Although most likely to appeal to those who would normally balk at the word “supergroup”, there’s no getting away from the fact that Ensemble Pearl, the eponymous debut album from Sunn O)) mastermind Stephen O’Malley‘s latest extracurricular venture, is something of a dream collaboration for anyone with a passing interest in mind-expanding, minimalist avant-rock. Teaming O’Malley up with Boris drummer/vocalist Atsuo, guitarist Michio Kurihara (Ghost/ Boris) and bassist William Herzog (Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter), with additional input from contemporary composers Eyvind Kang and Timba Harris, the project has been generating a lot of excited chatter since it was announced late last year, and with good reason: whilst they all operate within the same loosely-defined musical orbit, the individual members’ comfort zones – doomy atmospherics (O’Malley), airy psych-folk (Kurihara), jazz and modern classical (Kang, Harris), country rock (Herzog) and, well, anything from stoner metal to shoegaze to J-pop (Atsuo) – are so diverse that trying to second-guess what Ensemble Pearl might actually sound like proved infuriatingly futile. Thrillingly, the album ticks the “all of the above” box (okay, minus the J-pop), resulting in an unsurprisingly heavy, downtempo instrumental trip through the outer limits of cosmic psychedelia. Whilst it’s arguably O’Malley’s presence that is felt most, all of the players’ contributions are as important as they are subtle, with droning synths and squalling feedback, twanging twin guitars and sparse, dub-influenced rhythms combining to make sense of the press release mentions of Tangerine Dream, Earth and Link Wray; “Ghost Parade”, for example, is a Morricone meltdown in slow-motion waltz-time, whilst “Painting On A Corpse” blazes sinister prog-rock vapour trails over ritualistic tribal drums. Cloaked in a gloomy, queasy ambience – “Giant”, with its wavering, ascending jet-engine tone and muted, twinkling keys, is a doped-up cousin of Brian Eno’s “Apollo”; epic 20-minute closer “Sexy Angle” sounds like the score to a horror film set on a deserted space station recorded at Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio – this is nail-biting tension at a snail’s pace, a breathtaking vision of a blue planet seen through black clouds, painted with sound and described without words; listen to “Painting On A Corpse” below.
Ensemble Pearl is out March 18 via Drag City