For much of its existence, Expo 70 has been the solo vehicle of Kansas City’s Justin Wright. Situated somewhere in the vicinity of long-form drone, kosmische, and space rock, Wright’s music is sometimes in the tradition of the Berlin School, occasionally moving towards Düsseldorf, and recently—with the addition of a rhythm section to form a trio—what Wright himself describes as ‘like Black Sabbath playing Pink Floyd with the rawness of early Hawkwind‘.
There’s not so much Sabbath or Floyd evident on Solar Drifting, which collects together remastered versions of tracks from a raft of seven inches and short cassette releases, but Wright makes a fair bid as a technician of spaceship Hawkwind. The opener (the ten-minute ‘Soft Wave Continuum’) is a slow drive in Tim Blake‘s Crystal Machine, warm pads rising and falling like the tide as the synths swoop and burble. It’s all very pleasant, if a little aimless.
‘Transcending Energy from Light’ (a five-minute excerpt from the track which appeared in full on 2009’s Night Flights) begins in a similar vein before a spiky Michael Brook-esque guitar figure appears to carry the piece to its conclusion by way of Ash Ra Temple. It is worth pointing out that rather than simply presenting these tracks in the order of their original release, Wright has sequenced them very effectively into an album that sounds like it was planned as one from the outset.
Solar Drifting continues apace with more Cobalt Blue guitar figures and the kind of electronic whoops and wails that DikMik used to specialise in. There’s more going on here than in previous work: the multi-tracked guitars churn away quite ominously, with distorted solo lines staggering about in every direction over the top, and the effect is quite claustrophobic and unsettling.
‘Crawling Through Crystal Skies’ threatens to turn into Hawkwind’s ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’ (there’s even a guitar line that mimics Nik Turner‘s sax squalls) and, as with Solar Drifting, Wright creates something that sounds an awful like the soundtrack to a nightmare. There’s nothing ostensibly horrifying here, just a hallucinatory unpleasantness that hangs about on the very edge of awareness.
On the cassette version of Solar Drifting, Side A ends here, and the guitar-based tracks with it. With the exception of the final track, Side B is all synth, and it’s a very different beast. If the electronics on side one were all space opera, they are all psychological trauma on the other: J. G. Ballard in place of E. E. “Doc” Smith. ‘Tarot Reading’ inhabits the same unpleasant landscape as Jarl‘s Case 1959: Dyatlov, and it is this tone of menacing dark ambience that dominates the rest of Solar Drifting, Coincidentally, it is especially on these short pieces—none of which have a duration over five or six minutes—where Wright really comes into his own. Perhaps it’s the limits of the formats on which these tracks were originally released, but the guitar-based tracks never seem to have enough room to develop into anything that is completely satisfying. Expo 70’s full-length releases (of which there are a great many) can be sprawling and expansive, and the opportunity to stretch out and unfold a piece over time suits Wright far better than the confines of a seven-inch single. That the menacing synth-based tracks on the second half of this album work better is at least partly due to the fact that the exemplary programming makes them sound like parts of a single long piece.
On their website, Zoharum describe this album as ‘a great starting point for people afraid to jump into the vast discography of Expo ’70’. That accolade should probably go to 2010’s Where Does Your Mind Go?, which gives a better impression of the typical breadth and space of Wright’s music. The meat of Solar Drifting is a somewhat more claustrophobic affair.
01) Soft Wave Continuum
02) Transcending Energy from Light (Excerpt)
03) Solar Drifting
04) Crawling Through Crystal Skies
05) Tarot Reading
08) Electric Waves