Wednesday, September 18

Soundbite: Tick Tock


Really quick, here are a few things about “Tick Tock” that might seem more important than they actually are: It’s a concept album based on French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s wanderings through the Sahara Desert after his plane crashed, the band is from Norway, and they call themselves Gazpacho.

These bits of information aren’t all that crucial because the lyrics, while they do refer to airplanes and sand, are vague enough to be easily grasped out of context; because vocalist Jan-Henrik Ohme sings in English, without much of an accent; and because none of this has anything to do with cold vegetable soup.

“Tick Tock” begins with jagged guitar chords and a stellar couplet: “I feel my way / down the okra-colored day.” If every album opened like this, that would be fine with me. Like my creative writing teacher always said, “Start in the middle of the action.”

It’s actually a deceptive way for Gazpacho to start, though. The song, “Desert Flight,” soon opens up into something akin to Muse at their most epic and eventually morphs into eerie atmospherics. Most of the songs are structured in this general fashion, with a few minutes of defined melody and Ohme’s vocals, followed by long instrumental passages.

It is to Gazpacho’s immense credit that those passages often contain some of the album’s best moments.

It’s easy for a group of high-caliber musicians to overindulge, but they keep things moving, creating the impression of a musical journey that, in some ways pays greater homage to Saint-Exupéry’s trek through the desert than the lyrics do.

“Tick Tock” takes some time to absorb ““ there are no pop hooks to draw you in, and the songs blend into one another in more ways than one. But beware of calling this background music. The more attention you give these songs, the more you’ll notice about them, and the more you’ll find them swimming around in your head long after it’s over.

It would be a great shame, for instance, to miss Kristian Torp’s bass, which rises up from the depths of the mix and dances around like the serpent that plays a part in the story.

The same goes for Mikael Kromer’s violin, without which Gazpacho might sound like Porcupine Tree’s Norwegian cousin. With it, the song “Tick Tock (Part II)” sounds every bit as exotic as one might expect the Sahara Desert to sound.

Ohme’s lyrics sometimes take a turn for the ridiculous, including such gems as “feels like a magic carpet” or “his shoulders are like ice caps.” He has almost no discernible stage presence, waving his arms around like Michael Stipe with a goatee, but his husky, everyman voice gets the job done. In fact, after a few trips through “Tick Tock,” you get the feeling that no one else’s voice would work quite as well in this context.

When everything is said and done and Gazpacho launches into the album-closing “Winter is Never,” Ohme’s lyrics finally lighten up. He starts singing about the rising sun, rainbows and comic book heroes.

Looking back on all that’s happened, it’s like you’ve been to Mordor and back with these guys. That’s high praise for a movie ““ it’s a lot harder to do with an album.

E-mail Goodman at [email protected]

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