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Astral Social Club - Happy Horse

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Artist: Astral Social Club

Album: Happy Horse

Label: Happy Prince

Review date: Aug. 12, 2010

Imagine yourself asleep in bed. It’s a tranquil scene, all fluffy sheep and pleasant dreams. Suddenly, you half-awaken with a start; jolted out of your nighttime reverie and deposited, unceremoniously, into a reverie of another sort; a swirling, off-kilter approximation of clubland. The beats thump as waves of noise, distortion and half-realized, relentless dance riffs swirl around you. It’s both profoundly disorienting and exhilarating. It’s the pulse-pounding, lucid dreamstate that is Astral Social Club’s Happy Horse.

Happy Horse is the latest ASC full-length by Neil Campbell, of Vibralcathedral Orchestra fame. It follows hot on the heels of last year’s stunning Octuplex. But where the former was a sort of encyclopedic jaunt along the outer-edges of 21st-century, non-drone, non-jam psychedelia, referencing early electronics, noise, rave music and more, this record is more consistently and unflinchingly propulsive.

Like his first "proper" album, an eponymous 2007 release on VHF, the album is styled as a kind of mixtape. Tracks slipping one into the other, so there’s less of Octuplex’s whiplash brilliance. But the stylistic, information overload is still everywhere in effect. Each track is crammed to the gills with activity: synthesizers, guitar feedback, drum machines, and who-the-hell-knows-what collide, push, and pull against one another in a maelstrom of sound. Even the epic "Horse Cortex" seems perpetually on the verge of coming unglued and shattering into a thousand constituent parts as it apparently hews to a 4/4 beat. Instead of disintegrating, it gathers force and density over time, before exploding into a euphoric blaze of noise. "Lost Caustic" is more disorienting still, as thumping rhythmic patterns swirl and fold into one another to form an improbable scintillating drone, one that eventually evaporates blissfully into the ether. Part of the magic of Astral Social Club lies in Campbell’s ability to keep you perpetually off balance, while still providing that essential ecstatic rush.

By Susanna Bolle

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