Juno Reactor has been a respected institution in music for over 20 years now. Started as an art project with the sole intention of creating good art that was not commercially motivated, Ben Watkins soon found that there were many music listeners around the world who were looking for his particular type of imagination. And so it grew. From his debut single “Laughing Gas” to “Transmissions” (1993), “Luciana” (1994), “Beyond The Infinite” (1995), my personal gateway drug, 1997’s flawless full-length CD “Bible Of Dreams”, “Shango” (2000), ” Labryinth” (2004), “Gods & Monsters” (2008), a ton of collaborations and soundtrack work (including “The Matrix”), and now, “The Golden Sun Of The Great East”, released April 23rd via Metropolis Records.
“The Golden Sun Of The Great East”, as an album, seems very much like an expansion of Juno Reactor’s signature sound; an expansion in all directions. It’s the sound of an artist whose sound has matured to the point of mastery. Thematically, it was inspired very much from Ben Watkins’ recent time spent in India, a place that seems meant for Juno Reactor. To me, the feel of the album could have very well taken root in the opus “God Is God” from “Bible Of Dreams”, a song that, to me, shows just how far music can go…and then a little nudge beyond that to provide a taste of the unknown.
“Final Frontier” opens the album with what some would describe as a “return to form”. The tight psychedelic trance of 1995’s “Beyond The Infinite” can be heard here, except there’s more ear candy, and everything seems more lush. The fusion of organic and digital instrumentation is incredible. World music, rock and electronic music collide. This song facilitates probably 10 of the more inspired minutes you’re likely to have.
“Invisible” goes heavy on the Eastern instrumentation with pleasurable effect. The beat is relentless, keeping the momentum strong early on. Watkins breaks everything down periodically by removing the instrumentation to reveal a pummeling industrial beat and warped synths. It’s pretty well explosive, and the vocals are dynamic and passionate, supporting the onslaught.
“Guillotine” decides to deliver more of the goods instead of slowing down, bringing more of the dark, ghostly vibrations to counteract the angelic ones, all merged within a hard-hitting rhythm. It’s at once soothing and foreboding, both signs of a dynamic composition. You’ll hear some very noisy metal guitars creep in, too, and why not? It’s all part of the openness and genre-bending freedom that comes with the project.
“Trans Siberian” changes the tempo, still keeping things dance-able, but more importantly, interesting. Operatic vocals and chanting sail over a menacing, hypnotic beat.
“Shine” sounds like a perfect companion to “God Is God”, with it’s feel of spiritual freedom and unbridled joy. It’s a piece of music that transcends it’s genre; one that almost anyone could thoroughly enjoy. The beat is a hand clapper, almost hip hop-esque. An absolute celebration that you’d have to hear to believe. Possibly the best track on the album.
“Tempest” heads back into psytrance/electronic dance music and jungle music territory, embracing another mood that Juno Reactor specializes in; creepiness. Both “Tempest” and “Zombie” play with horror movie vibrations, while still maintaining the inspired, beautiful feel of the album. They fit in perfectly, telling a darker part of the story before returning to the light.
“To Byculla” reminds the listener of artists like Massive Attack and Pink Floyd, with it’s decidedly downtempo vibrations. The spiritual aspects of the album come together over the last few tracks, almost as if to say “Here’s the underlying point”. Let the vocals carry your imagination away somewhere.
“Playing With Fire”, as a closer, is in some ways unassuming. It doesn’t force it’s way to your ears. There are no pounding beats to be found here. Just a flawless composition written with great care. Every aspect is weaved into the mix with attention. When the beat does come in, it’s merely guiding the journey.
Overall, I would give “The Golden Sun Of The Great East” a 10 out of 10. It has that rare masterpiece status, and transcends it’s genre, although that’s quite the norm for Juno Reactor. For anyone who hasn’t heard Juno Reactor, “The Golden Sun Of The Great East” is a wonderful place to start. It’s a perfect fusion of world music, electronic dance music/trance, rock music, and a few kitchen sinks for good measure. It’s almost frustratingly good. Most of all, it’s journeying music seemingly meant to facilitate the imagination. Press play and dream away.