The opening track on Sentinels of the Heliosphere, Pale Blue Dot, is a great, seductive but not wholly representative introduction to the album, which at times takes very different sonic paths. Pale Blue Dot announces itself in High Imperial form; a stately strut borne in on a big, big sound, the band getting collectively high off reverb and tremolo. Sparky, thrashy, with a crystalline guitar sounds and hooks very reminiscent of Loop or even Bernard Butler in his camp pomp. The vocals are set deep into the mix, so they sound like muffled instructions and pronouncements rather than anything you can take your cue from. Following this, we get more of a feel for the rest of the LP with A Rough Road Leads To The Stars: which is zoned-out spacerock. The track seems to want to morph into a teenage love song; (it has that dolorous feel you normally connect with those paeans to lost love emanating from kids’ bedrooms, as well as the gooey chords in the refrain being driven a very affecting bass descend), though things hot up near the end, aided by some vocal samples.
There is a plodding, stately vibe on Sentinels of the Heliosphere and the band lay out a space where a listener, if they so wish, can map out whole interior landscapes; those with experience of this sort of music shouldn’t expect to chart any new territory however. It’s classic mix of what Gong and Hawkwind pioneered and what got picked up in 1988, very AR Kane, (they must love 69) and in chords and melody lines it’s a bit like a very stoned version of the first Ride E.P. Or even Lush’s early E.P.s, the stuff Robin Guthrie mixed. I can see there’s a love of Spaceman 3, but the band never really go for that acid-sharpness in sound, or the menacing vibe that Kember & Pierce perfected. The band’s “vagueness” in this respect dovetails very well with the song titles, which are either very long or have that gnomic quality much beloved of acts trying to take us to another place… What, pray, is Quiet Like Sin (To A Fatal Shell)? Having said all that, a lot of the tracks kick up a gear just before they end which is a bit of a let-down, because invariably these bits are pretty fantastic.
Outside of the imperious opener, this is music for a lazy afternoon whilst doing not very much in particular. I shudder to think what happens when intoxicants are taken prior to playing it.