Gentle Path Highway is the 10th release by Swedish psychedelic jam-rockers The Spacious Mind. Unlike a lot of bands working in this vein, TSM has an unusually focussed, even rigorous, attitude about music-making. The opening track, ‘Rider of the Woodlands’, is a case in point. Germinating from a simple riff on Jens Unosson’s fuzzed-out Rhodes piano, the composition develops in a calm, unhurried manner. Electric bass and drums (played with brushes!) enter and establish a meditative calm. As David Akerlund trades brushes for sticks, hoarse, whispered ensemble vocals warn the listener of the coming environmental apocalypse. The music continues to build, as new variations on the basic ostinato are layered one on top of the other with a ringing, almost Gamelan-like effect. Rather than continuing to build to the inevitable climax, TSM lets the music ebb and flow, adding and subtracting elements along the way.
By contrast, the title track is an anthemic Hawkwind-esque space rocker with guitarists Brännström and Viklund duking it out over Unosson’s cosmic Hammond B-3 swirls and the relentlessly pounding rhythm section. This transitions gradually into "Honja" - a mellow, folkish improvisation that starts out gentle and acoustic with bowed bass and what sounds like a nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish fiddle). Electric guitars, Rhodes piano, jaw harp, organ, malleted toms, and wordless vocal chants slowly bleed in and establish a gently undulating psychedelic soundscape not unlike those explored three decades ago by groups like Popul Vuh. The surprise comes at about 11 minutes into the piece, where the band suddenly charges through at full tilt, bristling with apocalyptic guitars, fire-breathing keys, and bone-crunching bass and drums. The closer, ‘Civilization Blues’, is the most anarchic piece on the CD, yet it has an organic, almost free-jazz sort of feel to it. I found this constantly moving, otherworldly nebula of guitar feedback, theremin, harmonica, disembodied electronically processed vocals, and Rhodes noodling strangely compelling and quite redolent of the more extreme experiments by bands such as Psychic TV and Current 93.
Those of us who still listen to their Hawkwind, Gong, and Pink Floyd (circa Ummagumma) LPs will not want to miss Gentle Path Highway, nor will fans of contemporary bands such as Explosions in the Sky, Six Organs of Admittance, and Godspeed You Black Emporer. This gem of an album is assuredly one of the highlights of experimental rock in 2007.