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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

JOHAN TRONESTAM: Cosmic Steps (2021)

The art of reinventing oneself without losing a bit of what made our charms!

1 Leaving the Solar System 12:50

2 Interstellar Travel 10:49

3 Borderland 8:48

4 Habitable Zone 6:57

5 Terra Nova 9:26

6 Alien Shores 10:50

7 Alien Sunset 9:04

8 We Will Stay 10:17

(CD/DDL 79:04) (V.F.)

(Cosmic Rock, Berlin School)

By the title, we understand that we are leaving the solar system. However, Leaving the Solar System exploits the ambiguities of an introduction that plays on both sides, a cosmic exploratory side and the other one a bit more prismatic. A bit like if the Cosmos could have its myths and stories of psychopathic killers rolling on its great intersidereal roads. Discreet beats graze the drum skins when for a few seconds, whispering effects envelop the ambiences. A piano, as distant as the beats, misplaces chords a little before the 5th minute. Its notes simmer on the back of these muffled beats while a series of riffs elaborate a rhythmic strategy that faces howling winds. Suddenly, Gert Emmens invests the Tronestam universe with modulations in the misty winds, the sound of synths and a guitar tone in the keyboard-synth chords. The melody they trace is evasive and while an accentuation effect is brewing, cosmic-organic effects pierce the speakers. The percussions break free and supports an ambient texture with apocalyptic synth waves that sweep the horizons of a prelude to another musical story of Johan Tronestam's cosmic tales. With openings plunged into the turmoil of new expeditions to discover other planets and systems of the Cosmos, COSMIC STEPS follows the bend of the last 3 cosmic expedition stories from the Åland Islands' musician. Like on Cosmic Drama and Next Steps, this new adventure is conceived around 8 tracks with nebulous introductions filled by cosmic winds, astral voices and sound effects that often envelop the third of the track, and sometimes even a little more. So we are literally immersed in the visions of Johan, who takes advantage of the remaining minutes of his tracks to make advance his expeditions into a universe of diversity sound that is significantly richer and more passionate since his magnificent Midgard in 2018.

Much is said about the sequences and solos in the Tronestam universe, but we too easily forget these banks of mist that move with fluids of artificial voices whispering, when not sung, between the passion of etherism or esotericism, or with soporific orchestrations that take advantage of modulations in the movements floating towards a poetic drift. But there is always a but! Interstellar Travel begins without preamble with a rhythm phase built around two sequencer suites; 1-2 and 1-2-3-4. A dense cloud of mist unveils its violins that make slow staccatos evaporating before completing. Emmens' fingerprints reappear in the first transition of the rhythm, which becomes more fluid and sustained with a sequencer in Berlin School mode. There is dynamism as well as passion in this rhythm conducive to hosting sweet cosmic solos. The movement inserts a nuance here and there, giving that impetus the ears need to avoid the boredom of redundancy. Borderland follows with a good moonlit ballad of an arpeggio line rolling on both sides of the keyboard. The percussions that come in give a more techno than rock feel. Another rhythmic texture gets in to structure this very good track that hooks us on the first listen. There are many good cosmic rocks in COSMIC STEPS! Rocks seasoned with divine synth solos like the one on Habitable Zone which is more fluid and a bit faster with a fascinating percussions drive. The echo effect in the keyboard riffs compacts the velocity of the structure while the voice layers and the dark astral humming inject a little chthonian side to this cosmic environment.

Terra Nova starts with a 2 minute of soundscapes in a zone of explosions muffled by the drifting motion of a shuttle trying to land. Fluty harmonies add tenderness before a galloping rhythm takes shape to propel the music into the ambient rock zone fueled by hazy orchestrations and good solos with a touch of lamentation that makes them quite poignant. Here too dissonant vocal layers hum for spacey amnesty, even with those big drones attacking in a strobe circle. The track makes good use of its 9 minutes by taking varied but always interconnected paths to give us as much of the rhythmic variations of Johan Tronestam's repertoire as possible. There are several traps for the ears in this very strong track of the album, including a superb harmonic approach that bewitches us before the finale! Alien Shores offers an opening of supernatural and cosmic ambiences as the waves constantly narrow the sandy margin of its shoreline for a little over 3 minutes. It's 15 seconds after this point that the sequencer releases its rhythmic line trotting from one step to another. From one ear to the other, under a musical haze that gradually dissipates its hold. Percussions appear some 2 minutes later, solidifying this base of rhythm which would be ambient. As much ambient as the harmonies of a synth always accomplice of its solos. There is a small zest of progressive rock in this title which ignites a third rhythmic vision after hearing this Norwegian choir praising the gods of Asgard. Alien Sunset eats up more than half of its time before sailing from its gentle rhythm into the realms of ambient cosmic rock adorned with beautiful lyrical solos. Much like its evolving rhythmic phases, JT knows how to make progressing his ambient landscapes by inserting various elements that feed our thirst for listening and break the effect of lassitude of these same ears. Another line of sequenced arpeggios unfolds its spiral of harmonic oscillations that fits well with this ghostly melody whose origin is still sought. We Will Stay begins with a wave of pulsating reverberations in an industrial area. Arches of sound drift around, leading us to a phase where the rhythm drums dispassionately, instead letting the synth express its thoughts with its floating harmonies that become beautiful, graceful airs when the rhythm shakes these ambiences around the 6th minute. Thus, closing the loop of a great album rich of its sono diversity and this since the first breaths of COSMIC STEPS.

The art of reinventing itself without losing a bit of what made his charms! We can say that Johan Tronestam exploits this maxim with grace and knowledge in this new album freshly released by Groove nl which, again this spring, finds the recipes to refresh our desire to hear new EM fanned by the Berlin School. Yes, the openings can be long compared to the remaining minutes to exploit the different rhythmic levels of COSMIC STEPS. Except that here, the wait is worth it with rhythms that are worth the wait. And when these expectations are structured in the luxuriant creativity of its author, this expectation is worth the rhythms... An excellent album by Johan!

Sylvain Lupari (June 29th, 2021) ****¼*

Available at Groove nl

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