HAWKWIND - “Somnia”
By Dark Starr
I have to confess to being a HAWKWIND fanatic. They are one of my three favorite acts, and I have so many albums from them. Here's the thing - for me there is no bad HAWKWIND album. They are all excellent, but some are better than others. As it stands right now, I consider this to be sort of a middle of the road set. A lot of the time, HAWKWIND albums grow the more time you have with them, and I haven't had a chance for this one to really do that. I do like the fact that they really stretch the sound on this set. Yet, it's still definitively HAWKWIND. It's a darned good album and a welcome addition to the HAWKWIND catalog.
I dig the cool rock groove that brings the opening "Unsomnia" in. As the vocals enter it takes on an almost punky vibe. More traditional HAWKWIND concepts come in over the top as the song grows and evolves. I like how the punky element and the more artsy HAWKWIND ones are merged as it continues. It is both modern and fresh and classic and timeless at the same time. It builds for quite a while, but then settles into spacey electronic zones that seem related to TANGERINE DREAM while still being decidedly HAWKWIND. Acoustic guitar rises up amidst this arrangement as the track continues. At almost ten-and-a-half-minutes long, this opener is the epic of the set, and they make good use of that time, continuing with mellow space music that has some sound bites over the top.
After the mellow closing movement of the last one, it's a bit of shock when hard rocking HAWK music fires in to start "Strange Encounters" off. It is more the kind of hard rocker one expects from the band. It's driving, trademark hard-edged space rock. It's also on fire. It gets into more smoking hot jamming later. Now, "Alcyone" is another song that brings a fresh approach. It is more of a balladic tune, but decidedly HAWK-like. I can definitely make out some folk rock on the song.
Another that's more traditional, trademark HAWKWIND, the rocker bearing the title "Counting Sheep" is classy. It has a good suitably dreamy texture and some cool rock built into it. There is a dropped back section that brings some hints of reggae to the mix. It rocks out a bit harder as it comes out of that, but drifts back to more dreamy stuff for a section with whispered vocals. The cut starts a fade back during that section. That fade out takes it to the next song.
Effects and atmospherics bring "China Blues" in feeling a bit like something from “Electric Teepee”. It starts to build from there with some intriguing space rock concepts that include a guitar soloing in the mix. There are some bluesy elements in the arrangement as the vocals come in. There is a drop back to spacey electronics around the three-quarters mark. The number continues to explore and evolve as it works out from there. The drums become the prominent instrument, and vocals come over the top of that percussion dominated movement. It eventually becomes more of a driving electronic thing to take it to the next track.
"It's Only A Dream" is that next piece. An alarm bell sounds, and then guitar and keyboards create a tapestry of sound. It works to more of a typical HAWKWIND up-tempo rocking jam and is quite a tasty tune. Atmospherics, psychedelia and acoustic guitar merge as "Meditation" gets underway. The instrumental piece is suitably dreamy and mellow to fit the title. It turns decidedly dream-like with spacey effects and a voice of a pilot.
"Sweet Dreams" feels dream-like, but there is a decidedly strange and ominous tune. The cut turns more toward symphonic and driving music, and spoken vocals that seem almost menacing at times come over the top. This space-out kind of piece is very cool and very trademark HAWKWIND. With "I Can't Get You Off My Mind" we get another rocking Hawktune. This isn't a big change from what one expects from the band. It is just a very satisfying piece of Hawkmusic.
Now, the spacey prog concepts on "Small Objects In Space" feel a little different than standard HAWKWIND. Dave Brock's vocal brings a sense of the familiar. This is a decidedly cool space rock sound. After the vocals drop away, this turns out into sort of a jazzy groove that has so much style and charm in it. For some reason I'm reminded just a little of CAPTAIN BEYOND's second album here. The vocals return over that concept.
"Pulsestar" emerges almost as abrupt ending to the last cut. Weird space elements create the motif for a lot of it. It is fairly short and more of connecting piece. Electronic and percussive at the start, "Barkus" is another tune that makes me think of “Electric Teepee” to some degree. The song continues to evolve in a fairly straight line before dropping back to trippy electronics. The pilot's voice returns for a quick announcement, and then space electronics take over.
"Cave Of Phantom Dreams" closes the album. Ambient keyboard textures serve as the backdrop for a spoken piece of poetic speech. The textural music gradually works upward. The voice returns for more lines. The music turns stranger and more space-like, but still remains fairly mellow. The voice delivers more lines. After the halfway mark it turns almost symphonic for a time. Then a driving electronic texture threatens to propel it into rocking zones. Instead that eventually begins a drop back, fade down that ends the piece and the album.