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Spaceheads



The Spaceheads are among the most compelling projects of the past decade, naturally bringing together several different vital elements of the underground music zeitgeist in a remarkably organic, refreshingly original, and completely addictive fashion. The collaboration features trumpeter Andy Diagram, a onetime member of the classic British psych-pop ensemble James who also records with ex-Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas as 2 Pale Boys, and percussionist Richard Harrison, who has worked with everyone from God Is My Co-Pilot to Graham Massey (of 808 State) to Stereolab. They formed their partnership while playing in a noisy new wave/post-punk band called Dislocation Dance during the '80s. Following this, the duo formed a band called The Honkies which featured the two of them plus a pair of sax players and which recorded intermittently before burning out in the mid '90s. Then in 1989 Diagram and Harrison started recording alone as Spaceheads.

Among the many aims of the project from the get-go was to establish an opposition between the ancient and elemental sounds of the trumpet and drums and the modern, technological sounds of electronic effects; this underlying conceit has produced an amazing seven albums' worth of consistently fascinating sonic exploration. In a sense, their albums feature two layers of improvisation: first, there are the heavenly pure psych jams between the players, in which they work around a central musical idea in the manner of jazz; second, there are the electronic manipulations that go on after the live sounds have been laid to tape, which work around the new set of ideas the musicians have created from their seedling idea. What does this all sound like in the end? Well, the duo's compositions often hang on a massive, sensuous bass groove and complex drum patterns. Diagram's echo-looped trumpet is the comet darting across the hot star-flecked night sky, while a wash of skittering techno sounds creeps below. Spaceheads tunes are funky and deep, they're dangerous and tense, they're spacey and cosmic, and they're peaceful and meditative, all at once.

In recent years, the rate of the Spaceheads output has picked up considerably as the project has become Diagram and Harrison's primary focus. Their huge 1999 album Angel Station precipitated a frenetic tour schedule (the group's high-energy live trips to deep space have become legendary), which in turn spawned a live album. Next the duo collaborated with ambient sound sculptor Max Eastley on 2001's Time of the Ancient Astronaut (reportedly the first of a series of collaborations for the Spaceheads). In 2002, they released their most recent LP, the awesome, sublime Low Pressure.