Today, Nov. 11, marks the release date of Black Moon Circle‘s The Studio Jams Vol. II. Offered on vinyl through Crispin Glover Records and Stickman Records, as the title hints, it’s the Norwegian outfit’s second such collection of improvised work, following behind a similar release last year (discussed here) and leading to one set to show up next May. That’s right, Vol. III, already confirmed. In the meantime, The Studio Jams Vol. II also follows the Trondheim trio’s song-based 2016 outing, Sea of Clouds, and once more pairs the core lineup of the band — guitarist Vemund Engan, bassist Øyvin Engan (who also mixed) and drummer Per Andreas Gulbrandsen — with synth wizard Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective for an extended, 40-minute improvisation recorded this past January. It seems to have been laid down in one take, and it comes broken up into a pair LP tracks that give a complete description of the beast’s two sides in their titles: “The Head” (24:02) and “The Tail” (16:49). Each one, of course, consumes an entire half of the record, and I don’t think there’s any way to imagine Black Moon Circle would have it otherwise. At this point, they haven’t been around long — their self-titled debut (review here) and the follow-up, Andromeda (review here), both came out in 2014 — but they’ve proved prolific enough to make one believe they’re reasonably comfortable in Naultilus Studio, where Magnus Kofoed recorded. They certainly seem to spend enough time there.
Which, when it comes to jammed-out space rock, is what you want. If a group doesn’t exercise these muscles constantly, they atrophy, and as Øyvin‘s bass leads the way into the first minute or so of “The Head,” the immediate fluidity of what’s unfolding reassures that indeed that has not happened with Black Moon Circle. In classic form, bass and drums anchor the proceedings while the guitar takes flight, but the not-so-secret weapon here is Dr. Space, whose mastery of swirl from his custom synth comprised of knobs and keys and effects is second to none. Heller‘s time in Øresund Space Collective may be coming to an end — though they also have a new record on the way — but he continues to bring textures and flow and a sense of (dare I say it?) spaciousness to everything he touches. In combination with the chemistry on display from the Engans and Gulbrandsen, it’s little wonder that “The Head” and “The Tail” play out as smoothly as they do, the A side riding its low-end foundation to and through a build in its first 10 minutes only to give the drums a rest thereafter and dig into a psychedelic dronescape that’s as vast as it is hypnotic, bluesy guitar echoing out over slow-motion swirl. To think of a moment like that as something that just happened, that just came about when Black Moon Circle plugged in and went for it — even if they had some direction in mind beforehand — makes The Studio Jams Vol. II all the more worth preserving on vinyl, let alone the careful manner in which the bass and drums reintroduce motion to the track under a cover of synth, not upsetting the balance but clearly moving “The Head” into a next stage that, when the guitar rejoins, results in a near-Earthless-style cacophony pushing even the band’s own limits of psychedelia as Vemund tears into a righteous solo.
“The Head” fades out, taking its time, of course, and “The Tail” howls its way in, picking up where its predecessor left off. Although it’s seven minutes shorter — a manageable 16 minutes — it’s basically a continuation of “The Head”‘s excursion into the ethereal. One might wonder at first why Black Moon Circle would break up the jam in such a manner, to make the A side so much longer than the B side, but I think the story gets told about four minutes into “The Tail,” when the swell of volume recedes and the drone exploration resumes for a stretch with the bass and drums quietly behind. Entirely possible the band wanted to keep the two similarly-minded movements apart in an effort not to repeat themselves too much in succession, though Gulbrandsen‘s echoing snare and toms about seven minutes into “The Tail” have a distinct jazziness that “The Head” simply doesn’t offer and the focus on the rhythm section that develops around them is likewise distinguished from the earlier cut. It’s easy to miss, but by the time they’re eight minutes in, Black Moon Circle have hit the ground level of what will serve as the final build in Studio Jams Vol. II, and as the guitar and synth continue to wash effects forward to the listener there’s a subtle and patient push happening that only gets more fervent as it goes. They peak across the 14th and 15th minutes, with cymbal crashes and full-on guitar howl and noise and general soaking-wet freakout madness all around, and with no place in the universe left to traverse — until next time, adventurers! — they dissipate into a spacebound current of residual amplified rumble that, if we’re lucky, will be picked up by aliens circa alpha centauri and used as our second-most-confusing-ever line of contact with an outside species.
With the pace that Black Moon Circle have thus far kept up in working on both sides of their jams-and-songs-built-from-them approach, I’m all the more thrilled to be able to host The Studio Jams Vol. II in its entirety for your streaming pleasure. Please find it on the player below, followed by some comment from the band and the brief announcement of Vol. III, the confirmation of which is so telling of the vibrant creativity at play in the band.
Enjoy getting lost in this one:
Øyvin Engan on The Studio Jams Vol. 2:
Free-jamming is all about losing control, narrowing down to the moment, where we try to let go of the past and not to worry about what is coming up next, then anything goes.
The Studio Jams series is all about that kind of free floating playing: no rules, no plans.
Of course, we also do a whole lot of jamming when we play the more regular songs, they will never be the same twice, and I think this has influenced the way we make our music. Now, we are both trying to allure the jams into the written songs, and we are forcing structure onto the jams, either way, that´s how we make new songs.
Norwegian psychedelic space rock group Black Moon Circle was formed by Øyvin Engan (bass/vocals) and Vemund Engan (guitar) in 2012. Rising out of the ashes of the fast paced garage punk rock band The Reilly Express, the lineup was completed with the addition of Per Andreas Gulbrandsen on drums. The sound of Black Moon Circle combines long jams with heavy riffage, the extensive use of effects on bass and guitar and analogue synths oscillating with echoes and delays created by Dr. Space.
These days BMC are in The Nautilus mixing The Studio Jams Vol III feat. guest guitarist Snah, due out in May 2017.Black Moon Circle, Black Moon Circle The Studio Jams Vol. II, Crispin Glover Records, Norway, Stickman Records, The Studio Jams Vol. II, Trondheim