Continuing their series of re-released (and new) Expo 70 albums, Zoharum present a double CD set gathering together two radio sessions recorded in 2008 and 2010 on KFJC 89.7 radio in Los Altos Hills, California. Originally self-released by Justin Wright on his own Sonic Meditations imprint as separate CD-Rs, the two discs are lovingly repackaged in a double mini-gatefold style with all the due care and attention that a label like Zoharum can lavish upon them. The only regret, of course, is that the stupendously sinister and brain-melting psychedelic sleeve art (which originally appeared on the 6 November 2010 album) isn’t reproduced on an LP-sized vinyl sleeve — but at upwards of fifty minutes per session, that’s not likely to happen, at least not easily.
So much for the packaging. The first CD contains the KFJC session of 20 August 2008 and in characteristic Expo 70 style, opens into a languorous excursion coasting on widscreen waves of solo guitar and a (quite restrained) plethora of effects courtesy of Wright, while Matt Hill offers up some seared bass explorations to the mix. Imagine the joy at tuning across the dials late one night — presuming this was broadcast in the hours of darkness, to which it seems eminently suited — and encountering Expo 70 in full driftalong mode on the Californian airwaves, or an internet stream (perhaps even on the International Space Station) and becoming inveigled into the soft melodic sweeps before eventually being pulled into the stratosphere and beyond by the cycling washes of fuzz, feedback and delay.About forty minutes in, the tone changes with a drop to hovering drones before a choppy, short-phase reverberant guitar and throbbing bass pull up sticks and plot a course for the further reaches of the astrolabe that Hawkwind have mapped beforehand. While a duo can’t reasonably be expected to entirely fulfil the space rock mission that implies, Wright and Hill do their damndest. Even if they don’t have the crew numbers assembled for a complete Space Ritual, they give it their all in a brief burn for the inner planets, if not quite achieving inter-system travel on this occasion. Shuffling out on the shimmering pulsations of an analogue drum machine to enliven the sense of motion, they close the disc with a pleasant ambient meander. A shade over two years later, the 2010 set on disc two feels more assured, even though it’s just Wright at the controls of his guitar, Moog and drum machine this time around. Rolling in on broad-spectrum synth and effects tones, the characteristic deep-throated burn of the Moog and the deliciously chunky beat of the drum machine initiate almost an hour of smoothly-transforming psychedelia. Wright almost cautiously lets the robot drummer unfurl a hesitant groove, keeping the hissing hats and fractious snare in check as the synthesizer holds down a persistent throb while his guitar gently loops into the aether.
So far, so Berlin School, and once the percussion is allowed to fade (it’s questionable that it could have sustained nearly an hour of more or less the same sounds), it’s soon blissed-out as usual for Expo 70, recursive swirls, subtle string-bend reverberations, Moog curlicues and gliss guitar repetitions layered until the whole edifice has seemingly self-transformed from the identifiably musical opening into something further abstracted and so very much more fried by the journey’s conclusion.Playing live is one art form, playing live into a recording device is another (and one of Wright’s favoured approaches), but the inherent uncertainty of performing a radio session with probably just an engineer and/or producer for an audience makes for a particular set of circumstances in which to send music into the possibly uncaring, unlistening void. Much like sending signals into space for extra-terrestrial civilisations to pick up, in fact; but with Expo 70’s records, it’s hard to tell sometimes whether the sounds are rooted spiritually on terra firma, or more likely, somewhere much, much further out.