Review: 'Lost Souls of Saturn' – Lost Souls of Saturn
When Lost Souls of Saturn first emerged in August 2017 with the track ‘Bint El Khandaq’, no one was too sure what to expect. Created by Phil Moffa, the man behind one of Manhattan’s most famous recording spaces, and Seth Troxler, one of electronic music’s most recognisable faces, the 11-minute ambient piece used echoing vocals, droning synths and noise to create a beautiful soundscape. ‘Bint El Khandaq’ took the listener to another world where audial exploration and innovation ran rampart.
It was even more surprising when the duo released the ‘Holes In The Holoverse’ EP – a double single that saw Lost Souls of Saturn ditch the carefully constructed, layered soundscape they displayed in their first release for thumping drums, spacey basslines and reverberating snare hits. ‘Holes In The Holoverse’ showed the world that Seth and Phil could make loud, unnerving, dark techno with driving synths and trippy samples, but left a begging question – would their self-titled album be an ambient masterpiece as they had performed on Resident Advisor, or a fearless techno album as teased on the EP?
Released on June 14th, ‘Lost Souls of Saturn’ is a stunning piece of audial art and cohesive, driving dance record. The album’s opener – ‘Connection’ is a mind-bending three-minute ambient cut that would fit perfectly alongside the highest tension moments of ‘Interstellar’ or ‘A Space Odyssey’. Whilst not alluding to the fact that this is most definitely a dance album, ‘Connection’ creates the illusion of space and alienation – the arpeggio of the xylophone going up and down consistently disorientating you whilst the cracking static of a radio cuts through the mix, sentences barely distinguishable as you drift further and further away from earth.
‘System Anomalies’ further accentuates feelings of isolation and the extra-terrestrial – daunting bass grows louder and louder whilst a foreign anomaly speaks to you in a way that is mixed so well it feels personal. Frantically pitched screams echo in the background fabricate a sense of dread that is only reproduceable in a science fiction film. Whilst the duo state they are attempting something creatively that’s above and beyond, there’s an unmistakeable link to Seth Troxler’s childhood in Detroit as an ongoing theme through the album. The notion of space and celestial beings – explored sevenfold by artists such as Sun Ra – who the two cite as an influence – Carl Craig, Jeff Mills and Dopplereffekt, just to name a few. Taking dance music into the cosmos defined Detroit’s dance music scene in the 80s, and Lost Souls of Saturn seem to want to build on that – or possibly restart that musical trend.
Themes of futurism that were pioneered by Troxler’s teachers seep through the third track, ‘Midnight Karma’, where after a brief interlude of glitchy synths and unnerving, echoing pads, a deep, driving kick creeps into the track and drives the album forward at the start of what is a dark, psychedelic, fearless techno album. The tight kick and offbeat bass paint a canvas for the duo to work their magic – a tribal drum beat defines the track, but the repeating, singular notes of the organ and improvisational, squeaky saxophone remanent of Sun Ra are what give the track life.
Moffa and Troxler further explore this avant-garde sci-fi soundtrack in ‘Divine Plane – Meditation Des Enfants’ which contrasts the human sound of a choir with an ever-evolving technological, acid bassline, and ‘Genesis Singularity’ – the halfway point of the album – that layers spacey pads and a 3/4 bass with a radio transmission reciting the Bible’s Genesis.
‘Lunarvision’ builds a dystopian world off a 4-bar bassline, emphasising rapid, quirky bleeps and sounds as the track builds up into a crescendo that fades out whilst a dog’s bark constantly breaks the silence. Whilst ‘Ring Transmission’ generates a sense of despair and dismay with its ringing, angelic death chant and haunting choir that grows louder and louder as a brewing storm can be heard on the horizon.
As the sense of hopelessness fades away and the steady kick of the title track drifts in, a triumphant horn sample ushers in the brightest cut on the record. ‘Lost Souls of Saturn’ is a fine example of the lengths Phil Moffa and Seth Troxler have gone to in order to be attentive, detailed and thorough with their abstract, conceptual space odyssey. The acid bass and pitched alarm – the latter of which would fit perfectly amongst the noises of any spacecraft – provide the backdrop for ricocheting ambient hits, soulful percussion, and an eerie breakdown in the second half of the cut that – along with a bizarre gong hit, evolves into one of the most unnatural, moving segments of the 50-minute album.
The album finishes with two singles that were released in the leadup to the release. ‘Frequency Revelation’ and ‘The Awakening’, the latter of which saw a short film accompany the release that “throws the doors of perception wide open, for the first-time letting people fully enter into their vast realm – one which is rich in symbolism, intrigue and narrative.”
In hindsight, it is easy to see why there was so much confusion surrounding the goal of Lost Souls of Saturn – their debut album is otherworldly, uncanny and abnormal, their sound design innovative, boundary-pushing and emotional, and their sound philosophical, exploratory and perceptive. ‘Lost Souls of Saturn’ is a true, spiritual, psychoactive experience that is well worth witnessing, as those last few chants on ‘The Awakening’ are bound to stay with you forever.