“High reaching” is arguably the best way to describe über-talented collective The Heliocentrics, an incredibly demanding act to characterize. On their Facebook page, they proclaim their style as being “psychedelicallybrokenjazzsoulfunk” — fair enough. Labels aside, collaborating with multi-talented filmmaker, recording artist, and certified Baadasssss Melvin Van Peebles, The Heliocentrics deliver something of their own gesamtkunstwerk. Sure, there’s no visual component — as the Wagnerian concept would entail — but ambitious cosmic narrative The Last Transmission is like few other albums of modern times.
“Chapter 1: Prologue” establishes the tone of the album, offering the first taste of Van Peebles’ poetic vocals. On the opener, the Heliocentrics provide a soundtrack of sorts for Van Peebles’ speech. The Heliocentrics themselves take more of an accompaniment, complement-driven role, ceding the spotlight to Van Peebles’ spacey tale.
“Chapter 2: Big Bang Transmission” features the instrumentalists more than the prologue, as the sounds grow more cacophonous in nature. The jazz tendencies are still in place, anchored by the groove, but there is transcendence beyond the basics. Van Peebles doesn’t appear until the tail end, providing a lyrical cue for “Chapter 2” to segue into the brief “Chapter 3: Searching For Signs”. Boisterous and unsettling, “Chapter 3” exemplifies The Heliocentrics’ unique sound.
Again, Van Peebles drives the narrative into “Chapter 4: Blue Mist”, another brief but distinct sounding number. The rhythmic structure, coupled with the intensity of the sound and overall color, make this particular cut stand out. Uniquely, Van Peebles expands upon the subject (“blue mist”) and attempts to provide some clarity. That said, The Last Transmission is so driven by its astronomical subject matter, even clarity from Van Peebles’ eloquent storytelling isn’t synonymous with accessibility.
“Chapter 5: The Cavern” does a superb job of truly focusing on being a tone poem, arguably more than previous cuts. The sounds assembled definitely make the listener picture “the cavern”, even if it’s as nebulous as the enigmas of the universe itself. “Chapter 6: Transformation (Pt. 1)” and “Chapter 7: Transformation (Pt. 2)” continue, firmly invested in shaping the extraterrestrial listening experience.
“I passed out again”, Van Peebles states at the beginning of “Chapter 8: Telepathic Routine”. “When I came back around, everything had changed…I changed into a cloud too, just like everybody else.” Still quite lofty for total understanding, with the aid of telepathy being defined as being psychic, and a few key words by Van Peebles, the pieces are there. Musically, piano plays a key role, with a prominent, rhythmically assertive approach.
“Chapter 9: The Dance” does have a danceable groove, though the instruments that reside atop are contradictory, having little place on the dance floor. The second portion of “The Dance” becomes enigmatic, not far-fetched given the obsession with cosmology. Titular lyric “trust the cosmos”, opens the high-flying “Chapter 10: Trust The Cosmos (Believe in the Universe)”, which is filled with space funk. The drums groove hard, with the bass providing a robust foundation.
“Chapter 11: Infinite List (TossThe Dice)” seems to speak to the unpredictability of the universe, or some similar message, depending how one interprets Van Peebles’ poetry as well as the collective’s harsh, raucous music. “Chapter 12: Epilogue” concludes The Last Transmission, still leaving the listener questioning exactly what their ears have partaken of. Like some of the kindler, gentler tracks, “Epilogue” benefits from a soulful groove indigenous to ’70s soul and fusion. What more fitting way to close the 36 minute effort than a spacey synth?
Ultimately, The Last Transmission is an album that will leave some completely comprehending its flow and narrative, while others will leave overwhelmed, confused, or completely confounded by it. Regardless of what interpretation the listener makes ultimately, what is undeniable is the high level of creativity and musicianship dedicated to this album. It’s not without flaws, but The Last Transmission is definitely special.