13 Degrees of Reality is a cerebral and ambitious album that greatly benefits from stylistic non-conformity.
The Heliocentrics are best classified as being unclassifiable, embodying the tenets of eclecticism and non-conformity. Fusing elements of jazz, electronic music, psychedelia, world music, and funk, the decade-plus aged British group is nothing short of one of a kind. Influenced by a host of musicians including Sun Ra and Ennio Morricone among them, the Heliocentrics return with a shocking set in 13 Degrees of Reality, released via Now Again. World music sounds dominate this ambitious set, which features ethnic instruments such as the kalimba, marimbula, santur, and the koto. Even so, traditional instruments anchor things down, whether it be Malcolm Catto’s insistent drums, Jake Ferguson’s fat bass lines, or Ade Owusu’s raucous guitar. Catto and Ferguson produce the colorful set, which is like nothing else on the musical market.
13 Degrees of Realityis made up of several short numbers, interludes, and a couple of extended numbers. "Feedback (Intro)" opens with spoken word clips, before a noisy, raucous array of sounds consumes the cut, driven by rhythm. True to its title, "Feedback" is a tone poem. "Ethnicity" proceeds and like the former cut, musically fulfills its title through emphasis of an ethnic sound. Bizarre and eccentric, "Ethnicity" continues to set 13 Degrees of Reality apart from anything else. "Public Safety Broadcast (Interlude)" points an accusatory finger to "liars, collaborators [and] traitors", before a jazz groove is established by bass and drums on "Mysterious Ways". Although more accessible than other offerings at this stage, "Mysterious Ways" possesses plenty of mysteriousness, enhanced by various effects and sounds. Closing the opening quintet, "Dreams (Interlude)" haunts musically with vocals drenched in effects.
"Collateral Damage" delivers the effort’s first bonafide home run. Buttressed by a jazz groove propelled by Catto’s syncopated drums and Ferguson’s repetitive bass line, Jack Yglesias performs a lovely flute solo, not to mention the use of haunting, emotional strings atop the arrangement. "Outtake (Interlude)" segues into another solid showing, "Freeness Part 2". Noisy as everything else, balance rightfully seems to be a non-concern, as suggested in the title. "Freeness" is one of the efforts most percussively driven cuts, with animated drumming and pointed comping from pianist/keyboardist Ollie Parfitt. After yet another interlude ("Mind Readers"), Latin-influenced cut "Descarga Electronica" features wailing guitar from Ade Owusu. Like the fusion of the '70s, "Descarga Electronica" vamps throughout its entirety in funky fashion.
"Wrecking Ball" follows "A Musical Conspiracy (Interlude)", delivering the effort’s longest, perhaps most ambitious cut. It takes a bit to establish itself, but shy of the one-and-a-half-minute mark, a mesmerizing groove really clicks in. The psychedelia of "Wrecking Ball" is a treasure trove for the open-minded listener. Later cut "Mr. Owusu, I Presume" invests in psychedelic rock/soul even better, sounding reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix. Cleverly, this cut allows for Ade Owusu to channel his inner Hendrix on guitar. "Calabash" closes capably, with arguably the album’s best head nodder, not to mention excellent orchestration.
21 tracks deep, 13 Degrees of Reality is a thinker’s album. Cerebral and incredibly ambitious, the effort never conforms but instead thrives on its lack of conformity. While the influence from other pioneering musicians is decipherable, 13 Degrees of Reality is an unapologetic, clever artistic statement only a group like the Heliocentrics could make.