When some people are moved by a particular piece of music, their superlatives will venture to another realm. “This must be the soundtrack to heaven!” Or “this is what God was listening to when He created the world!” Despite our collective ignorance of what happens to us after we die, many cultures feel compelled to paint it as paradise – something better than what we have here on Earth. The sweeter the sounds of the music are here on Earth, the more we like to imagine that it will keep us company for all eternity in that paradise.
By naming their debut collaboration Music in the Afterlife, Martin Kennedy and Gareth Koch have put themselves in the running for an impossible task – that is, to make a soundtrack for eternal bliss. They’re not shy about the concept. “The idea of an afterlife has fired imaginations across cultures for millennia and is one of the earliest belief systems in recorded history,” goes the first sentence in the album’s press release. “It is fascinating to consider that a type of identity or stream of consciousness might exist in the absence of the physical body.” Imagine throwing your hat into that ring willingly.
A fact that might keep expectations in check for Music in the Afterlife is that both Gareth Koch and Martin Kennedy have collaborated with Steve Kilbey, the frontman for the Church, a perennial fixture in the cosmic world of psychedelic music. Their collaborations may have worked toward opposite ends, with the Kilbey Kennedy moniker’s heavily ambient approach and Koch bringing his classical guitar training to Kilbey’s side band, the Winged Heels. But Koch and Kennedy make for natural bedfellows on Music in the Afterlife. Yes, they are fully capable of soundtracking your next journey inside a monolith just outside Jupiter.
A great deal of Music in the Afterlife is beatless, yanking the rug out from Kennedy’s usual cosmic grooves of his All India Radio releases. This allows Koch to explore the sky provided by Kennedy with all the rubato and flash he could ever want, but he uses both sparingly. On “Valley of Echoes”, the album’s longest track at over seven minutes, Koch appears not even to touch his nylon-stringed guitar. Instead, quietly calibrated keyboard figures give the faintest impression of light at the end of the tunnel, never offering any concrete tempo or mood. It remains celestial sound down to its core.
Yet, some of the music does ride along a discernible pulse. The opener, “Trance”, sounds like Nick Mason could be keeping time as Koch and Kennedy trade licks. A delay effect keeps “Waiting” moving as the guitars and a fretless bass move in tandem to a shifting drum beat. “Dune” is one of those moments that somehow, through just a few swooshes and swirls, perfectly summons a desert haze, but “Elysium” takes the surprise prize with its waltz time, resonator guitar, and keyboards that sound like Indian music being performed on a harpsichord.
The remainder of Music in the Afterlife retreats to mysterious isolationism where the music is free of direction. There is no down, no forward, only the glow of an unearthly paradise. Martin Kennedy could do with Gareth Koch what the Orb couldn’t do with David Gilmour, which is to immerse an outside guitarist into the process entirely. Not only is Music in the Afterlife an enjoyable listen, but it’s also a true collaboration.