The Soulbreaker Company, Itaca: Careful with That Psych

Whereas much of the movement in the last several years of heavy psychedelic rock has been toward the more freeform, jamming style of bands like Earthless and Naam, the VitoriaGasteiz collective The Soulbreaker Company from the north of Spain present an incredibly tight-wound vision of what space-leaning psych can be on their second Alone Records full-length, Itaca. The six-piece (plus guests) band run through a wide array of sonic motifs, from the jazzy synth-prog of opener “It’s Dirt,” to the Doors-y feel of the ending movement of “Sandstorm,” always maintaining control, always sounding full. Never a hair out of place, so to speak. It’s an accomplishment mostly in the complexity of the song arrangements – I know of plenty two-piece bands who can’t get to the point of togetherness The Soulbreaker Company have with up to eight or nine people on a single track.

Part of that credit has to go to Chris Fielding, who produced Itaca at Foel Studios in Wales (Obiat, Conan, Porcupine Tree) along with the band. The sounds here are crisp but not unnatural, and there’s a remarkable balance between the separation in the instruments and their meshing. The already-noted opener earns kudos not only for its creative breadth, but for being the longest cut on Itaca at 9:38 (I’m almost always a sucker for a band who opens with their longest song instead of tacking it at the end), and cuts like “Oh! Warsaw,” the catchy “Sow the Roses” and the later, piano- and horn-driven “Take a Seat on the Moon” only reinforce the album’s primary statement, that The Soulbreaker Company are a band for whom the limits are few and far between. They have the will (and the personnel) to take listeners on a genuine journey, and the more of Itaca I dig into, the farther-ranging I’m finding it to be. While the classic rock approach of vocalist/guitarist Jony Moreno (backed occasionally by Layla Seville and/or Joanne Deacon) does a lot of the tying together of the different-sounding tracks, there’s also a tonal consistency to the material on Itaca that serves to heighten the drama of the songs while it helps the flow one to the next. Fans of Hypnos 69 will swoon over the guitar work of Daniel Triñanes and Asier Fernandez on “Colours of the Fire” and the sax-playing of Kike Guzman (who might want to think about adopting a nom de guerre) on “It’s Dirt” and “No Way Back Home,” on which the Hammond of Oscar Gil also provides an album highlight.

Guzman also donates flute as well to “No Way Back Home,” adding a little Jethro Tull to the otherwise King Crimson-style shuffle from drummer Andoni Ortiz Domingo and bassist Jose Javier Manzanedo, going back to the sax for the latter half of the song. This fluidity of approach is the key to the experience of Itaca, and without it, I don’t think The Soulbreaker Company would be able to pull off the album as effectively as they do. They don’t seem to be working with an obvious songwriting formula, although the tracks are mostly structured verse-chorus-verse, and their ability to change up the approach makes the poppish twist of “Hail While She Leaves” something of a surprise, but a well-accomplished one all the same. Ultimately, Itaca can be taken on track-by-track or all in one sitting, but it’s a lot to digest – for my personal favorite, I’d take the piano-heavy “Where Mermaids Sing Loud,” Gil giving one of his several stellar performances – and some of the progressive elements come on more subtly than they might from other bands of this ilk. The textures in The Soulbreaker Company could just prove too much for some listeners.

For me, I’ll take the highs with the lows and enjoy Itaca for what it is, indulgences and all. The Soulbreaker Company are very good at what they do, and their sound is gorgeously developed and captured on the album, but it’s bound not to appeal to some either for its density or specifically European post-Hawkwind feel. I tend not to think of these things as problems, but some might. Still, Itaca is intelligent without snobbery and complicated without pretense, so I’m more than happy to pop the disc on and follow The Soulbreaker Company into whatever asteroid belt they’re headed. There are some tangles along the way, but Itaca can’t help but be a satisfying listen, and if you’re tired of space rock that sounds like someone’s practice recording before they figured out what they wanted the song to be, the structured nature of these songs should be just the cure you need.

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2 Responses to “The Soulbreaker Company, Itaca: Careful with That Psych”

  1. Ollie says:

    This is an awesome album, takes a while to get into as there’s so much going on but it’s a real progression (no pun intended) from their last one.

  2. Michael says:

    This album is fantastic. Truly an epic compared to their first two releases, which are very worth checking out. I had first heard of this band from one of the guys in the Steepwater Band, who had shared the stage with them at the Azkena Rock Festival in Spain, a few years back.

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