"Closure" (Album, 2003)
Having negotiated the rights to release Spahn Ranch's most recent* album, Closure in Europe, Cryonica have got the band to add three bonus tracks for the Cryonica release, including their often-performed live cover of Madonna's Swim. Oddly, Reasons gets the album underway in terrible fashion with a cheesy dance number. Even after repeated listening, I'm still wondering if this is some sort of tongue-in-cheek parody, because what follows is a mightily impressive and eclectic collection of songs.
Touching base in a broad range of styles has always been a feature of Spahn Ranch's work, but Closure sees them really going for it. Dance, EBM, pop, funk and even dub all get a chance to shine on this continually unpredictable package. The only other band I can think of that manages to pull of such an eclectic combination is Germany's The Galan Pixs. But here, the Americans even out do The Pixs. On the strength of this album, I see no reason why, given the right breaks, Spahn Ranch couldn't take some of this material to the heights of the mainstream commercial charts, and provided they didn't compromise their sound, I'd say good luck to 'em. (*Postscript: turns out that Closure was to be Spahn Ranch's last release... at least to date.) 7/10
"Architecture" (Album, 1997)
An eclectic melange of allsort of genres taking in dub, industrial, electro, breakbeat, rap, dance, goth and beyond. Spahn Ranch were only ever predictable in being totally unpredictable. This, their third studio album from 1997 on Cleopatra*, is a fine example of them doing their thing with ease. Their thing being just what they wanted to do and screw convention and everyone else. A totally admirable approach for sure, and one that is likely to either pay off in spades or leave the listener cold. For the most part though, Architecture remains a fascinating if not always entirely compelling release. Its twelve tracks include some classic Spahn Ranch, some middling fare and a couple fillers. But when it works it works really well.
It begins in a low-key cut-up dubby tone with Monochrome which is followed by Black Skinned Blue Eye Boys - a bonkers cover of an Equals disco track from the 70s (who were fronted by a youthful Eddy Grant). In The Aftermath is about as 'industrial' as it gets here, whilst the memorable Futurist Limited is built around a typically bold Athan Maroulis vocal. The first track that makes you stop whatever you're doing and focus just on the music is Incubate with its unexpected breakbeat intro combined with 70s TV theme tunes, mashed beats and hollering voices it's a fiesta of noise and bassline that someone from Leftfield definitely heard at some point before recording Phat Planet (remember the Guinness 'Surfer' ad music).
Another fine example of the inventiveness of their songwriting is Embodied with its mellow echoing whistling backing and funky guitar intro which quickly switches to a catchy up-tempo chorus. Closing instrumental Solace lives up to its name as a beautiful if mournful keyboard based air to loss. A moving end to a wild journey of an album and one that proves even if it doesn't always totally gel Spahn Ranch often had ideas to spare. 7/10
*An extended version entitled Architecture Beta was released the same year with five songs from 1995's The Coiled One album in Germany by Out Of Line.
Rob Dyer (May 2008)
Official Spahn Ranch website: http://www.spahn-ranch.com