Album Review: YURI GAGARIN The Outskirts of Reality
A thoroughly underrated gem, Yuri Gagarin’s 2015 LP At the Center of All Infinity notched a well-deserved spot in my top fifteen albums list that year and was, for me, the best instrumental album of 2015. Blending retro psychedelic space rock and krautrock with modern post-metal and stoner rock, At the Center of All Infinity was the perfect soundtrack to play while cruising through a nebula, diving down a wormhole, or making the jump to lightspeed.
So how does Yuri Gagarin’s 2020 follow-up, The Outskirts of Reality compare? By and large, The Outskirts of Reality is a worthy successor. It’s a more adventurous and dynamic album than its predecessor, but also a bit less consistent. So while not every experiment that the band tried paid off, most of them did, and the musical growth on display here augurs a bright future for Yuri Gagarin.
As their name and album art suggest, Yuri Gagarin is a cosmic experience. Their music is rooted in 1970s space rock and krautrock (think Neu! and Hawkwind) updated with a healthy dose of post-metal and stoner rock. Their songs tend to involve a series of repeating riffs laid down with a killer sense of groove, with a lot of really good lead guitar playing over the top of them. To fill out the soundstage, Yuri Gagarin masterfully add on tons of layered guitars and oodles of analog delay, vintage synths, reverb, space echo, and other retro psychedelic effects. These elements combine to take the listener on an interstellar voyage of heavy psyche and astral groove.
Yuri Gagarin already had this formula nailed on 2015’s At the Center of All Infinity but, if there was a criticism of that album, it was a lack of dynamism and variety. Seeking to change that, Yuri Gagarin markedly broadened their approach to this latest outing. The five mostly lengthy compositions on The Outskirts of Reality explore a broader range of tones and emotional responses than the songs on the previous album did.
But there is one place that they missed the mark a bit. Album opener “QSO” attempts a heavier sound, propelled by shouted guttural vocals and aggressive drumming, with imposing snare hits on the first beat of every measure. Despite the individual elements of this song being executed well, the track doesn’t come together as it should. Part of what makes Yuri Gagarin’s music work so well is that it balances the density of all of the reverb, space echo, and other effects on their soundstage, with compositional space in terms of the musicians being careful not to overplay.
This space is key to allowing the music to breathe, and that breathing room is critical to providing the right platform for lead guitarist Christian Lindberg’s lengthy lead guitar excursions. Lindberg’s lead guitar style is characterized by a psychedelic explorational fluidity rather than technical shredding, and that style needs space to breathe. The track is still enjoyable, but, save for the cool ambient outro, it’s just not as effective as the rest of the album.
But all is forgiven by the time listener makes it through the next track, the heavily-krautrock influenced “Oneironaut.” This intensely psychedelic track also explores new sonic ground for the band but does so with incredible deftness. And the album-closing title track, the best song on this outing, is vintage Yuri Gagarin, but executed with more poise and confidence than ever before.
On the whole, I think this album ranks ever so slightly below their superb previous outing. That being said, it’s still a fine introduction to the band and will take listeners on a journey to the outer cosmos. The album is highly recommended to fans of bands like Ecstatic Vision and Monkey3.
My hunch is that Yuri Gagarin’s best output is to come. If they manage to combine the adventurous celestial vision of The Outskirts of Reality with the consistency of execution of At the Center of All Infinity, they could craft one of the great psychedelic albums of our time. In the meantime, I’ll alternate between these two albums whenever I need a dose of interstellar heavy grooves.