvous and 1960s space sounds. Imagine Alice In Wonderland falling through the "Star Gate" sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
"Planet earth is spinning round... All of the planets are spinning round..."
"Our Love" is a psychedelic song structured with drifting vocal tracks and sparkling guitar, juxtaposed with shorter, bursting sections. I love the balanced variations of the smooth song and quick outbursts. The bass goes in and out of distortion, hinting for the heavier moments. At three minutes and twenty-four seconds, "Our Love" is one of the shorter songs on Nebula. Despite the length, the track holds its ground with plenty of intricacies and color to listen for. At 01:44, Jackson's drums begin to grow stronger, using more toms in the mix. Maracas/shakers help direct the song to a heavier, frustrated place. A clean guitar takes the melody at 02:12 and low, tribal sounding vocals become an instrument in the mix.
(Be sure to watch the music video for "Our Love" at the bottom of this review.)
"Our love, it will control you,
and make you understand,
Until your love unfolds you,
set it free and take my hand."
"Not A Beautiful Thing Anymore" follows, with a pop-y love song reminiscent of 60s garage rock. Strobe's quirky garage riffs form the young love song, perhaps emulating a bit of the new wave sound. The entire Nebula LP has possessing instrument tones. The 01:45 mark once again demonstrates this to the listener. A David Bowie-esque (think "Heroes") guitar tone/solo surges, piercing the quirkiness of the song with a celestial breath.
Reversed, reverberated guitar opens the track "We're In Love With Evil Tonight". Fuller's clean bass brings structure to the song and the lyrics provide a fragility to the evilness of a "good witch".
"We're in love with evil that's right,
We're going to hell tonight,From our point of view,
What's a good witch supposed to do..."
"We're In Love With Evil Tonight" is a dreamlike fantasy, an astronaut lost in space. A break in the storm, the track continues Nebula's pattern of turning sweet to a little less than. At 02:26 a beautifully melancholic solo occurs, reminding me of Radiohead's atmospheric OK Computer.
Jackson begins "Far From Home" with a syncopated drum rhythm. Fuller's fuzz bass alternates between two chords, which lays down a steady groove for Strobe's guitar to join. "Far From Home" is Cosmic Light Shapes' longest song on the album, tracking at about eight minutes and seven seconds long. As Strobe sings the lyrics, "...and the voices in your head..." his vocal track, which at first appeared to be singular, splits into multiple layers with a bit of delay and different pitches. This song also features a repeating vocal effect, lower and distorted. This reoccurring effect is later picked up by a crunchy guitar. Used as a percussive type of sound, I wish I knew what was being said. This falls into the same realm of mystery as The Smashing Pumpkins' 1979 vocal/synth effect.
"Far From Home" is a song that seems to be about out-of-body/alien abduction experiences on a more attainable level. The title suggests flying saucers, and the lyrics suggest a deeper relation to the longing to run from your own skin.
"Drudge 'N Flo" brings a lo-fi rock sound to the table. The song demonstrates the variation of musical influences, along with the musicianship and artistry of Cosmic Light Shapes. Bluesy, classic rock guitar riffs establish the vibe of the track. The guitar is powerful and over-driven, the drums differ from the rest of the album to fit the heavy style of "Drudge 'N Flo". The bass takes a more aggressive playing style and the vocals become a low, deep, and rolling machine.
"Like you're gonna wind up, she's gonna wind you up...", sings Strobe on Cosmic Light Shapes' "All For The Spider". An elevating song, "All For The Spider" is rumbling in the beginning, quickly giving way to a catchy groove. Bright drops of guitar rain down on the lo-fi pop fuzz beginning at 01:23. Sunshine is brought to the darkness and at 02:02 the clouds part.
"Speaking Backwards" is the final track on Cosmic Light Shapes' Nebula LP. A swollen, thick guitar opens the song with low thunderous drums. Lulling, overlapping words guide the song, but the instruments never let the listener get too comfortable. Tension circles the vocals, created by swirling riffs, solos, drum fills, and sweet chaos. A final psychedelic trip with no holds barred. At 01:08, the lyrics, "In slow motion, we were lost in each other's eyes", match the distanced/spacey/"lost" vocal effect placed on them. Throughout the album, Cosmic Light Shapes do a great job in matching the effects/tones of the instruments and vocals to the lyrics that are being sung. This creates a four dimensional feeling, as the music reaches the listener on a deeper level than just purely aural.
While "Speaking Backwards" brings closure to the sonic space created by the Nebula, I still want more.
Cosmic Light Shapes has a glowing originality to their music, a "psych-pop-lo-fi-rock" sound of all their own. As you listen to Nebula, lay on the ground and let the music wash over you.
I picture an astronaut floating lost in space. They know the impending doom, but cannot do anything to help it, so they might as well enjoy the ride. Unfortunately for me, I am not a stranded astronaut. Laying in the middle of my carpet will have to do.
Jett Plastic Recordings and Cosmic Light Shapes are also currently holding a "Cosmic Sound Bite" trivia contest give-away for a Jett Plastic Prize-Pack. Before each song on Nebula there is a sound bite. If you are the first person to correctly name either the performer or band that the nine sound bites are from, you'll win the prize pack!