It’s inevitable: the first thing one notices about Horse Head Bookends, the latest album from Andrew Reichel (d/b/a/ Gel-Sol), is its stunningly original album artwork and packaging. The vinyl LP is housed in a black, die-cut sleeve with a front window that serves as a frame for a 12×12 full-color art. There’s a collage for each of the album’s eight tracks, plus another representing the album as a whole (the tenth panel is home to the credits, which is where one learns that Reichel created the artwork himself). All in all, a mightily impressive introduction to the album.
But what of the music within?
Horse Head Bookends is a kind of deeply nuanced and melodic rethink of what we know as krautrock. The blooping, bleating synthesizer textures often associated with the style are presented in a more readily accessible format. All manner of keyboards are used in the service of delivering these tunes. Found-sound recordings – sounding as if they’re from 1950s sci-fi horror films – -make appearances.
But this isn’t bloodless, sterile music; the sound is somewhat redolent of the music Steven Wilson made when he was a one-man Porcupine Tree; wonderfully inviting music that grabs deftly from (first and foremost) prog, space rock, trip-hop, trance, ambient … you get the idea. Intrepid listeners will discover their own musical guideposts in Horse Head Bookends. Delightful stuff that floats by yet provides no end of positive experiences for the more active listener. The songs tumble into one another, pausing only when one has to visit the turntable to flip the platter.
With its primitive sequencer basis, “Earth Melt” may remind some listeners of “On the Run” from The Dark Side of the Moon; one can do a lot worse than draw inspiration from such a source. There’s plenty of variety among the songs, and Reichel has a strong melodic sense that elevates Horse Head Bookends well above much of the music made in this style.
“Smoky Charbonneau” sounds a bit like what might happen if Moog Cookbook crafted the soundtrack to a Shaft film. If that sounds fun to you then you’d do well to pick up this album, because Horse Head Bookends is full of that kind of seamlessly effective genre-hopping. For the more musically adventurous listener, there are splashes of glitchy atonality – with some David Gilmourish humpback whale tones that’ll take you back to the early ’70s – but the whole ting is wrapped in a warm and rather friendly sonic package.
At roughly 40 minutes, Horse Head Bookends effectively recreates the experience of the vinyl era, and even the digital version of the album is designed to evoke the sensations of that experience: each album side is its own file (instead of individual tracks), and a helpful voice invites you to flip the “tape” over. That playful attitude is a hallmark of the album as a whole; it’s as far as possible from the dour approach of many synth twiddlers.