Music Reviews

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Artist: Sverre Knut Johansen
Title: Secret Space Program
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
No novice to the game, Norwegian electronic music composer Sverre Knut Johansen has releases going back to 1994, and 'Secret Space Program' is his second on the Spotted Peccary label. According to the promo, the album "focuses a distant lens on some of life’s strangest and possibly most impactful questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Are we alone?"..."The album’s concept shimmers with the enthralling aura of a sci-fi story, flirting with conspiratorial questions reminiscent of The X-Files, as the 'Secret Space Program' of Johansen’s musical tale investigates our involvement with non-terrestrial intelligence." Well, that's the concept as they are promoting it. "There are many who argue that there are secret organizations cooperating with extraterrestrials on several levels. So-called black ops programs.” Johansen explains. “What if these stories were true? Would we find that there is a secret base located on the moon, or that there are organizations on Earth that have daily contact and interaction with extraterrestrials?” An intriguing concept, but in light of the artist's statement, I would have expected something much darker.

Truth be told, the beginnings of this work sounds like wistful New Age, albeit with some cinematic potency. Melodic ambient (once again "Melambient" applies) with natural sounds of gulls and surf, string swells and rapid synth arpeggios whizzing by, and some synth melodies, but it hardly exemplifies the first track's title, "MILAB (Military Abduction)." The second track also seems to be mistitled - "Black Ops (Military Secret Space Programs)," with a romantic melody and nothing sinister going on at all. In fact, things don't get dark until the seventh track, "Blue Avians," a percussionless number that's heavy on deep synth pads. Although there are some nice cinematic ambiences I
didn't get much excited about the music until track 8 - "Genetic Programs." Here there is classic Tangerine Dream style synth sequencing and a lot less of the romantic melodicism that Johansen is noted for. Everything on this track works, firing on all cylinders with a crackling anxiety. What a drag it is though to come down on the next number, "Precognitive Abilities," with melodic romantic synth lead, piano, and an incongruously hyperactive percussion track. It is redeemed by "Raising Our Vibrational and Consciousness Level" that gives the inpression of floating through the aether. "Orb Beings" is symptomatic of everything that is good, and not so good about this album. There is melancholic romantic melody juxtaposed by a sense of urgency, cosmic synths and space guitar sounds, dramatic percussion, a large symphonic presence, and cosmic aura. This dances on the edge of New Age perilously close to the precipice without absolutely falling off. As for the 'Secret Space Program' concept, I don't believe the music lives up to it, although on its own (perhaps with a less nefarious precept) it's a nice symphonic ambient outing.



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