Gagarin – Biophilia
Biophilia, the newest offering from London based Gagarin (aka Graham ‘Dids’ Dowdall) is a collection of experimental ambient pieces with a very varied approach to the genre. Mixing samples, glitches, vintage synths and some dub elements, it sounds otherworldly, like those odd dreams you have when you are on a vigil state and a little noise wakes you up in a jump.
You want slow grooves with a few glitches to keep you in your toes? Witness ‘Last child in the woods’, a bubbly, feel good song. Want more good vibes but with a punchier attitude? ‘Third rail’ will be your track for the night, sir/madam/plush cow.
But the smooth sounds of ambient are sometimes stopped dead in their tracks with a few bumps where the style is more musique concrète, where structures are abandoned and it’s more about creating an atmosphere than repeating loops. ‘Pripyat’ is as haunting as its namesake. ‘Wanderlust’ is a smouldering, uneasy night terror. ‘Carbon flux’ even has some feel of a drum n bass track slowed down, glitched up and then overlapped on an experimental film (I might be be doing some wishful thinking there). ‘Dunnock’ partially follows the slowed drum n bass feel, but on its own wicked way.
There is something odd about the way the album flows, as in, the flow is almost non-existent. Imagine that instead of a novel, you have a collection of short stories, so although it might not seem cohesive, it sort of makes each song try harder to be successful. The good thing is that it means that Gagarin has to push the envelope and make his musical experimentations diverse. The bad thing is that the changes could jar the uninitiated, thinking that someone has gone on a circuit bending binge. Although by looking at Mr. Dowdall’s resumé, you know he knows what he is doing.
The inclusion of some actual samples of Yuri Gagarin’s transmissions (‘KEDR’) and including a couple of references to his astronaut’s career (‘3KA-3’) does give some sort of narrative feel to it, like an umbrella theme that lightly makes it more of an album, so you can disregard what I just said. Oh, well.
It’s a strange collection, but if you ever wondered what would happen if the BBC Radiophonic was still open for business and they let someone have a go at their reliquary of holy synthesisers and various electronic gadgets, you could find something sounding as otherworldly as this.