Guess What: Yuri Gagarin
Subtitled ‘12 Modern Odes to History’s Greatest Spacemen’, ‘Yuri Gagarin’ is the soundtrack to a docu-drama that doesn’t exist. The duo Guess What (Luke Warmcop: drums, percussion; Graham Mushnik: keyboards, accordion, xylophone and zither – both now live in London) already have a track record with soundtracks – real or otherwise. Their ‘Danger Island’ from 2006 accompanied a reimagined science-fiction B-movie. Stage shows are conceived with the masked duo in turbans and togas. The activity isn’t limited to the fictive – they also play in outfits like Helium & Eggs
and L’Orchestre du Mont-Plaisant
Luckily, for this album, the focus is clearly directed towards the subject in hand, the first man into space. No straight story, it’s more a loosely hyper-real yarn. ‘Meteor Belt 1000’ might be a title here, but the real Gagarin probably didn’t battle his way through such things. And there’s no meditation on the car crash which finished the cosmonaut off.
Musically, Guess What hit a line between The Three Sons at their most swinging (minus the harmonica) and the German Krimi sound: rhythmic arpeggiated organ and jazz-inflected, occasionally break-beaty drums with the sound taken further by jagged textures that add tension. The fractured ‘Lord Jupiter’ features a plummy-voiced BBC-type announcer reporting Gagarin’s transmissions from beyond the earth. Stunningly well conceived, the mostly-instrumental album serves up its retro-futurism with verve.
© Kieron Tyler