Spacemusic fans, please queue up in an orderly fashion to procure tickets for the voyage that is Scott Lawlor’s Neptune. Inspired by the distant planet and Holst’s classical paean to it on The Planets, Lawlor grabs hold of familiar spacemusic tropes, wraps them in drones, and gives his listeners a deep and image-filled ride. This is familiar territory, done well. The rushes of stellar wind are here, the choirs of celestial voice pads, the sense of passing through the vast stellar distances—all intact and used properly. Lawlor laces in a recurring motif of icy temple-bell chimes and marks passage with them very conservatively. When they ring out against his layered pads and drones, it’s a beautifully sharp call that really works. There’s a great trade off between stretches with softly administered melodic passages and those that just whisper and drone. The opening track, “The Mystical Blue World,” is the former. After setting us adrift, Lawlor lays in a slow-moving phrase that sounds just familiar enough to make me expect David Gilmour to slip in and fire off a riff. “Neptune’s Rings” goes the other way. Opening with scale-ascending bell chimes, it slowly melts into a lush, windy drift. Lawlor really lets his pads stretch to the far reaches here, and it’ll take conscious thought with it. Between this and its followup, “The Great Ocean,” we’re afforded over half an hour of the deepest material on the release. “…Ocean” makes up 20 of those minutes. It’s packed with drones that take their time rising up in intensity, and everything is underscored with a persistent whoosh that is equal parts wind and the far-off sound of the ocean. He manages to convey and excellent sense of drama throughout this piece, and really holds the listener’s attention for 20 minutes. “Wizard’s Eye” sounds reasonably similar, but arcs upward toward the end into higher-register pads. Here I find myself hearkening back to the lighter parts of Roach’s Magnificent Void. Overall, this is a disc that demands long-term looping.
Stepping into a genre that’s as trope-heavy and well-trodden as spacemusic can be a tricky proposition for an artist. There’s not a lot of new ground, so what you lay down needs to have a certain something that hooks the listener in. I can say that Neptune has such a hook. Have you heard it before? Sure, a bit. But if you love good spacemusic, this album follows the rules and lays out the sonic sights you love, and it does so very, very well. I like Lawlor’s patience in the way he layers his pads. There’s no hurry and, unlike a lot of spacemusic, there’s no need to build to some big celestial moment—you know, the ever-present supernova sound that births out into a big helping of choral pads. That’s not what this is; what this is is a spacey voyage you’ll take many times, finding yourself in the musical moment at different stages, always discovering a fresh side of it. Set aside the time, bust out the headphones, and head out, space cowboy.
Available from earthMANTRA.