The Quietus | Reviews | Cosmic analog set
Over a period of thirteen years, Charif Megarbane has released thirty-one albums as the Cosmic Analog Ensemble through his Hisstology label, the home of “Analog Sounds from the 21st Century”. The breathtaking pace at which Cosmic Analog Ensemble albums arrive is due to Megarbane’s disciplined artistic approach and extraordinary ear for a hook. Sitting five nights a week, Megarbane serves as a conduit for those relentless grooves and riffs to flow freely, engaging stream-of-consciousness compositions to be recorded immediately, then stitching moves together to create witty arrangements. Cosmic Analog Ensemble’s latest LP, Botanical exhibition is no exception. Songs blossom from a brilliant array of lush textures that elevate library music bases with David Axelrod shimmers of brilliance combined with dynamic oriental inflections, blaxploitation patterns and plenty of psych-pop. from the 60s.
Cosmic Analog Ensemble is a somewhat misleading nickname given that the “ensemble” is solely made up of the Lebanese multi-instrumentalist and producer. For those unfamiliar with his music, however, the other components of Megarbane’s pen name are an accurate representation of his material. Recorded using analog gear, the vast expanse of songs glistens and shimmers with celestial synth textures that provide rich layers to the work. Because the instrumentation is not tonally influenced by modern music or conforming to typical narratives, the work is extremely transporting. On this occasion, its exceptional novelty, Botanical exhibition draws inspiration from the works of Mort Garson and Stevie Wonder by describing each of the sixteen instrumentals as a “theme from the imaginary life of a plant”.
While Megarbane’s intention was to give a song with botanical concerns, the timbre and tempo of this work seem more suited to the soundtrack of imagined environments on yet unexplored planets. Sonically, as is the case with most Cosmic Analog Ensemble releases, the record is rooted in springy 1970s library music, with fuzzy 60s guitar sounds for grit and a swell synthesized orchestration that immediately elevates and captures the listener’s attention.
There is an inherent jovial nature and inherent lightness to library music and this is no more apparent on the likes of ‘La Grande Bellezza’ and ‘La Corde Sensible’. The brightness associated with this genre, when performed by musicians outside of the intended purpose of library music, provides an excellent foundation for casting an eerie sonic shadow. ‘Inner Cinema’ and ‘Ohms and Watts’ (which resembles Air in its ambient tone) do this so well, and facilitate moments of contemplation. Meanwhile, “Holy mackerel!” and ‘Parachute Jellyfish’ come to life with a verve similar to how Stereolab has integrated library music into their own material (even the song titles are a perfect reflection of Stereolab’s aesthetic.)
The cinema also plays a big role in the songs. There are plenty of moments – “A bras le cœur”, “Mare Nostrum” and “Version des facts” – that would fit perfectly into the soundtrack of the tearful 1970s. Love story, which featured the work of French composer Francis Lai. A whole refinement guides these arrangements which never cease to be evocative despite the absence of words to immediately convey emotions. ‘Le droit à l’oublie’, an instant highlight, overflows with melancholy in the swells of the strings and the heavy bass riff which are countered by luminous organ interjections.
There are times when a record of instrumental songs can be taken for granted, used to fill quiet spaces as a non-intrusive entity. However, passively consuming Botanical exhibition is to do both the album and Charif Megarbane himself a huge disservice. It is dense and rewarding work, which is uplifting and extremely rewarding. Coming off the record, don’t be surprised to find the energy and enthusiasm that runs through these compositions giving an extra bounce to your approach.