Space Hymns

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Although Ramases' debut album is best known today for featuring the infant 10cc as accompanying musicians (the 1990 Repertoire reissue even flags their involvement on the front cover), it is, in fact, deserving of considerably more attention than even that merits. Insistent, percolating rhythms float across a lightly funky soundscape, building with an intensity that ebbs and flows with every track and begging comparison with some of the other, darker folk devils that danced around the fringes of the early-'70s British underground. Comus, Gravy Train, and Dr. Strangely Strange all inhabit similar musical caverns, even as they strained toward new peaks of uniqueness, and Ramases shares that ambition -- and occasionally even surpasses it. The opening "Lifechild" sets the scene, one of two songs (the other is "Balloon," later in the set) that all but strap you aboard the spacecraft blasting off from Roger Dean's excellent sleeve design. From there, the journey does occasionally stray into territory that 10cc would enlarge upon -- or that they had already visited via their earlier Hotlegs excursions: "Oh Mister" is certainly the disinherited second cousin of "Um Wah Um Who," while "And the Whole World" could easily have become one of those insidious little ballads that Kevin Godley used to sing so sweetly. Again, however, it is misleading to emphasize such connections -- Space Hymns was Ramases' show from start to finish, a mass of musical eccentricities that spend the entire album colliding with one another, without once disintegrating into chaos or nonsense. A beautifully atmospheric album, then, Space Hymns remains one of the most musically and lyrically intriguing releases of an age where darkness and atmosphere genuinely meant something to their exponents. If Current 93 had been making records in 1971, this would be one of their greatest.

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