Abiding contentedly and with a sly wink right under the “experimental” moniker in the “experimental rock” category, Bogdo Ula’s newest LP Crash Canis Majoris is a trip to the moon and back. Keeping in line with previous releases such as Charge and 2011’s transcendental space odyssey Prisoners of Freedom, 2012’s Crash Canis Majoris is more of what Bogdo Ula do best – trippy, erratic, and often electric improv experimentation that cleaves close to its own internal muse, and in its wake crafts dense thickets of instrumental avant jazz-rock that both cooks and percolates in its own juices.
Crash Canis Majoris is the third album from Bogdo Ula to incorporate the fully realized trio of guitarist Samuli Kristian, bassist Jean Ruin, and drummer Ivan Horder (the outfit was previously a two-piece featuring only Kristian and Horder). With the addition of Ruin in 2010, Bogdo Ula’s signature style was molded, consisting of Kristian’s blistering, Metheny meets Hendrix-esque fretwork, Horder’s propulsive and attentive skin and metal bashing, and Ruin’s low-end rumble in the jungle bass work, all blended up in the juicer of 100% improvisation, free-jazz anti-structure, and color wheel mood musing. Tracks on Crash Canis Majoris are more walkabout than structured excursion, and together coalesce into a tonal archipelago representative of the band’s penchant for sonic risk and playfulness. As far as the extreme end of the impulse to deconstruct convention goes, it could be said that Bogdo UIa’s compositions remain more recognizable than oblique, however, and Crash Canis Majoris will no doubt appeal to closeted free-jazz rockers everywhere who choose to keep a tentative grip on the real rather than drift away into some uncharted deep space sound collage. To put it simpler – this record will likely appeal to fans of late-era Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Zappa, Beefheart, Sun Ra, Band of Gypsies-era Hendrix, Weather Report, 70’s fusion in general, and other aural oddities that have ascended to become some of the tried and true touchstones of modern experimental paradigm. Still, despite the exploratory overtones here, there is something touching and familiar in Kristian, Horder, and Ruin’s compositions, which despite their ferociously ardent commitment to 100% improvisation and pushing the envelope generally, still come off with a polarized free jazz tint inherent to the lenses.
The band is great at what they do, and there are points within the folds of certain tracks on Crash Canis Majoris that hit on something nearing a conjunctive improvisational samadhi, such as with the tense, alien, Doctor-Who-on-amphetamines aesthetic of “I Never Was Away”, the doom funnel ambience of “Vy Cma Pt. 1”, and the space opera voodoo child spiritum of “Vortex in Your Eyes”. Yet there’s still the feeling that all of this is strangely familiar, and by the time the shimmer guitar pyrotechnics of “Wherever I Lay My Helmet” come calling, any listener with an ear for this sort of thing should have a comfortably numb glow given the simulacrum butterfly effect of previously stated influences on the band’s overall color and feel. Bogdo Ula have a penchant for black hole suns and the chops to back it up, and Kristian’s signature guitar riffery over Horder and Ruin’s awesome, concussive rhythm attack on tracks such as “Your Sign Cygnus” and title track “Crash Canis Majoris” are enough to turn heads and bend eardrums. As with 2011’s Prisoners of Freedom, tracks on Crash Canis Majoris follow their own obtuse logic, often as a showcase for the ridiculously adept musicianship that peppers most of what Bogdo Ula cranks out. As well, as with previous albums, one could make the request/complaint that some of the power that the band could wield might be lost on some listeners due to the sheer frenetics of Bogdo Ula’s experimental hankerings, and tracks could be at times accused of filling too much space when leaving it more unfilled (i.e. restraint vs. going for it) might result in a more balanced overall assault and a more fully evolved record that both wows and flutters. Still, the band works it and works it well, even leaving spaces for a little humor as well as the band’s DIY work ethic to come to the fore (such as with the drop-out to background noise half-way through on “Portraits Around the Bend”). It’s hard to argue with these guys too much – they pretty much kick ass.
Once again, Bogdo Ula come correct with a mind-bending interstellar jaunt that isn’t afraid to follow its muses and completely shirk any notion of compromise for the sake of less forgiving ears. More should follow suit.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)
Review by Reed Burnam