Unfortunately, I often find it hard to write about albums I really like. Partly I worry that I will not be able to do them justice, and partly I tend to like albums that go beyond my limited musical understanding.
Both issues apply to ‘Mind Bahn’, the sophomore album by Jouis. Hence, I am quite late to the party with this review. Nevertheless, ‘Mind Bahn’ is not only quite an ambitious album, I also think it is one of the year’s best.
The band describe themselves as follows: “Drawing on the Canterbury Scene groups of the late 60s / early 70s such as Caravan and Soft Machine, Jouis’ sound melds these influences with their own mellifluous West Coast harmonies”. While that is absolutely spot on, it misses the very tangible sense of musical discovery and exploration they convey. This is not copycat music; these guys are the real cats.
With five years having passed since debut album ‘Dojo’, the tracks on the follow-up seem carefully considered and thoughtfully worked-through. But the perfectionism has not diminished the strong spiritual vibe flowing through the songs. The lyrics are quite abstract and the music is multilayered.
In some ways, Jouis reminds me of Syd Arthur, another neo-Canterbury band. While their influences are obvious, both bands go to some length to stitch them into something that sounds different. Both bands are also in no hurry, and favour control over the recording process over volume of output. In this, they show a kind of honesty that is quite appealing.
‘Mind Bahn’ starts out with a tape that is quickly wound backwards and leads to the tempered pace of ‘Collapse Rewind’. Although the tempo isn’t very fast, there is immediately a groove that turns out to be a hallmark feature of the entire album.
The opening lyrics also set the cosmic stage. “Time / travelling inside / the eye of your mind / Space between worlds / collapses and rewinds”
Instrumentation is traditional with guitar, drums and keyboards, and a sound embellished with vocal harmonies that could have been made anytime from the late 60s onwards. You could potentially think of the sound as retro, but in this case, timeless is definitely the word I would choose.
Second track ‘Sinking statues’ ups the CSN&Y feeling somewhat while maintaining the spaced out atmosphere. On the digital version of the album, this track reappears as a funked up remix bonus track that just wants you to get up and dance on the floor, no matter that it is well past midnight and that you are alone. One of the better remixes I have heard – and I generally don’t like remixes!
My favourite on the album may just be the album’s longest track, ’Turtle’. It starts with a soft Rhodes piano riff but then develops into a more organ driven piece before suddenly shifting down tempo about two thirds in with plaintive voices and instruments that just float in a still pool of water. They way it slows me down is rather amazing and my mind shifts gears as I leave the stress and pressure of modern life for just a little while.
And that slowing down of pulse and perception is exactly what is needed in order for me to appreciate the final track on side A, an introvert piano piece called ‘Cat’ that is part Erik Satie and part something otherworldly only hinted at by the strange sounds lurking just beneath the surface of the mix.
The pace is gently picked up again with ‘Cloud Plough’ that starts off side B, which then leads to a heavier piece, the instrumental rocker ‘Medievil’, probably the most progressive piece on the album if you are into that sort of thing.
Before long, we reach the conclusion of the album with the track that has the most difficult title, ‘Effloresce’. Had to look that one up, and it basically means “to bloom” which is exactly what the track does as it again works wonders with pace and timbre, from a rather tempered beginning that then unhurriedly opens up as a flower before finally shrivelling and dying away. It becomes a microcosm of the album as a whole, in that it packs a lot of drama in a limited space while never being rushed to go anywhere.
I think I have heard the album maybe twenty times since I bought it now, and I can say for certain that this is one of those albums I will continue listening to for years to come.