Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra are an ensemble of musicians as floridly exuberant as their name might suggest. Four albums in, ‘Vula’ finds the group as vibrant as ever, the band often presenting themselves as weavers of richly colourful, polyrhythmic onslaughts. At it’s best, ‘Vula’ is an exhilarant brew of articulate complexity and breezy vitality. The flowingly orchestrated overtures of the opening title track brings to mind the classical work of Frank Zappa, particularly his swansong, ‘The Yellow Shark’. It’s an influence that generally works well, inflecting the innately melodious orchestra with an undercurrent of dissonant avant-composition that makes for a lavishly textural sound. There are other Zappa influenced moments here, too; the woozy stabs of brass that pop up throughout the album reminiscent of his jazzier excursions.
Other sources of inspiration are apparent throughout ‘Vula’, as well – such a raft of names come to mind that it’s an exercise in futility to list them all. Rather than take Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra for copyists, however, it’s instead important to realise that the group take such a wide range of influences in – there’re hints of everything from Philip Glass to Miles Davis here – that they end up synthesising it all into something rather unique.
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The gleeful forward momentum ‘In The Light Of Turmoil’ is very hard to resist. The group have an eager readiness to experiment, to the point where there’s an almost carefree sense of adventure as they throw seemingly everything but the kitchen sink at the piece – few other pieces boast a twanging lead guitar solo, harp flourishes and frenetic, jazzy drums all within a few bars of each other. It’s in moments like this the band really shine – they’re a large group at 18 members and it’s when they’re at their liveliest that they most obviously capitalise on the expansiveness of their sound.
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At times the ensemble choose to let their momentum go, however, to somewhat mixed results. ‘Qwetoipntv Vjadfklvjieop’ sees the orchestra move away from the glistening atmosphere of ‘Vula’s best moments towards a surrealist landscape of eerie uncertainly. Seemingly randomised snatches of melody and rhythm jump out of the silence in a piece that certainly boasts its fair share of textural complexity but lacks any real sense of progression and ultimately outstays its welcome at seven and a half minutes.
The best moments of ‘Vula’ are the ones where the band stay on their toes; the flighty, lightweight tonality of ‘J. Schleia’ sees the group at their best, chopping and changing every few bars and keeping a sense of energy at the core of the music. When the band slow things down, the results are usually pleasant but not as impactful; the extended brass solo on ‘Lakta Mata Ha’ initially works but more time is given over to it than it deserves, stifling the flow of the song in the process.
Still, such moments are relatively minor stumbles on a generally impressive record that – at its best – stands as an exhilarating exercise in experimental modern composition. With a rich sense of imagination and an often acute groove, Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra have crafted a intriguing record with ‘Vula’.