Do you know the feeling when you watch an older movie, it blows your mind, and you just want to tell someone about it? But when you actually do, you realize that you are preaching to the choir because everyone has loved that movie for a long time. That’s kind of how I feel writing this review of Jet Black Sea. There are some bands that I am aware of, but have never taken the plunge to hear their work. They even share members with another band I love, Nine Stones Close. So, why haven’t I heard them until their new album? Beats me. Anyways, “The Overview Effect” releases on September 20th, and I’m left wondering why I hadn’t sought out their music sooner.
Jet Black Sea hails from Germany. The band consists of Adrian Jones (of Nine Stones Close) on guitar and bass, and Michel Simons on programming. This particular album includes Adrian O’Shaughnessy (also of Nine Stones Close) on vocals, along with Christiaan Bruin (love his solo stuff) on drums.
The musical style is dark, evocative, and often very subtle, playing around in the back of your mind. The album plays electronic soundscapes up against prog rock that has a good amount of edge and rhythm. Yes, I’d say this album has more groove than one might expect, and the transitions between the rock portions and the electronic horizons are concise and natural. The music travels in movements, not unlike some of my favorite Vangelis albums, and you will hear the darkly organic electronic vistas from artists like him or Tangerine Dream, but also with the dark prog rock of Nine Stones Close. Yes, that means we get Floydian guitars up against desolate electronic arrangements, and I absolutely love that.
I also absolutely adore the emotional arc of this album. If you are not aware, the overview effect is that moment when astronauts see the fragility and insignificance of our blue planet from space, and all the fears, conflicts, and problems of our world rush away because they feel so inconsequential and small. Thus, the album starts with this feeling of energy and exploration, but falls into this bright awareness of the human plight, and then ends with a new appreciation for who we are, why we’re here, and what we should be doing. The journey can definitely feel lonely, vulnerable, and cold; but the album ends with feelings of lush greenery, nostalgia, and homeliness. It’s quite a trip.
The album is structured with two shorter tracks framing a massive 35 minute monster. Yes, there are only three songs, so that means I’ll address each one. First comes “Escape Velocity”, which serves as an appropriately named launch sequence for the album. It offers some riffing edge and just this sense of anticipation. The last track on the album (skipped one there) is called “Home”, and it feels gentle and even a bit folksy, like we are coming in for a landing on our beautiful planet. It has a lovely vocal melody that really keeps your interest, not to mention a fantastic guitar solo.
So, let’s talk about the 35 minute title track now. I’m honestly not sure where to start. It’s absolutely stunning. Astonishing. Momentous. It feels like it is crafted into movements or epochs of various sounds, flowing naturally and organically from moody ambient musings to vocally lead portions to electronic swashes of light to sweeping melodies to steely guitar reflections permeating the background. It is most certainly one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, evoking all the nostalgia of Vangelis or Mike Oldfield but adding so much more. It feels despairing, desolate, and dehydrated, but also as if you are gaining mental clarity, understanding, and awareness. This song takes you through the overview effect with absolute grace.
My verdict, then, is that Jet Black Sea has an album on their hands that should really make waves. Through the spellbinding electronic ocean and the riveting guitar breakers, this Jet Black Sea shines with strong melody, hypnotizing movements, and stark emotion. I will definitely be listening to their older albums now. As it turns out, I’ve been missing quite a bit.