Steam-Powered Mars Lander
Steam-Powered Mars Lander
Jamaica Plain, MA
Hot on the heels of his innova debut "No Such Animal," Tim Mungenast's "Steam-Powered Mars Lander" mixes harrowing, uncompromising sheets of sound with quiet moments of melodic beauty in another strong "shut up 'n' play your guitar" improv release for this Boston-based avant-guardian, straying even farther from his psychedelic rock roots. Although this suite shows Tim improvising "Martian prayers" with such luminaries as Chris Mascara, Michael Bloom (ex-Cul de Sac), Jon Proudman (ex-Cul de Sac), Mac Randall (Bedsit Poets), and 2kjb, "Steam" is also Tim's solo looping debut, with Tim improvising on several pieces "all alone without a net." Featuring the Mungulator (interactive passive ring modulator), as well as a whammy-equipped electric sitar, a vintage Fuzz Face, and the unique "Blasphemodule" pedal adapted from a toy megaphone circuit, "Steam" is an audio feast, blending daring performances with even more daring sounds.
About five or six years ago I reviewed a couple of Tim Mungenast's albums of quirky, psychedelic pop, so I was glad to see he had a new album out in the form of Steam-Powered Mars Lander. But my past experience had not entirely prepared me for the onslaught of improvised instrumental madness I was about to hear. To be fair though, Steam-Powered Mars Lander's music is not entirely unprecedented for Mungenast. His 2006 album, No Such Animal, which I unfortunately missed, was also an improvised set. The differences though, are a slightly different line-up of collaborating musicians, and the fact that No Such Animal featured much lengthier tracks (played by the entire band). Steam Powered Mars Lander focuses on shorter improvisations, each standing out with it's own unique characteristics. Some of the pieces feature just Mungenast himself, but on others he's joined by a variation of other musicians, including two former members of Boston experimental rock unit Cul-de-Sac, John Proudman and Michael Bloom. We get quite a few drone based, Eastern influenced pieces (indeed Mungenast plays electric sitar as well as guitar), but these are not at all like your traditional rock interpretations of Eastern music. Many tracks like Teahouse Noir, Bagpipes of Osmotic God, Brian May Does the Brown Acid and Launch are filled with angular, atonal noise experiments that emerge and soar through the drones. Mungenast's guitar playing is exquisitely exploratory but never descends into random chaos. There's purpose here, which makes these improvisations very focused in nature. Other tracks, like The Dragon Flies Glowed in the Dark and Prana are almost soundtrack-like in their atmospheres. And some are just plain out there, like the heavily ring-modulated Mungulator Ritual and the screeching The Scream. The music is generally a pretty challenging listen (in a good way). Only a few tracks, like the melodically inclined and rhythmic Fuzz Waltz and the rumbling Barrage á Trois (the only piece featuring drums) show any signs of the accessibility of the earlier albums. Mungenast remains uncompromising in his musical vision, and this makes for a very electrifying listening experience, worth taking the time to get into and discover its depth.
- Jeff Fitzgerald, Aural Innovations
Steam-Powered Mars Lander is Tim Mungenast's second album for Innova. The last album was for a full improvising band, but this one is predominantly solo and duo guitar pieces. But since Mungenast is also using a looper on most or all of these pieces, it often sounds like there are more players than are really present. All pieces are improvised, but that doesn't mean they're unstructured. There's a great deal of variety present, from the pummeling "Barrage a Trois" (the only track with drums) to the ambient "Launch" and the feedback tone poem of "Enormodrone." Mungenast gets into '80s King Crimson territory with both "The Dragonflies Glowed in the Dark" (which brings "The Sheltering Sky" to mind) and "Burning the Diagram" with guitarist Mac Randall which eventually sounds like a Fripp/Belew duet. He also sounds a bit like Henry Kaiser on "Bagpipes of Osmotic God," and uses the Brian May stacked guitar tone to his own ends on "Brian May Does the Brown Acid" (and somehow does it without the aid of overdubbing). But Mungenast has some sounds all his own (including some really freakishly ugly-in-a-good-way tones) and offers up a nice range of sounds for the guitar adventurer.
- Sean Westergaard, All Music