Marshmallow Moondust is the 2020 lockdown offering from the prolific keyboardist and composer, the tour de force that is Antony Kalugin. I use the term 'lockdown' in a limited sense in that, as the observant will have immediately spotted, this is a completely solo work, rather than being attributed to either of Kalugin's main ensembles, Karfagen or Sunchild. This is for the obvious practical reasons, rather than any thematic break with either and there are some clear limitations. Kalugin as we all know is a tremendous musician, but he has, for example never played guitar professionally. For the purposes of this recording he practised all guitar parts and recorded every day to get them up to scratch. Drums are provided through Groove Agent, something that Kalugin would do recording demo tracks for his bands. Having decided to keep the album to a solo effort, all woodwind and vocalisations are synthesised.
So, while this collection might lack some of the creative spontaneity derived from a group of musicians playing together, it compensates by having greater coherence of concept and execution.
These physical limitations aside, the plague year has fortunately been left at the studio door. Presumably gaining some therapeutic relief from being in a recording environment and translating his work into recordings, Kalugin has produced two tracks of stunning keyboard driven symphonic progressive rock. Eerily all are of the same length, but apart from that stand on their own. According to Kalugin his initial inspiration for these tunes was the Korg Legacy Collection, which probably gives you a good sense of what to expect on this album. It is very much retro 20th century classic era prog in its heart, without the disadvantages of being recorded on a biscuit tin full of valves. The two main epic pieces, running each at a little over twenty minutes are highly melodic, shimmeringly clear and bright, full of hope and delightfully joyous in execution. Even the cover art hints at new dawns and new creations, as one planet dies, so others burn more brightly. There is something mystical about it all and it perfectly complements the music which Kalugin has composed. It also turns out that for all his modesty, he is no slouch on the guitar either and puts in a perfectly decent performance, hitting the soulful yearning sustained notes with some grace and even essaying a few rockier and blues tinged breaks. Nonetheless it is the keyboards which take centre stage here, naturally and it is difficult to think of many in this particular field who can match what is produced here.
For all the limitations I have listed above, the artist is to be congratulated on getting this piece together at a time when others seem to have suffered varying forms of creative catatonia. Marshmallow Moondust is in many ways one of my favourite of his releases recently, forty minutes of electronic delight and free transportation to a world of pure musical experience. Just the tonic.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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