Album: MURCOF – Cosmos (Leaf BAY59CD 2007)

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Murcof’s live show at Glasgow’s Arches may have been lacking presentation-wise, but it was obvious that there was something special going on musically. Cosmos has been one of the most eagerly anticipated and talked up records in its field for a long time. Any advanced review I read, or anyone I spoke to who’d heard it had nothing but praise for the album. Everyone on Discogs has given it 5/5. So is it really that good?

Fernando Corona’s previous two albums (three if you count the Utopia record which was largely remixes) have both been a perfect synthesis of precision beats and neo-classical minimalism. It’s not as unique a formula as some would have you believe, but few have done it as well. Of the six tracks on Cosmos, though, only “Cielo” bears any close relationship to previous Murcof material. “Cuerpo Celeste” builds quietly with drawn-out drones before climaxing with a simple, but striking, theme. It functions like the opening titles of the record. “Cielo” has the trademark Murcof beats, with snatches of sampled orchestration. It’s a lovely piece, but almost seems like a backward glance – a bridge between old and new.

One of the remarkable things about Cosmos is the sound. Even at relatively low volumes, there is an awesome power to it. There is a huge contrast between the quiet and loud passages that mirrors that found in high-end classical recordings. Even on my relatively crappy system it sounds extraordinary.

Track three is really where the album begins to earn its stripes. “Cosmos I” is a huge-sounding piece. The drones are orchestral samples, underpinned with a colossal bass. The tones shift subtly, and underneath there is a hint of Nymanesque systems music. It never reaches the explosive finale that it threatens, but fades into a serene, falling chord sequence. “Cometa” rumbles into view, built on a chassis of micro-pulses reminiscent of Ryoji Ikeda or Alva-Noto and coloured with a sampled piano figure and ghostly cello. It combines a haunting melancholy with a hint of dark menace. As the comet passes, the death-star drone of “Cosmos II” begins its slow, inexorable rise, punctuated by the faint sound of stressed metal clanging. It feels like it will envelop and consume all in its path – the musical equivalent of a black hole. The drones morph into giant slabs of cathedral organ, and the wail of sirens…and then thud. Rather than an explosion, it’s like an airlock door is slammed shut leaving just the ghostly coda of the track to wither. “Oort” creaks into life, with a quiet hum and starlight twinkling, but the peace is shattered by a succession of crunching chords that break up into scratchy, atonal viola before fading to make way for the next in the sequence. Structurally, it’s twelve minutes that largely consist of subtle, shifting quiet punctuated by blasts of atonal sound. It could have been beamed from the other side of the galaxy.

Cosmos is a remarkable achievement. There are hints of Murcof’s previous work here, just as there are hints of Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, Merzbow, Gorecki, Eno and Stockhausen amongst others. But some of this music really stands alone and is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. In the realm of electronic music, Cosmos could really turn out to be as revolutionary as Stravinsky’s Rites Of Spring was for orchestral music. That may be a wild claim, but time will tell. It has certainly set the bar improbably high, and will take some matching.

Tracks:
1 Cuerpo Celeste (9:06)
2 Cielo (7:23)
3 Cosmos I (8:58)
4 Cometa (8:17)
5 Cosmos II (9:39)
6 Oort (12:49)

Website:
http://murcof.com

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