Artwork is not always an indicator of the contents of an album but it can prove to offer certain instructive points. The remarkable cover art for ‘Relusion’, the Richard Dawkins inspired album by Polish progressive act Hipgnosis, for example suggests an album awash with complexity, possessed of hidden depths and sonic innovation and reminiscent of the beautiful covers that adorn the Pink Floyd back catalogue. Crafted by Tomasz Setowski whose amazing work can be found online at http://www.setowski.com, the cover perfectly matches the contents of the album and, presented as a beautiful digi-pack with a fold-out booklet, it will be a delight for progressive rock fans. As if the artwork is not enough of a clue as to the expansive possibilities of the album, a further indication as to its content album can be found in the track listing which offers six tracks in just under seventy minutes, the longest of which, ‘large hadron collider’, clocks in at twenty-two mind-expanding minutes.
In all honesty, however, nothing can aptly prepare the listener for the myriad influences that are shot through ‘Relusion’. Certainly a progressive record, informed by the whimsical musings of the Peter Gabriel-led Genesis and the fierce experimentalism of early Pink Floyd, another key element is the free-form exploration of seminal jazz musician Miles Davis whose untouchable record ‘Bitches brew’ record provides a further source of inspiration for the multi-faceted music that Hipgnosis create. This is music of the imagination, a lush, electronica-laden soundscape that captures the listener with its silk-clad arm, drawing you into the heart of its dense world and then taking you upon an exploration of the vast world that the band have dreamed up. It’s complex, beautiful music but, perhaps above and beyond the beauty, there is a sense of wonder at what you are hearing and, unlike so many other progressive acts playing today, the emphasis is on the act of creation rather than overt virtuosity with Kul’s sultry lead vocal providing a focal point around which the music swirls and eddies, ever changing and shifting with mood and time. All of this is just the first track, ‘cold’, and it is clear that even after two or three listens you are only scratching the surface of the deep and mysterious waters that Hipgnosis inhabit.
‘Out of cargo’ opens on a sinister note, throbbing bass offset against watery keyboards and vintage synth lines. It’s darkly fantastic and deeply original with only Kul’s stunningly beautiful voice glimmering in the darkness of a world rarely touched by the sunlight. The ferocious stabs of guitar, meanwhile, might recall the schizophrenic might of Porcupine Tree as interpreted by Massive Attack and The Gathering in the lost underwater city of Rapture. Few bands get this inventive over the course of whole records and that Hipgnosis can offer such wide variety over the course of one ten-minute song speaks volumes about their innovative spirit and adventurous sensibilities. ‘Dr What’ maintains the sense of wonder but offers up a beautifully evocative soundscape that incorporates eastern influences, early Pink Floyd and The Orb to stunning effect. It’s hypnotic, captivating and entrancing and a perfect demonstration of what bands can do when they free themselves from the constraints of writing to a given template. The production is also perfect – a lush, warm sound that allows the listener to drift within the comforting embrace of the music, elated by the sonic balm the band apply in generous measure. This can be clearly seen on the instrumental track ‘the garden’, a restful piece of music that allows the piano to take the lead over jazzy percussion and gently rippling synth lines perfectly conjuring up images of the titular location before the title track drifts dreamily into view, Kul’s unutterably beautiful voice backed by a piece of music so stunning it brings tears to the eyes, not to mention an epic solo that would not sound out of place on a David Gilmour record.
The closing track of the record is an epic that is only just matched by the opening ‘cold’. At twenty-two minutes ‘large Hadron collider’, in the wrong hands, could challenge the patience, but here it feels as if the band are so overflowing with ideas that they could have doubled the length and still found ways to maintain interest. The Orb once again appear as an influence, the overall feel of the piece being ambient rather than ‘rock’ in any conventional sense, although the sound here is more organic than The Orb’s more dub-influenced sounds and beats. Sounds drift through the sonic miasma, like hearing the cry of Dolphins as you swim beneath the surface of the ocean without actually being able to see them, and it is only after the first ten minutes have gently rocked you into a trance that a beat emerges from the depths and you’re rising fast from the depths, oxygen bubbles streaking past as you race towards the surface. It is disorientating, exciting and the adrenalin that floods through your veins as the music slowly builds will cause your heart to race as the music increases in intensity and a stunning guitar line appears to lend a definite conclusion to the piece. It’s a brilliant ending to an album that reaches for, and often achieves, perfection thanks to the exceptional skills of the musicians involved, the stunning production job and the seemingly limitless well of inspiration from which the various members draw.
It would be possible to sit here and type out a lengthy list of bands and musicians whose work is referenced over the course of this stunning album, but ultimately what you need to know is that Hipgnosis have crafted a genuinely progressive, genuinely cohesive concept album that hang that will draw you out of the mundane, everyday world with its drab colours and casual savagery and lead you on a voyage of the imagination to a place filled with beauty and elegance. Every element has been attended to by the band for the careful sequencing of tracks to the utterly brilliant artwork and it is hard to imagine a better progressive surfacing this year or having surfaced in the last five. Daring, intelligent and original, Hipgnosis have created a masterpiece of scintillating beauty and ‘Relusion’ is an essential purchase for any serious music collector.