Sea of Tranquility

posted 3/14/04 by Elias Granillo
There’s something I can’t put my finger on regarding the opening track of Eccentric Orbit’s debut; it just sounds so perfect—it’s an overture, a nonexistent film’s main title, a seamless collage of elements from classic electronic music (EM), space rock and symph-prog. “Star Power” unfolds in a rather linear manner, but its simplicity is surpassed by its density. Huge analog keyboard sounds rule the roost on this effort, but those aren’t sequencer tracks, running ad forgotaboutum. Practically nothing is or sounds canned—it’s live, baby. This is what we need more of: voxfree, analog synth/keyboard-dominated bands with real flesh & blood rhythm sections, as with Erik Norlander’s Threshold, Vangelis’ most pumped-up 70s excursions, and Mark Shreeve’s Legion and Crash Head— the latter two of which did utilize heavy sequencing, yet helped to epitomize what I feel “synth rock” should be (as opposed to Yanni). Attack Of The Martians shares a vitality along with Threshold that we need to hear more of, in lieu of compositions stitched together with quantize functions and mouse clicks. This isn’t spacemusic, either, but music that sounds nearly like a meeting between Vangelis, Patrick Moraz, and Tangerine Dream, circa Stratosfear and Force Majeure.

Eccentric Orbit is the brainchild of Madeleine and Bill Noland: Bill is a bass player, while reed player/synthesist Madeleine plays sounds from the Korg MS2000R via a Yamaha WX5 wind synth controller. Bill Noland’s bass shares no small role in the proceedings, and he’s even got that dirty, growling vintage Ricky tone pencilled in. The drummer is Mark Cella, who will be known to those familiar with Triggering Myth, Pye Fyte, and [Mark’s music enterprise] M & M Music. Mark’s reined-in style is complementary, and effective, in that economically pliant way as echoed by Greg Ellis on Threshold. Second keyboardist Derek Roebuck, a Berklee graduate, completes the quartet. It’s noteworthy that all of the ‘Tron samples—flute, strings, choirs, what have you—are software-generated, and they sound just as good as the rule thing (as it is, the “real thing” is not a hi-fi instrument). In fact, the album has a very “analog” sound in general; it could easily have been marketed as an archival release and fooled everybody. Organ, piano, and the vibrant Clavinet/synth layer which opens track 3 were furnished by a Nord Electro, while an E-mu Vintage Keys and Oberheim Matrix 1000 modules extend the palette even further.

The aforementioned “Star Power” and “Sputnik” are both uptempo crankers that will quickly satisfy anybody’s synth jones, and the jonesin’ will continue long after that. You’ll find two epics on Attack, being the title track, and “Forbidden Planet,” which clock in around eleven and fifteen minutes, respectively. Twists and turns aplenty distinguish these multi-sectioned pieces, with passages that sound funky, jazzy, and bluesy, but always basking in the luxuriant contours of rock. The spacey beginning of “Forbidden Planet” balances the album’s energy with its downtempo crawl, deep bassy vibes, shrill ‘Tron strings, and midregister bass solo. Part 3, The Krell, is marked by a pulsating analog bass and back-to-back synth solos. “The Enemy Of My Enemy” is, in a way, a revisiting, a summation, of all that has transpired, but it’s still an original track, one that closes with an organ solo-outro by Roebuck. Can’t go wrong with more of the same when you like what you hear, so they say.

Like everything else on this mudball, nothing’s ever perfect, and the one downside to the splendor that is Attack Of The Martians is that you’re having such a blast listening to it, and then it’s over after forty-five minutes. It’s Gerard Syndrome®! Really, I’m ready for another forty-five minutes of this, so I guess I’ll just play it again. Citizens, colleagues, bipeds, fans of classic electronic music: please take an extended break from the latest efforts by any several of the multitude of Euro-based EM acts that pretend Phaedra and Rubycon are the be-all & end-all, and hook up with a Martian, instead.
Score: 4 1/2 stars

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May 2004; Peter Pardo
Score: 4.5 stars
I'll admit, I was completely hooked here after the opening Mellotron samples of "Star Power", but was then reeled in as the pulsing bass of Bill Noland ushered in some nasty Hammond and synth tones. Eccentric Orbit''s Attack of the Martians is a keyboard fanatic''s dream CD, littered with sounds of Mellotron, Rhodes, Hammond, Clavinet, and Wurlitzer, all fused inside the framework of spacey yet symphonic progressive rock. If you can imagine a collaboration between ELP, Ars Nova, Gerard, Gentle Giant, Erik Norlander, and Tangerine Dream, then you have an idea of what to expect here. Madeleine Noland''s wind-controlled synths & keyboards combine with the keyboard work of Derek Roebuck to form a rich and textured wall-of -sound, so much in fact that you do not miss for an instant the absence of guitars.

Songs like "Sputnik" and "Forbidden Planet" bubble and boil, attacking your senses with virtuoso displays of sonic wonder, yet have a high sense of melody, so in no way does the music come across as an exercise in shredding or mindless noodling. I''m very impressed with this band, and am looking forward to their next release with bated breath!

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