- by Sean Hewson Rating:6 Release Date:2016-09-16 Label: Excelsior Recordings
King Champion Sounds are a well connected bunch and they have quite a few special guests joining them on To Awake In That Heaven Of Freedom. J Mascis, Mike Watt, Tom Carter, Alasdair Roberts and many more turn up to help them as the search for a sound influenced by ‘the jams created by The Fall, Can, Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Public Image Limited, King Tubby’. But do they really need any of them?
The answer, of course, is ‘no’. There is a great album in here but it has been totally buried by too many ideas, too many special guests and just too much enthusiasm for everything. I feel that the plan was to get that thrilling mix of influences that The Pop Group or Public Image Limited had but those guys were about 20 when they made those records, they didn’t own much - they had about 10 brilliant records and a handful of broken instruments. King Champion Sounds have everything at their disposal and it is crushing them and crushing the listener.
But, let’s start with the good. There is about half an hour of exciting, original music on this album – If We Must Try, Story Stuck, A Foggy Day In Rotterdam, Getting Tired, Mice Rats Roaches are all at least good, some are excellent. On these songs they sound like a band, there is some focus and their ideas are generally great – the strings and brass at the end of A Foggy Day In Rotterdam, the phenomenal bass playing on Getting Tired, the fact that most of the songs have something resembling a chorus. But even on these tracks you can see the problems creeping in. Mice Rats Roaches has had everything thrown at it, it has a Fall riff, some Beefheart slide, touches of Melodica, a bit of Free Jazz, synths, wah-wah and J Mascis. If We Must Try is a real charge of energy, but why has it got xylophone on it? And these questions keep coming up – why is there a Henry Cow/Beefheart section in Story Stuck? Why is poltergeist written as p.o.l.t.e.r.g.e.i.s.t? I’m sure that there are good reasons but are they really needed? It’s like their minds are whirring too much and each idea is so exciting that they keep getting dragged further away from the original song. They’re seeing patterns and connections all the time but do they all have to be referenced?
As well as these questions there are a lot of answers, usually to questions you would never ask: What do Alasdair Roberts and Mike Watt sound like on the same song (not bad, to be fair)? What do Free Jazz percussion, studio trickery and Mick Derrick from Prolapse sound like together? All these strange ideas go together to make a second album of stuff that you really don’t need.
To Awake In That Heaven Of Freedom (the quote is from Rabindranath Tagore) is an album made by highly talented music nuts and explorers. It’s well played and (incredibly, with so much going on) well organised but there’s an ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ scenario going on here. On the top of the band's obvious skill and strong ideas have been poured countless guests, countless ideas and countless extra little parts that reference countless other genres. This record sounds like everything all at once, all the time, and it’s a bit much. The real shame is that there is a really strong record in there somewhere and it has been buried by their own enthusiasm.