Album Review – MELVIN VAN PEEBLES & THE HELIOCENTRICS: THE LAST TRANSMISSION

How Do You Like Your Jazzploitation?

When a band as eclectic and talented as the Heliocentrics pairs up with prolific film maker and recording artist, Melvin Van Peebles, the very least you could expect is an atmospheric spin through music. The Last Transmission is just that and then some. As a band that describes themselves as “psychedelicallybrokenjazzsoulfunk”, which is sadly, not an option we have at InYourSpeakers, but they definitely live up to their moniker. The Last Transmission does not have a visual component, but between the narrative that Van Peebles builds between songs, and the psychedelic production of the album, what you get is hard to describe, at times difficult to understand, but always enjoyable.

Melvin Van Peebles & The Heliocentrics feed off of each other, with The Band creating the perfect atmosphere to match the prose of Melvin Van Peebles, his spoken word sections flowing like pure stream of conscious brought together by the sounds used in the music. Not just traditional brass and strings, but other worldly effects. The opening tracks play more like a funky, space trip with The Heliocentrics laying the backing track, not taking the attention off of the poetry, but accentuating it.

The next couple of tracks belong more to The Heliocentrics and their less than traditional sound. The heavy use of percussion and cacophonus sounds become more prevalent at this point in the album, and carry on throughout. When Van Peebles does come back, he is laying the vocal groundwork for the remaining story bits that will carry on later in the album. Where in the early going, the spoken sections were more about candance and flow, once The Heliocentrics start to get into the groove of The Last Transmission, it becomes something of a spacey love story.

Starting with “Chapter 6: The Transformation (Pt. 1)” and concluding with “Chapter 11: Infinite List (Toss the Dice)”, Melvin Van Peebles lays out a narrative that isn’t always clear, both in sound and in structure. If you came to The Last Transmission for full on approach-ability, then you may be a little disappointed. His drawl working for and against him at several points, at his best, you are drawn into his short snippets, and others left in wait for the next soulful section of music. The Heliocentrics do a great balancing act with their music and when to let Van Peebles take the lead a bit more.

The Last Transmission closes with “Chapter 12: Epilogue,” the driving credits to the story of love and risk. You’re left wondering what you just heard, but the strong urge to dive back in, if only for a little clarity. Of course that clarity will not come, because that’s not what The Last Transmission is about. Melvin Van Peebles is not the central focus throughout the album, but enough was made of going off the path to find what you really need to make listening for understanding an ironic choice. Either way, the musical stylings of The Heliocentrics carries things along quite nicely. Here, you get a genre crossing set list that blends 70’s soul and futuristic sounds to create something wholly original, which is what you want art to be in the first place.

Originally published on – Inyourspeakers.com (11/07/2014)

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