Peter Thelen    30-March-2001 The Simon Lonesome Combat Ensemble

Simon Steensland - The Simon Lonesome Combat Ensemble (Musea MP3013.AR, 1994)

Cutting edge, unpretentious and imaginative are three words that describe this offering by Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer Simon Steensland. Mixing elements of rock, neo-classical, jazz, some folk and sensible sonic experimentation, Steensland has created a purely instrumental album of great depth and emotion, yet it maintains a sensibility of variety throughout - an album that would seem more at home on the Cuneiform label. Any general comparisons are not easy, as the music keeps taking different turns in many directions: On most tracks, Steensland plays percussion, keyboards, and mallets (or samples thereof), plus occasional cello, fuzzbass, accordion, berimbau and other exotics. He is joined by a rotating guest list providing additional keyboards, guitar, bass, violin, cello and accordion.

The album opens with "Mandrill", a high-tension track dominated by drums, synth and mallets, one that may recall the recent work of Daniel Denis. Then on to "Antischnurvewicklungsperre" - imagine Art Zoyd with a drummer, then throw a searing guitar solo on top of it all. Other standout tracks include "Nightingirl", where hard hitting fuzzbass and synth-bells paint a menacing zeuhl styled backdrop for a powerful and intense melodic buildup, leading to Morgan Agren's 'electric chainsaw' solo, and "Doctor Locton", a mechanized orgy for offbeat percussion, electric bass, and synths. "Only in France" features a lonely frippian guitar lead over dissonant accordion chords; "Alexandra", a solo piece for keyboards and marimba may remind of Kit Watkins' "Spring 1980". Some of the tracks here have a more programmed feel, akin to Thierry Zaboitzeff's Dr.Zab - two tracks in this category, "The Shadow of a Dog" and "The Hunchback's Dance" stand out with a dark, foreboding starkness that makes for some fairly challenging listening. Wisely, the more abstract material has been pushed out towards the last half of the disc. In all, this is excellent music that will appeal to the discriminating listener. If you are looking for the next Marillion, then Steensland's ensemble may not be for you.

(Originally published in Exposť #3, p.22, Edited for Gnosis 3/25/01)

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