Less than a year after the release of their last album, Carnivorous, Hawkwind return with another collection of new songs. This, their thirty-fourth album, continues the fine tradition of the space rock genre that the band have created and nurtured throughout their career. Titled Somnia, it has the concept of the many allusions to sleep, through Roman mythology and Somnus the god of sleep. Here, Dave Brock’s lyrics highlight sleepless paranoia, strange encounters, fever dreams and even meditation across the eleven tracks if you a vinyl fan, plus two bonus tracks on the CD. The releases across these two mediums have been tailored to provide singular sonic experiences, of which I can make no comment as this review is from download, although the sound quality is very good.
As with the previous album, the the bulk of the recording was done by the trio of Dave Brock, Richard Chadwick and Magnus Martin, not that you would know it, even as a trio the sound remains big on a lot of the tracks in the classic Hawkwind style. The recording was done during lockdown and each of the band members played the tracks solo at home, and then sent them to the studio for mixing. That said, there is a band feel and there is no indication, to my ears at least, that they were not all in the same room.
The album opens with the ten-minute opus Unsomnia, which appears to be about the fears and trials of being unable to sleep set to a pulsating rhythm, maintained by the bass and drums as Brock’s guitar weaves in and around. Towards the end we hear the sound of birdsong, a radio, a lightness to the guitar and a keyboard only ending, possibly signalling the dawn after a difficult night. The next track, Strange Encounters, takes us straight into the Hawkwind space rock sound as we all know it. That said, this is not an album filled with that one style, the band have used a variety of styles crafted into their original Hawkwind sound.
This is demonstrated in the track Meditation, a gentler and slower song which is acoustic guitar led with keyboard support. Around half-way through we get Indian influenced drums, then a swirling keyboard ending. Chine Blues appears to be a Covid related song, the music having a sinister feel, the vocals with an almost Sonic Attack delivery, adding to the tension. This tension continues on Sweet Dreams, musically sparse as Brock intones the line “Sweet dreams my precious little flower, that our love never turns sour”, without feeling which adds menace. Small Objects in Space has a different feel again, reminiscent of Ozric Tentacles, but still distinctly Hawkwind.
Overall, there are great individual songs here, but it works so well as a whole having a good flow and structure. Hawkwind have produced another fine album demonstrating that their songwriting skills have not diminished throughout their long career. In fact, I believe they are in another purple patch, based on the evidence of this release. Well worth a listen if you are a fan. If not, still give it a go, it may surprise you.
01. Unsomnia (10:20)
02. Strange Encounters (6:33)
03. Alcyone (5:28)
04. Counting Sheep (3:24)
05. China Blues (7:22)
06. It’s Only a Dream (3:17)
07. Meditation (4:19)
08. Sweet Dreams (2:19)
09. I Can’t Get You Off My Mind (3:57)
10. Small Objects in Space (5:06)
11. Pulsestar (1:43)
12. Barkus (4:45)
13. Cave of Phantom Dreams (4:12)
Total Time – 62:52
Vinyl Track listing:
02. Strange Encounters
01. Counting Sheep
02. Small Objects in Space
03. It’s Only a Dream
05. Sweet Dreams
06. I Can’t get You Off My Mind
Dave Brock – Vocals, Lead Guitar, Keyboards, Synthesisers
Richard Chadwick – Drums
Magnus Martin – Bass, Vocals, Keyboards
Mel Rogers & Trixie Smith – Backing Vocals
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 10th September 2021