Space March is the appropriately titled solo project from Craig Simmons, he of Australian synth pop duo ElectroSquad. On the obscure side to most, Simmons has made a mark on the electonic pop scene and continues to provide subversive goodies to its rabid niche of followers without the aid of marketing budgets and promotion. Space March represents a divergence from the synth pop model, delivering a parallel blend of catchy songwriting and machine-aided construction while adding enough humanness to cross over to audiences that still sniff when they hear the name “Depeche Mode”.
While Space March could have been written on a Mac and Cubase setup, it plays like a rock album. Forgoing bleep bloop symmetry and a plastic finish, Simmons simulates a team of session players with authentic drum kits and basslines that take his one-man productions beyond their usual territory and into a land of electronically-informed space rock. There are even some guitar chops here, showing off a range of sparse plucking, meandering leads and beefy chord progressions; it’s all very complimentary to an engaging, elusive sound that falls somewhere in the realm of Beatlesque Britpop via Spiritualized psychedelia.
Simmons has a clean, pleasant voice, which he uses to great effect. On tracks such as “Normal”, he surrounds his wry lyrics with swirling Leslie-inflected Hammond organs, jaunty guitar and slighty distorted blues piano riffs. “I Am The Law”, a highlight, marries a delightfully repetitious chorus to a sleek groove and a mind-altering sonic squiggle. “Going Nowhere” delves deeper into organ-centric pastures, romping within an ’80s sheen, replete with female moans and an irresistible whistle call-and-response. “Dorian Grey” is another standout, featuring percolating rhythms and spiraling analog sequences that recall OMD.
Space March never pushes the heavy-handedness meter into the red; Simmons prefers to invite us in with direct and functional frameworks driven by unaffected, starry-eyed melody and spectral opiates. Whether it’s a case of stretching his limits or giving his music some meaty lift, he does a great job of taking the focus away from his electronic elements while delivering some really engaging material in the space rock continuum. If there’s a complaint, it’s that Space March hits its creative ceiling about halfway through, which explains the album’s somewhat samey quality. Then again, Simmons’s core sound is so successful from the get-go that a little familiarity doesn’t do much harm.
Issue: December 11th, 2003
Reviewer: Walt Miller