Sverre Knut Johansen: Secret Space Program
Spotted Peccary Records

Similar to Sverre Knut Johansen's 2016 full-lengths, Earth From Above (Spotted Peccary Music) and Antarctica (Origin Music), Secret Space Program presents a melodically rich instrumental song-cycle whose encompassing content spans New Age, prog, electronica, ambient, and even trip-hop. And, like those earlier albums, the new one is a concept album of sorts, in this case a seventy-one-minute opus rooted in existential questions about life and the universe. More specifically, the Norwegian producer drew for inspiration from conspiracy-fueled musings about government agencies not only intent on withholding from the public intel about extra-terrestrial life-forms but military ‘black ops' programs that are involved in cooperating with them. In pondering such scenarios, Johansen wonders, “Would we find that there is a secret base located on the moon, or that there are organizations on Earth that have daily contact and interaction with extraterrestrials?” His emphatic “We are not alone!” certainly suggests on which side of the fence he sits.

Though conceptually some degree of paranoia permeates the recording, it begins peacefully enough, with day breaking gently in the New Age-styled meditation “MILAB (Military Abduction)” amidst seaside sounds of water lapping ashore and seagulls crying. Strengthening the impression of a narrative song-cycle, each track eases comfortably into the next, Johansen's smooth transitions helping to efface the gaps between them. Par for the Johansen course, moods and dynamics vary throughout the sixteen tracks, with the album regularly alternating between serene ambient meditations and soaring mini-epics powered by drums and Børge-Petersen Øverlerr's guitar. Though he only appears on four tracks, Øverlerr definitely makes his presence felt, with his expressive playing adding significantly to the epic reach of “Secret Space Program” and “Precognitive Abilities.” That aforementioned trip-hop element surfaces early when “Black Ops (Military Secret Space Programs)” adds a downtempo groove to dramatic piano melodies and swelling synthesizer atmospherics.

Some of the material is exceptionally pretty, whether it be “Esoteric,” with its minimal coupling of keyboard chords and wordless female emoting, or the transporting synthesizer reveries “Blue Avians” and “IE (Intuitive Empath).” Certain tracks, among them “Precognitive Abilities,” locate themselves firmly within the electronica genre when the whirr-and-click of agitated beats forms a foundation for Johansen's melodies, whereas muscular productions such as “Genetic Programs” and “Sphere Being Alliance” show that he's quite capable of generating a powerful energy supply all by himself.

As I listen to this prolific producer's albums, I often find myself wondering about his MO: does Johansen generate an abundance of untitled instrumentals, determine a sequence for them, and then fashion a narrative to accompany them, or does he begin with a story-line and then create the musical material to accord with it? Regardless, the presence of a narrative like the one used for Secret Space Program does make for a satisfyingly cohesive result. Though all sixteen pieces are instrumentals, one nevertheless comes away from the recording feeling as if a particular story-line has been methodically investigated and animated into sonic form.

May 2017