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F/i - Blanga

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Artist: F/i

Album: Blanga

Label: Lexicon Devil

Review date: Jan. 7, 2006

For around the last 23 years, F/i have been blasting their warped form of space rock from the heart of America's midwest. From cassette to vinyl to CD, they've remained consistently focused on riff-driven music in the Hawkwind mold, with fat-fuzz guitar and outerspace electronics. It's difficult to find solid information on the band's lineup over the years, so it's hard to say who has been consistently involved. Bassist Richard Franecki, also of Vocokesh, was a founding member but left in 1991, only to return more recently. Electronics wizard Grant Richter was certainly an early member, perhaps from the beginning; guitarist Brian Wensing and drummer Rick Hake make up the other half on Blanga.

The title is a bit of a joke, continued with the word's inclusion in every song title here, from the 11-minute opener "In the Garden of Blanga" to the closing "Grandfather Blanga and his Band Light it Up." Add in the pictures adorning the CD, all depicting opium dens with visitors lying on their sides as they indulge, and you begin to get the picture before you even hit play.

A dictionary with audio clips might well place "In the Garden of Blanga" with the definition for "space rock," as its chugging rhythm, buzzing guitars, and cascading synthesizers takes the Hawkwind blueprint and goes to town with it. If anyone ever asks you what space rock is, just play this for them. While some might cite this as lack of originality, I might instead simply credit the band for a job well done and move on. Driving well over the speed limit at night through the desert hasn't had such a good soundtrack since Farflung's The Belief Module.

Some of the other songs take a slightly dreamier, or more laid-back, approach. "The Garden of Blanga in the Morning Dew" suits its title, with pretty guitar, steady drums, and droning synths behind whirring electronic chirps and blips, while "Blanga's Love Song" hovers on a well-crafted atmosphere of plucked guitar, excellent synthesizer work and a sitar motif.

"An Extremely Lovely Girl Dreams of Blanga" initially also treads the dangerous territory that comes of using a sitar with psychedelic music, but emerges generally victorious thanks to admirable restraint, superior wielding of spacey electronics, and wise brevity. After the first few minutes, the song shifts; the rhythm and fuzz-guitar that kick-in push the song into an enjoyable, if not entirely unexpected, direction, capped off by a well-leavened dose of noisy intensity. Unfortunately, the song does wear out its welcome; a few minutes less would have felt much stronger.

"Blanga's Transformation" languishes with a relative lack of energy, despite the heavy guitar and solid drumming, until about halfway through when it comes together with a stronger sense of purpose. Even then, though, it remains a somewhat more pedestrian space rock tune than F/i are capable of, as the mid-riffage fade-out appears to admit. Similarly, the closing epic "Grandfather Blanga and His Band Light it Up" unfortunately doesn't in fact light it up that much. For the most part, the song remains steadfastly mid-tempo and mid-energy, only picking up speed seven minutes in and never quite overcoming its lack of intertia.

Despite its imperfections, there are reasons to recommend Blanga, particularly to those needing an infusion of modernized space rock in their lives. I'll be adding a couple of songs here to my "great space rock" playlist, certainly, even if there are others that I can certainly live without.

By Mason Jones

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