On 10th December 2006, Arne Christer Fuglesang, physicist and astronaut, became the first Nordic person in space as part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery, awakening interest in space travel back home in his native Sweden and inspiring this tribute/concept album by Swedish spacerock band The Movements. In fact, Fuglesang had trained as an astronaut as early as 1992, joining the Cologne-based European Space Agency, being selected as a member of the back-up crew for the Euromir 95 mission, working out of the Russian Mission Control Centre in Kaliningrad and later qualifying as a ‘Mission Specialist’ for the NASA Space Shuttle. All of these achievements, and others, earned him the sobriquet ‘The astronaut who never gets to leave Earth’, one that Fuglesang was no doubt happy to be relieved of through his involvement on mission STS-116. For Sardines Space is No Problem is the motto of Fuglesang’s astronaut class at NASA.
Describing their music as a mix of spacerock noise, krautrock and Swedish folk music, The Movements recorded this album at their Parkeringshuset Studio during 2008 and into this year and the result is very approachable blend of styles, leaning towards progressive rock but having a rather nice lightness of touch. Is it a biographical album? I don’t know enough about Fuglesang to tell, but the track-titles certainly indicate that this is a linear walk through his life story. ‘A Birth Under the Northern Sky’ opens with solemn cathedral keyboards as though relating something quietly momentous before leading into a very spacerock ‘Mother, Someday I’m, Going to be an Astronaut’, all busy drumming, special effects and improvisational lead-guitar that has a riveting pace to it. ‘In the Footsteps of Gagarin’ moves them more into a progressive vein with Pink Floyd overtones and treated vocals, imaginative and spacey.
‘Trapped on Earth’ is a more gentle and reflective piece, a nicely realised piece of introspection that changes tempo mid-stream and tightly builds into a rocking coda with keyboards reminiscent of Dave Greenfield’s work with The Stranglers, whilst the overall style of thoughtful rumination changing into a driving instrumental seems to take something from Hawkwind’s ‘Space is Deep’. ‘Go Now My Friend’ takes the disc right back into introspection, a slow, studied progression that opens with a hint of Joy Division but quickly establishes itself as predominately a vocal chant that develops its own ‘lift-off’ dramatics before giving way to a short number entitled ‘That’s the Wrong Bolt Christer, Standby’, featuring sampled dialogue which appears to be derived from the Discovery mission and possibly relates to one Fuglesang’s two space walks.
The terrific nine-minute ‘Ministers of Space’ has one-tone Krautrock bass-lines overlaid with electronic effects and a background note of Turner-esque flute before the disc plays out with the upbeat, inquisitive and optimistic ‘The Grasp of the King’s Hand is Not Enough’. I understand that The Movements enquired about the possibility of Christer Fuglesang being involved with these recordings, which didn’t unfortunately happen, but there’s a promise of the music being taken up on Fuglesang’s next Shuttle mission, during this August.
Released on the Austrian Sulatron label, For Sardines Space is No Problem is a highly enjoyable concept album that makes effective use of its variety of styles and changing moods to deliver a really rather dynamic flow that’s accessible and enjoyable.