Universe Is Mental
Nick Riff - 'The Universe Is Mental' (Riffdisc 2011, Riffdisc 004) Nick Riff has been playing on the psychedelic music scene since the late 70's, exploring many different dimensions of psychedelia and space rock. With the Riffdisc series, Nick set out to release a sequence of albums, each one focusing on a different aspect of his music. The Universe is Mental is the fourth in the series following Magick Museum, The World's Alive (featuring Nick Riff's Freak Element), and last year's excellent Photon Shift. The Universe Is Mental steers away (for the most part) from song writing, to focus on a sort of organic ambient rhythmic fusion. It's not the first time Nick has taken a more textural approach to music, even within the Riffdisc series. The lengthy track Pre-Millennium Transmissions from The World's Alive was a deeply ambient, cosmic odyssey woven around modern jazzy rhythms. But Nick's approach on The Universe is Mental is entirely different. Nick creates a kind of future primitivism where cosmic synths and deep organic layers meet up with ancient rhythms derived from Paleolithic sources. The music on The Universe Is Mental, however spacey, is always rhythmic. Drawing from ancient sources, the rhythms are simple, powerful, trance inducing. The rhythms played by ancient peoples were meant to guide listeners on their spiritual journeys, and I get the sense that this is exactly what Nick is trying to do here. The simple tapping of the drum (reminiscent of Native American rhythms) on the opening cut, Cast into the Firmament, almost seems to sync with the body's natural rhythms, preparing the listener for the journey as liquid synths and deep space textures gurgle around it, like water flowing around rocks in a stream. The most complicated rhythm we get is on the second track, Paleo Vision, which presents us with a sort of prehistoric, protofunk, but the textural design and Nick's haunting voice singing chant-like, melodic vocals continues the journey into deep space, both outer and inner. Nick can't resist throwing in a couple of his psychedelic pop tunes on the album as well. These ones are piano and synth based, rather than being played on his usual guitar and feature Jhaz Sigeret on sax and woodwinds. They are beautiful little numbers, especially Heaven with it's trippy, swirly synths. But they do seem a tad out of place amidst the intensity and mystery generated by the rest of the music on the album. It's tempting to call the majority of the music on The Universe Is Mental 'new age music', but it's all a bit too intense for that label. Nick himself likes to refer to it as 'new age punk rock'. And while I don't quite hear the 'punk' aspect to it, there are definitely subtle undertones of space rock always there in the mix, whether it is the Tangerine Dream-like electronic sequences of Where Are We Now or the strange, alien voices and analogue space whooshes of Implant Procedure Explained or the throbbing intensity of the Eastern influenced Sumerian Spaceport. If you've heard some of Nick's other stuff and are expecting the full out space and psych rock of many of those albums, be prepared for something entirely different here. Close your eyes, relax and float off towards the psychedelic horizon. The Universe Is Mental is the perfect soundtrack to that trip. It will take you to vistas both ancient and futuristic, and make them seem one and the same.