Space Sessions: Songs From A Tin Can is Canadian astronaut (and former International Space Station commander) Chris Hadfield’s long-promised album of songs he recorded, at least in part, while in space. Holed up in his tiny sleeping cubicle on the station after “work hours”, and trying to brace an acoustic guitar against his own body so it could actually be played, Hadfield used an iPad to generate a click track by which to keep tempo, and to record his guitar and vocal parts as separate tracks. (His sleeping area was the quietest place aboard the ISS; air handling and life support systems created too much noise anywhere else. Turns out that the 1980s/90s Star Trek series, with their constant “air conditioning” roar in the background, weren’t far off the mark.)
Aside from the obligatory appearance of his mesmerizing YouTube favorite cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” as a bonus track, everything on Space Sessions is written by Hadfield himself in a folk-country style. A great many of the songs are, somewhat predictably, space-themed, though it’s worth noting that some of them were written while in orbit, while others were penned on the ground before liftoff. But even with the constant subtext of space in the background, there’s everything from a musical prayer for the reliability of the technology keeping space explorers alive (“Big Smoke”) to a number about getting accustomed to zero-G disorientation (“Feet Up”) to a story song about a woman giving birth while her husband is in space (“Caroline”).
All of it is performed with a strong singer/songwriter sensibility (I think John Denver would have approved of both the music and the venue in which it was made). Only a couple of tracks suffer from having been recorded in a sleeping cubicle on a real orbiting space station, but this can probably be forgiven for the following reason: recorded on a real orbiting space station. In all seriousness, however, Hadfield’s got the goods to command a space station or belt out a tune. This stuff would be worth a listen even if it was completely earthbound.
- Big Smoke (3:37)
- Beyond The Terra (4:05)
- Feet Up (2:57)
- I Wonder If She (4:19)
- Caroline (4:12)
- Jewel In The Night (3:08)
- Daughter Of My Sins (2:26)
- Window Of My Mind (3:15)
- Space Lullaby (3:25)
- Farm Auction (3:08)
- Ride That Lightning (3:20)
- Space Oddity (5:19)
Released by: Warner Music Canada
Release date: October 9, 2015
Total running time: 43:11
If you’re a fan of the music from The Matrix trilogy, you’re probably a fan of Rob Dougan without realizing it: the first movie’s music for the woman in the red dress, The Matrix Reloaded‘s scenery-destroying all-out melee in a museum-like space – basically, where you heard almost James-Bond-cool strings overlaid with a trip-hop techno beat, that was Rob Dougan, an Australian DJ whose work had gained a cult following nearly a decade before The Matrix hit theaters.
But Dougan has always had more artsy ambitions: sampled strings aren’t good enough for him. That’s the theory behind this EP, which continues his neo-classical (no Matrix pun intended) fusion experiments. The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions see Dougan’s compositions played by a real orchestra: “Frescobaldi’s Toccata” is stately, “Vale (Ave Atque Vale)” and “A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico” are sedate, while the more driving “The Return” is presented both with and without a drum overlay. There are no lead vocals on any of the songs; this is a strictly instrumental (and occasionally choral) experience.
This is the first we’ve heard of Dougan since his knockout 2004 solo album Furious Angels, and hopefully it isn’t the last – indeed, he’s working on a full album even as his fans listen to The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions and ponder how much he’s been missed. This is classy, retro-cinematic cool at its finest.
Frescobaldi’s Toccata (Orchestral Session) (4:38)
Vale (Ave Atque Vale) (Orchestral Session) (4:46)
The Return (Orchestral Session) (5:02)
A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico (Orchestral Session) (6:24)
The Return (Orchestral Session) (Alternative Mix) (5:00)
Released by: robdougan.com
Release date: May 9, 2015
Total running time: 25:50
A concept band tackling a concept album, Public Service Broadcasting applies its quirky style (mixing amazing musical proficiency with clips and samples from vintage public information films) to a singular topic: the technological sprint that took humanity from Sputnik to Tranquility Base in just over a decade. Individual tracks are devoted to everything from the earliest spacewalks to Valentina Tereshkova to the Apollo 1 fire.
The technical and musical highlight of The Race For Space is “Go!”, a rapid-fire piece built around the machine-gun pacing of the Apollo 11 flight director getting go/no-go reports from his room full of controllers. The result is that these rocket technicians are basically rapping over a piece of music built around their responses (which have been only slightly edited to keep a steady tempo). “E.V.A.”, “The Other Side” and “Gagarin” are upbeat numbers that combine vintage sound clips with musical virtuosity.
The most haunting piece is “Fire In The Cockpit”, which PSB has vowed never to play live out of respect to the Apollo 1 crew. The title track is a little bit on the ponderous side – I think that it’s a given that Kennedy’s public urge for NASA to reach for the moon was a monumental moment, so piling a choir on top of that comes very close to over-egging the pudding.
It’s a neat history lesson, and one to which you can tap your toes or play a little air guitar. Public Service Broadcasting has carved out a fascinating little niche for itself, and I’m curious as to what they’ll do next after the remix album built around The Race For Space, due very soon.
- The Race For Space (2:39)
- Sputnik (7:09)
- Gagarin (3:48)
- Fire In The Cockpit (3:01)
- E.V.A. (4:15)
- The Other Side (6:19)
- Valentina (4:29)
- Go! (4:12)
- Tomorrow (7:22)
Released by: Test Card Recordings
Release date: February 23, 2015
Total running time: 43:14