ALIENS: LUNA (2008)
1) Bobby's Song; 2) Amen; 3) Theremin; 4) Everyone; 5) Magic Man; 6) Billy Jack; 7) Luna; 8) Dove Returning; 9) Sunlamp Show; 10) Smoggy Bog; 11) Daffodils; 12) Boats; 13) Blue Mantle.
I would like to be able to put the «rushed» tag on this record (in the 2000s, normal people do not release one new album per year, giving a lengthy, ample, modest, and politically correct chance for an army of underdogs to wash them out of existence instead). But Luna does not feel rushed. It feels very much like the proper, expected, surprise-free follow-up to Astronomy For Dogs, yet one that consumed just as many creative forces as its predecessor.
It is also more difficult. This time, the Lone Pigeon has steered clear of enticing commercial bookmarks. The album's single 'Magic Man' (nothing to do with Heart) is less immediately stunning than 'Setting Sun' or 'The Happy Song', and it is stuck in the middle of the record where its catchiness has a psychological chance of remaining unnoticed. Elsewhere, we have plenty of numbers that break the eight- or ten-minute mark, not always with good reason, and more splurges of moody psychedelia that will only affect those in the proper mood. The proper mood may involve many things, from returning home at 5 AM after a serious night on the town to having injected the latest world news on TV, but there is no way Luna can be appreciated regardless of the shape you're in — which explains the wildly different pool of opinions that exists on the album, and The Aliens themselves.
Fortunately, they caught me in one such mood, and, in this mood, Luna became an experience even more moving and powerful than Astronomy. Of course, like the former, it is utterly derivative. Ghosts of the Beach Boys flutter all around the place, as does the ghost of Syd Barrett and the Small Faces and, perhaps, even Neil Young ('Boats'). But this is the default situation; were it otherwise — were their influences impossible to pinpoint — you would not be reading this, since I would be too busy looking for my detached jaw rather than writing it. The point is, they integrate all these elements so nicely that the ensuing psychedelic stew creates its own version of a Wonderland, dense, majestic, beautiful, and one in which getting lost is not so much a possibility as it is a bare necessity.
Surprisingly, only two songs speak to me on a «gut» level. First, there is the experimental perfection of 'Dove Returning', a soft, slow, dreamy Floydian shuffle whose hushed vocals very soon give way to a series of solos (guitars and... phased electric pianos? Or more guitars with crazyass Adrian Belew-style processing?) that go for the good old feeling of catharsis; second, the dry, painful crackle of the Neil Young-ish 'Boats', brutally kicking the mainstream ass with its howling riffage and soloing. These are the ones I fall for very quickly; they are also, however, the least interesting from the experimental viewpoint — if you know Weld, you know this.
Those other ones I find hard to talk about, because they form a wild jungle which takes time and better skill than mine to pull apart. The long songs may be hard to tolerate, but they deserve their length: 'Bobby's Song' alone has about ten or fifteen different melodies crammed into it, from drunken gypsy dance to art-rock chorales, to bouncy Brit-pop to electronic collages. And not many musicians these days, outside of the Flaming Lips, can build up such an impressively heavenly wall of sound as the Aliens manage on the closing 'Blue Mantle'.
In short, if you are a grumpy, but romantic old-timer yearning for the return of the Beach Boys, but insulted at the frequent comparisons with Animal Collective (because Brian always had the good sense to stay away from that electronic crap etc. etc.), Luna is the album to get. And if it does not matter who you are, it is still one of the most important and successful psychedelic albums of 2008, as little as that suggests. Thumbs up.