Review & Full Album Premiere: Seven Planets, Explorer

seven planets explorer

[Click play above to stream Explorer by Seven Planets in full. Album is out Friday on Small Stone Records. Preorders available here.]

Seven Planets‘ third album and first for Small Stone Records, Explorer, is a simple-enough proposition on its face. The West Virginian double-guitar instrumentalist outfit on paper — things like “instrumental” and “West Virginia” — inherently bring to mind Karma to Burn, who are more or less the kings of the form of straightforward, (mostly) sans-vocal heavy rock and roll. But Seven Planets wind up on a different trip with Explorer, and the surface impression is really just the beginning point for what they have to offer on the eight-track/36-minute Explorer, a follow-up to their 2012 self-titled (review here) and 2008’s first LP, Flight of the Ostrich, both self-released. Eight years between records is no minor stretch, but with a recording credited to the band and mix helmed by guitarist Leonard Hanks, joined in the band by guitarist James Way, bassist Mike Williams and drummer Ben Pitt, Explorer‘s tracks by and large carry an easy groove marked by tonal warmth and fluidity between the players.

It may have taken Seven Planets eight years to put a record out, but whatever might’ve been behind that delay — life? — listening to the languid, semi-bluesy nod of the title-track, it’s easy to believe they’ve been jamming all the while. Beginning with “Vanguard,” they bring together elements out of heavy rock riffing and heavy psychedelic immersion, something that, for the first record, I compared to Clutch offshoot The Bakerton Group. The same applies to Explorer at least in the use of Tim Sult-style wah on lead guitar lines, but perhaps to a lesser degree than on the preceding release, since, as Explorer hints in its title, the band seem to be working here to find their own space and sound here in a progressive step forward from where they were those years ago. The drift of “Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress” shows a patience in unfolding its bluesy undercurrent and builds up over its first 90 seconds or so toward a momentary wash before receding again, cycling through with a solo overtop and shifting in its second half to a surprise bit of boogie before, in the last minute, the jam seems to take an improvised turn led by the guitar before coming apart.

That moment is important and feels particularly honest, if somewhat understated. The title-track follows in its own liquefied near-seven-minutes of flow, but the exploratory feeling is palpable at the culmination of “Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress,” and the fact that the band let the song follow its own path organically, even as it dissipates, is admirably honest and speaks to their ethic and lack of outward pretense overall. Not that their material can’t be thoughtful or planned out, as the initial unfurling of “Explorer” itself certainly seems to be, with hints toward prog structures and a spacier thematic as depicted on the Alexander von Wieding album art, but it’s the ability to move in either realm and to subtly shift between mindsets that gives Explorer as a whole its sense of character throughout its relatively brief runtime. As the title cut settles into its funky bounce moving toward the midpoint, with Pitt‘s drums and Williams‘ bass leading the way through the encompassing jam — something backwards layered in — it’s no challenge for the listener to go along with the groove as they make their way to the finish of the album’s longest track.

seven planets

The spirit of the material is nothing but warm and welcoming throughout, and certainly that’s emphasized in the title-track, which gives way to a quicker, solo-laced boogie in “206,” the presumed end of side A, as the two guitars hold sway over the creation of a swirl of effects and a central riff cutting through. Like “Vanguard” at the outset, “206” feels like something of a snippet, but it moves smoothly into “Seven Seas” — the only piece besides the title-track to reach over six minutes — and provides a buffer between the more psychedelic vibe of the two longer stretches when listening to a linear (CD/DL) format; a well-intentioned pickup in energy and momentum that, like the rest of what surrounds, asks little more of the listener than a nod-along. “Seven Seas” is particularly notable as the beginning point of side B as it leads to “Great Attractor,” which — and not just for the inclusion of organ (or organ sounds) lurking in the mix — makes for the most hypnotic one-two dive on Explorer. With the drums still acting as a grounding factor, Seven Planets are never in any real danger of floating away, but their drive toward meandering here and there in the guitars makes the later moments of “Great Attractor” a mirror for “Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress,” even if the ending works out smoother.

Shuffle blues guitar takes hold in the penultimate “Grissom” with a due sense of space, picking up at the end before dropping out and hitting on the beat into the rush of closer “The Buzzard,” which immediately begins the speediest movement on the record. Feeling more plotted than “Grissom” or some of the other material, the finale works around a winding riff with suitable rhythmic push and a summarizing feel in the interplay of lead and rhythm guitar, resolving itself in a last shove that, as they have at several points throughout, cuts away just as it seems to reach a head. Seven Planets never reach the same kind of jammy elevations as, say, their labelmates in Austin, Texas’ Tia Carrera, but neither do they seem to want to. Rather, their melding together of different styles and plays back and forth between constructed and off-the-cuff material and parts — sometimes, it seems, within individual tracks — is a distinguishing factor for their sound and ends up being the basis for much of Explorer‘s personality. Eight years after the first offering, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise to find that Seven Planets have progressed as a band, but they’ve also managed to hold onto the essential instrumental conversation between them that allows those improvisational stretches to shine through.

Seven Planets on Thee Facebooks

Seven Planets on Bandcamp

Small Stone Records website

Small Stone Records on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Review & Full Album Premiere: Seven Planets, Explorer

  1. […] apart…” Read more and stream SEVEN PLANETS’ Explorer via The Obelisk at THIS LOCATION.   Explorer will be released on CD, digital, and limited edition vinyl formats (available in two […]

Leave a Reply