Music Reviews

Artist: Sverre Knut Johansen with David Helpling
Title: The Vast Expanse
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Sverre Knut Johansen's third release on the Spotted Peccary label lives up to its title, 'The Vast Expanse,' as it is expansive, but then again the composer is known for his spacey compositions. On this outing he has some help from ambient guitarist David Helpling who has been producing his own albums since 1996. 'The Vast Expanse' is a fairly mellow affair with little in the way of cosmic disruptions or stellar explosions. Nearly constantly in motion, there is a sense of purpose without urgency or impulsiveness in the music. It is as if it was a gradual unfolding of the universe in all its glory. While the opening track, aptly titled "Origins of the Universe" seems tentative at first with a plethora of sounds floating in the cosmic void, it eventually coalesces into a more solid formation, underscored with bass-driven rhythm and a distinctive melody. Nearly half way in, it really gets cooking and develops a theme that's going to have you thinking...Vangelis! That's not a bad thing either. Helpling's guitar adds a bit of panache without overtaking the orchestration. So far things are off to a wonderful start. Johansen stretches synth pads for miles, maybe even light years across title track, "The Vast Expanse" with nice melodic content and effective arpeggios. I found the melody on "Emotion Strata" too repetitious and overbearing for my taste, but the arrangement was nice. "Space and Time" is a cool track because the melody is rather abstract and you can blissfully float along without getting wrapped up in something too tuneful. "The Beginning," the longest track on the album at over 11 minutes begins in ambient space (or space ambient) before it develops any motion. When it did get going I was reminded of the early '70s electronic outfit, Tonto's Expanding Head Band. On this piece a simple theme augmented by arpeggios and sequencers is built upon until it becomes something quite fantastic, then dissolves away into hyperspace. Heavy (and I do mean heavy) pizzicato open "DNA" with probably more echo-verb than needed and become a mainstay of the track. A little much in my estimation. The rest of the album is just good space ambient chill, not particularly exciting or innovative, but enjoyable all the same. I liked 'The Vast Expanse' better than 'Secret Space Program' (Johansen's last album), partly because it isn't trying to be anything it's not, and also because of the universality of the music. Space ambient enthusiasts are guaranteed to have a wonderful trip with this one.

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