In the time between his first solo LP (1989’s Spectrum) to this his second, the reputation, adulation and respect for Sonic Boom has grown exponentially. In the intervening years, he has recorded and released records under his Spectrum and E.A.R. aliases and enjoyed acclaim as a producer, most notably with MGMT. All Things Being Equal is one of Stuart Ralston’s most eagerly awaited albums of 2020 and it lives up to expectations.
I was too young to see Sonic Boom in his first band, Spacemen 3. They split after their 1989 Reading Festival appearance with final studio album Recurring following in 1991. Sonic’s partner in Spacemen 3, Jason Pierce, went on to play (initially) with former members Mark Refoy and Johnny Mattock in Spiritualized and Sonic Boom embarked on a solo career, first playing as a solo artist before forming Spectrum and later the loose co-operative Experimental Audio Research (E.A.R.) with friends such as Eddie Prevost from AMM and Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine.
Over the course of their four studio albums – Sound of Confusion, The Perfect Prescription, Playing With Fire and Recurring – Spacemen 3 redefined rock music in the 1980s, the repercussions of which are still being felt now. Their back catalogue is essentially a blue print for every psychedelic band that followed and as the years roll by, the influence of Spacemen 3, Jason and Sonic is becoming more and more prevalent. And rightly so. Forming in Rugby in the early 80s, they were our Velvet Underground. Scores of contemporary bands and independent labels including the highly respected Sonic Cathedral label and bands such as The Lucid Dream, The Vacant Lots, The Longcut and Purple Heart Parade have all drawn inspiration from them.
After recording a collection of instrumental tracks in 2015, Sonic was encouraged by Stereolab’s Tim Gane to turn them into full songs and, coupled with a move to Portugal a few years later, the results presented here are outstanding.
Just Imagine gets the album underway and has a familiarity to it featuring all the hallmarks of a Sonic Boom solo composition – a hypnotic beat, layers of synths and a haunting vocal. Simple and repetitive, Just Imagine runs to nearly 8 minutes but in truth it could run forever. Sonic has an incredible talent for producing such tracks and is a gentle yet powerful and uplifting optimistic opener. Just Imagine takes you on an incredible trip and if Sonic’s return was restricted to this as a one track 12” single, I’d imagine many listeners would be happy but there is so much more to come. Just a Little Piece of Me picks up again where Just Imagine finishes. Those synths soon sparkle again with more pulsating arpeggios. Sonic’s vocals this time are almost Gregorian.
Things Like This (A Little Bit Deeper) makes a change in tempo and is reminiscent of the Sonic / Spacemen 3 classic Big City. The album then moves into the reflective Spinning Coins and Wishing On Clovers. Musically, it’s much more experimental, ambient and attuned to the material released by E.A.R. rather than the pop and rock of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum. Sonic Boom isn’t afraid to show his influences and My Echo My Shadow and Me draws on Sonic’s key inspiration and friend, the pioneer Delia Derbyshire.
The mood and tempo changes again with the delightful love song On a Summer's Day. There’s a fragility to some of the songs on All Things Being Equal and this is exemplified here. The Way That You Live changes the tempo again and this is the most driven song on the album, focusing much more on drum and bass than any other composition presented here. Meanwhile the most psychedelic cut on the record is the instrumental Tawkin Tekno.
The production on the album is spectacular (produced by Sonic himself) and this is exemplified on I Can See Light Bend before I Feel a Change Coming On brings the album to a close. I Feel A Change Coming On sounds like a classic Sixties slice of pop, in the same vein as bands like The Crystals but with Sonic’s modern twist and is a strong finish to the record. On some of his early records, Sonic advised “play twice before listening.” That guidance can apply here too, as the more you immerse yourself in the record, the more you get out of it. This is at least Sonic’s 24th album (approximately – there are so many with Spacemen 3, E.A.R. and Spectrum plus rare live, demo and compilation albums too). It ranks as one of his best.
All Things Being Equal is out now on download, CD and vinyl, including a glow in the dark pressing from Carpark Records and Bandcamp.
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