Review & Full LP Premiere: Sons of Alpha Centauri, Buried Memories

SONS OF ALPHA CENTAURI Buried Memories Cover

[Click play above to stream Sons of Alpha Centauri’s Buried Memories in full. It’s out Friday and available to order here.]

UK progressive instrumentalists Sons of Alpha Centauri will release the new LP Buried Memories on Oct. 13 through H42 Records, and it’s an offering that immediately begs inspection. Is it an album or a collaboration? An EP, since the first side is three different versions of the same track? As the follow-up to the band’s 2018 outing, Continuum (review here) — which was essentially the band on their own, even if they did work with Aaron Turner (Sumac, ex-Isis) as producer/mixer and John McBain (ex-Monster Magnet) for mastering — it continues a string of joined-f0rces efforts that goes back to their 2009 outing with Karma to Burn side-project Treasure Cat, which included tracks by Alpha Cat with both bands working together. Along the way, in addition to their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) and Continuum some 11 years later, they’ve also worked with Gary Arce of Yawning Man as Yawning Sons for the 2009 album, Ceremony to the Sunset (review here), and had a trilogy of splits with Karma to Burn (2010, 2014, 2015) as well as splits with A Death Cinematic and Hotel Wrecking City Traders/WaterWays (review here) in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

All of this, as one might expect, has made them somewhat hard to track, as they’re in and out of different incarnations and collaborations, but I think the band probably wouldn’t have it another way, and Buried Memories shows some of where that impulse comes from. The six-track/47-minute 12″ dwells in its complication no less than it dwells in instrumentalists depth and purpose, and I should point out right away that while “Hitmen” is the first three songs, not one version is immediately recognizable from the others. And that’s doubly to Sons of Alpha Centauri‘s credit, because it shows how much they’re willing to let their material be malleable. You see, each half of Buried Memories is dedicated to an outside mix collaboration. For “Hitmen,” they bring in three different incarnations of Godflesh‘s Justin K. Broadrick, who takes the song on first under the guise of himself, then as Jesu and finally as JK Flesh, bringing a distinctly different feel to each edition of the same root work. It’s perhaps easier to do since the songs don’t have verses or choruses weighing them down to a strict structure, but it’s true that each one carves its own impression, and as they move from eight-and-a-half, nine- and nine-and-a-half-minute versions, Broadrick seems to pull the track further from its foundation and bring something of his own to it. It’s not just a simple process of mixing in the sense of finding the right volume for Marlon King‘s guitar or Blake‘s synth, Nick Hannon‘s bass and Stevie B.‘s drums, but of exploring what distance “Hitmen” can cover from its origin. As the Broadrick mix turns to the more melodic Jesu mix to the avant-electro JK Flesh mix, that distance turns out to be pretty vast.

The second-side collaborator is no less than James Plotkin, whose mastering and production work covers myriad outfits and whose work in Khanate alone — never mind his copious other projects — deserves an eternity of thank-you cards, who takes on three different songs, all under the guise of himself. So side A, one song mixed by three versions of the same person. Side AA, three songs mixed by one version of the same person.

Everyone got it?

Okay.

Sons of Alpha Centauri 2019

And much to Plotkin‘s credit, the three inclusions he takes on also push further and further out as they go. “Warhero” (9:33) is relatively straight ahead, but in comparison to Broadrick‘s “Hitmen” shows a focus on bringing out a sense of space in the work, while the shorter “Remembrance” (2:42) dips into minimalist drone guitar almost as a transition into closer “SS Montgomery,” which also takes on a more electronic vibe, in a kind of dark-industrial vein that still holds a heavy presence thanks to the prominence of the live drums, but nonetheless surrounds those with a chaos-swirl of synth and the guitar. “SS Montgomery” is the payoff for the whole release, pushing through clarity toward destructive noise wash in its quick apex and leaving behind residual noise on a long outward fade, and the fact that even given all the shifts of style and intent that Buried Memories holds, Sons of Alpha Centauri would be able to pull everything together at the end speaks to what makes them so underrated in the first place. They are very much a conceptual outfit but still not blind to the basic purpose of making an album, of making songs.

That underlying message comes through clearly across Buried Memories, and whether you consider it an album, an EP, a one-off, or something else, there’s never any doubt Sons of Alpha Centauri are ready and willing to push themselves to take their music to new places and to try and encompass different ideas and evoke various mindsets as they go. It’s not every band who would be willing to hand off their material like this, even to the likes of Plotkin and Broadrick, let alone put it out in such a way that allows the tracks to take on a life of their own within their overarching catalog. I won’t pretend to know what Sons of Alpha Centauri might do next or where they’ll go from here — though they were certainly busy enough in between, it’s notable that it was 11 years from their self-titled to Continuum — but the way their progressiveness extends not only to the sound of the band but to the very makeup and intent thereof continues to make them individually flexible in a universe that seems rigid by comparison. Whatever they might do, this openness and dexterity can only continue to bolster their work. Imagine asking Justin Broadrick for three mixes by different personae. Imagine telling James Plotkin, “Just go with it.” The beauty of Buried Memories is in its outward movement and the sense of freedom it portrays: art as a living thing, music as sculpting clay to be shaped and re-shaped. As regards the creative, there are few ideas more noble.

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