It now seems a very long time ago since I last wrote a Sun Dial review, back at the beginning of January this year. To say that a lot of water, together with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, has flown since then would be an absolute understatement. Amidst this great uncertainty I think many of us might be looking for a few things from our music at the moment.
Certainly escapism, something which psychedelic/ space rock music can provide with plenty to spare.
Possibly something familiar that we can identify with, that we find comforting.
I would almost definitely want to be challenged too, to be taken at least some way out of my comfort zone to to stop me from taking things for granted and, perhaps worse, accepting things for what they are.
Fortunately Sun Dial are able to provide all these things in this sprawling, arguably career-high, double album that both returns to well-known themes, such as ‘Regenerator’ which seems to re-imagine Floyd’s ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ in a highly effective manner, or ‘Ascension’ with it’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ motorik. Then there’s ‘In the Machine’ with its electro-punk beat underneath swirling spacey synths with 70s sci-if soundtrack flourishes, and ‘Dark Planet’ a sinister sonic exploration could scare the life out of you in the right environment.
What I’m trying to say here is that this is an album of very different moods. For every upbeat track that encourages you to dance, there’s something darker and more studied just around the corner. This works on such a long album, it weighs in at around 72 minutes, because it enables you to experience all sorts of emotions as you move through: from the atmospheric pastoral acoustics of ‘Sea of Rain’, through the studied jazz electronica of ‘Sun Gate’ and ‘Eclipse’ to the superb mix of 60s East Coast psych and space rock that is ‘Spacedust’, probably my favourite track on the album.
At the centre of this set, though, is by far the longest track here. At nearly fifteen minutes, ‘Autopilot’ is a complex mix of themes that together provides a challenging journey encompassing sitar-infused Eastern raga rhythms wrapped up with familiar space rock themes. These come together in a quite transcendent manner to provide the listener with something of an escape that leaves you relaxed and strangely fulfilled.
It’s undeniable that 2016 has been a pretty significant year, in the middle of a fast changing era. In this context it is amazing that musicians are able to stay relevant during that time and, more to the point, still sound fresh. That Sun Dial’s multi-instrumentalist founder Gary Ramon, with over 25 years of making music under that name, has done so is testament to a great talent.
‘Made In The Machine’ is out now on CD, and on 9th December on clear 140g vinyl (double), both on Sulatron Records.
You can find my other writing for Backseat Mafia here.