Now, where to begin with Electric Mud – as it will surely be necessary to start near to the beginning to explain an outfit like this, who will be unjustly unfamiliar to a lot of potential listeners I am certain. First and foremost, Electric Mud are a German instrumental progressive rock duo, consisting of Hagen Bretschneider and Nico Walser. That’s the easy part – from there it gets tricky, because to seek to understand these guys from any single album is like the old story of trying to identify an elephant blindfolded – you might get the tail and think it’s a worm, or the trunk and think it’s a snake, but either way you’d be a long way from the full picture. The easiest thing is probably to look at this album and its predecessor, The Deconstruction Of Light – the latter 2018 release being the point at which the current duo solidified, after three previous albums. That album was a sort of re-imagining of earlier material, with newly composed parts sitting alongside rearrangements to produce a result superior to its roots in almost every respect. Deconstruction was quite a violent album, discordant, industrial passages clashing with great squalling guitar riffs as if battling over the right to dominate the band’s identity, while quieter notes made themselves heard when they could penetrate the drama. It was a remarkable listen, and highly recommended.
So, you might reasonably expect more of this same winning formula, and a chaotic, Crimson-esque ‘difficult listen’ with this new release. You might expect it, but you won’t get it, as the duo have courageously struck out in a far more languid and atmospheric direction. It isn’t fair to level the term ‘ambient’ at the record – as this is a long way from some new-age composer contemplating his socks for an hour, believe me – but it certainly takes that approach in the way the tracks often take their time to slowly unfold their secrets to you. There are fifteen tracks here, totalling a massive 79 minutes, so there is a lot of music to go at, but unlike some instrumental albums which might blur into one after a while, there are clear highlights here. The nine-minute title track for a start, which is one of the best things the Mud Men (as we should surely call them!) have ever produced. Building steadily and patiently with the electronic thrum of mid-’70s Tangerine Dream, it explodes near the end into a guitar-led coda worthy of Camel in their pomp. Just two tracks later the slightly shorter The Waters Of Acheron almost matches this. Intriguing titles hiding even more intriguing music continue to come at you – The Loneliness Of The Somnambulist, Adventures In A Liquid World, The Blinding Absence Of Light, Foggy Postcards From A Barren Land. If it ever seems too peaceful, however, things get shaken up occasionally as with the unnerving Eyes Watching Skies, with its creepy keyboard driven feel giving you the impression that something indefinable yet awful may be about to happen, before it shifts to a reassuring conclusion which makes you sigh with relief that, just maybe, it won’t.
It’s a very brave 90-degree shift from the previous album, but one which works perfectly in giving the Electric Mud name more depth, more versatility and certainly more interest for more people. You get the feeling this is a statement of intent to tell the listener ‘come with us and you never know where we’ll take you’. If this album and its predecessor were the soundtrack to some powerful anti-war film, The Deconstruction Of Light would be full of claustrophobic, terrifying shots of shells, gunshots and trenches, whereas Quiet Days On Earth would accompany shots of green fields and flowers returning in the aftermath, but with the odd disturbing scene still left there to lend it power. That’s the great thing about the contrast between these two albums – they are quite different yet complement each other beautifully.
If there is a criticism, it is that, at 79 minutes, the album could probably have been edited down by fifteen minutes or so and retained more focus – instrumental music in large amounts can be daunting for some. Then again, complaining about being given too much music always seems odd! One thing I would say is that I personally am left with one clear idea about just what I would love these guys to turn their hands to at some point, and that is a single, long-form 40 minute piece (perhaps split into two halves) in the manner of Mike Oldfield with Hergest Ridge or Ommadawn. The way the music develops and builds here within the confines of pieces ranging from around four to ten minutes makes me certain that a really large canvas such as that could be a breathtaking work. But, given their track record so far, who knows whether Electric Mud don’t already have that on their radar. They seem to be able to turn their hands to almost anything – and you get the feeling that they will! Keep an eye on these guys. Get stuck in the Mud!