Perpetually nebulous Danish outfit Øresund Space Collective are not short on jams. At current count, their Bandcamp page has over 40 releases available for stream and download, and a quick search on Archive.org brings up live recordings that span from a couple months past to nearly a decade ago. Most are live recordings, and that fits with the band’s emphasis on improvisation and space rock tradition, but rarer are studio albums and rarer still are studio albums with physical pressings. Led by the charismatic and well-bearded synthworker Scott “Dr. Space” Heller, the Collective now release a 2CD/2LP collection of jams dubbed Music for Pogonologists, reportedly themed around the works of Upton Uxbridge Underwood (1881-1937), and particularly his masterpiece 0f literary analysis, Poets Ranked by Beard Weight. “Pogonology,” in the name of the album, refers to the study of facial hair, and many of the tracks — “Beardlandia,” “Ziggurat of the Beards,” “Bearded Brothers,” “Remnants of the Barbonaeum,” “Portal of Pogonic Progress,” “Barboconsciousness,” and so on — make references in their titles to beards, taken from Underwood‘s writings. Øresund Space Collective are definitely working on a theme throughout the eight-track release, the CD and download versions of which top a somewhat astounding 145 minutes, and there’s even a spoken introduction by Heller about Underwood and his beard fascination, but ultimately, the band approach beardly studies the same way they approach most anything: By blasting it into space and jamming the hell out of it. If it ain’t broken. Alongside Heller on synth, the Øresund Space Collective this time is guitarists Daniel Lars, Nicklas Sorensen (also of Papir) and Nickolas Hill, bassists Pär Hallgren and Christian Clausen (also also of Papir), drummer Christoffer Brøchhmann (and yes, also of Papir), and synth provider Mogens Pedersen, and as a unit, they know precisely which universe they’re headed for.
Big Hawkwind influence? Duh. Truth is, though, Øresund Space Collective aren’t even so much about capturing a classic space rock vibe at this point — they do, for what it’s worth — as they are about continuing to explore instrumental dynamics. At their center always is improvisation, and there’s brief moment in the second-disc leadoff title-track, about eight minutes into its total 34-minute span, where it seems like it’s all finally going to come apart. But it doesn’t (presumably, if it had, that wouldn’t be on the album, let alone be the title-track). Øresund Space Collective prove able to pivot where they need to and take their molten, across-disc flow in one direction or another, whether it’s a slow buildup like that in the closing “Portal of Pogonic Progress” (12:21) or disc one’s relatively brief “The Tricophantic Spire,” a jazzy excursion with some primo bass that checks in at a mere eight minutes long, but is one of the more experimental cuts on hand. As always for any kind of jam-based heavy psych, immersion is key, and if you’re unwilling to be carried out by Music for Pogonologists early on, the opening one-two salvo of “Beardlandia” and “Ziggurat of the Beards” together pushing past 25 minutes, then Øresund Space Collective probably won’t win you over with the album’s remaining two hours, but if you’re able to draw back the anxiety and let yourself space out for a bit, the stream of delay, synth, dynamic drumming, warm bass, raw exploration and bright guitar are enough to showcase why Øresund Space Collective are consistently among Europe’s foremost practitioners of the art. Their expanded-consciousness vibes and pervasive lysergic groove might just make you think there’s something in the shape of a man’s beard to indicate his relative value as a poet. Or, you know, whatever.
Comparing the two discs, the first is longer at 75 minutes compared to the second disc’s 70 minutes, but I’d say the second probably has the more overarching liquidity. It’s only three tracks as opposed to disc one’s five, and between the title-track, the ensuing “Barboconsciousness” and the classic guitar on “Portal of Pogonic Progress,” there’s enough to dig into for a more than satisfying otherworldly journey. The more synthesized initial push of “Remnants of the Barbonaeum” or the underlying bass bounce and snare march in the midsection of “Bearded Brothers” before it are hardly disjointed from each other, however. Really, what Øresund Space Collective have done with Music for Pogonologists is jammed out two records’ worth of heavy psych improvisations and put them together. Reasonable since they come from the same session, engineered and mastered by Johan Dahlström with a mix by Dr. Space, and of course recorded live and overdub-free, but the vinyl and CD versions (both limited to 500 copies) feature different tracklistings, so I’d wonder how that might affect the overall listening experience, getting up to change sides, etc. As it is, the more linear, two-disc edition is a comprehensive warp of mind, time and follicular study that’s lighthearted in its approach but substantial in its result, swirling, as ever, into reaches few dare to tread in a continuing quest for the heart of the jam itself. The entire lineup of the band comes together on “Barboconsciousness,” and it’s no less a bliss of lead guitar, wah and psychedelic churn than one might imagine, but it seems that no matter where Øresund Space Collective turn, they wind up in familiar but still uncharted territory. So it is with Music for Pogonologists, and the outfit continue to hone one of the finest approaches to heavy jams to be found in this dimension or in any other alternate reality you might want to search.