(Updated) Roger Universe – Earth Express

Update September 13, 2022: We’ve added the review of this album, written by Sylvain Lupari.

When an album is presented to media and public by specifying that it sounds like Jean-Michel Jarre from the time of Oxygene and Equinoxe, it inevitably attracts the curious as well as the fans of the French synth wizard’s glorious era. This is how the thinkers of the German label Spheric Music are promoting EARTH EXPRESS, a new album by a musician with a name strangely predestined for the genre, Roger Universe. Now, is it true that it sounds as presented? Yes! The 62 minutes of this album sound literally like Jarre. A Jarre indeed who goes back in time by reworking his early albums in a way that gives them a musical and sonic texture that will defy time. Because this EARTH EXPRESS has quite a whole sound texture! Ulrich Mühl is the man behind Roger Universe. As a journalist and editor in the field of video games, he started dabbling in electronic music (EM) in the 80’s with the C64 and Amiga computers. He gave up this option in order to devo t e himself to voice recordings for video games. He started to make EM again in the mid 2010’s. He composed several tracks, all inspired by JM Jarre, before passing away in January 2022. Before his death, he asked his long-time friend Gerald Arend of Klangwelt to finalize the edit and mix EARTH EXPRESS for public release.

Arrival shows the musical magnificence of Ulrich Mühl’s unique album from the start. The sound is rich, and the various sources intertwine in an intense dramatic vision. The offering begins with a long drone that travels sinuously between series of jerking keyboard chords. These chords already possess that harmonic tone of the famous French musician’s early albums. Cosmic winds, sparse bass pulsations and a bass layer complete this cosmic setting where the intensity of the arrangements is as dense as the multiplication of the layers of sounds. Our ears are immersed in a universe that transcends those of Oxygene and Equinoxe. Cosmic winds, arpeggios twinkling like stars, evasive melodies, lunar arrangements, deaf bass impulses, electronic rhythms interrupted by atmospheric phases, and so on are all elements and/or musical textures that adorn each composition of this album. Sometimes we find all these elements within a single track, testifying to the monk-like work that Gerald Arend has done to make this album as immortal as possible. It’s as if Jarre decided to remix his albums by injecting massive layers of music all around. Each track is interwoven with the other, creating a 62-minute mosaic of uninterrupted cosmic EM. Awakening carries the essence, the meaning of its title with a structure that hesitates to bloom in an atmospheric context jostled by keyboard chords. The different shades of the arpeggios organize a melodic, stop’n’go kind of fight that seeks to explore a rhythmic vision that will unlock with the dynamic Electrogravity. If there is a single, a commercial success to extract from EARTH EXPRESS, it is Electrogravity. An energ e tic track, an electronic rock built on the epicenter of Oxygen 4 with a dynamism that flirts with Rendez-vous 4. Far Away is a long atmospheric break built on a rhythmic movement that oscillates in suspension. Cosmic vocal layers, shimmering arpeggios, and pulsating bursts of a bass layer make up its cosmic setting that Gerald Arend keeps fatten to with the constant idea that the music can explode at any moment. Then, Mariana Trench reminds us how Jarre liked to end his albums with a kind of cosmic Rumba. A beautiful lunar ballad!
Mixing funky rhythmic phases with atmospheric and melodic ones that are guided by very musical synth solos, Under Ground Over Unity plunges us more into the genre of the Waiting for Cousteau album, particularly the Caribbean island rhythms portion. Sacrifice offers a cosmic atmospheric phase with latent bursts of rhythm that die on the spot. The first moments of Infinite Potential remain in this cosmic atmospheric texture with layers of arpeggios that make tinkling different sources of harmonies, some of which are even slightly rhythmic, underneath synthesizer chants, or Martenot waves, that take us back to the black and white days of the TV show The Outer Limits. A rhythm as explosive as Electrogravity shakes our speakers as soon as the 3rd minute is crossed. Wrapped in these alien chants, it beats on explosive sequences, solid bass-pulses and sequenced arpeggios that multiply the harmonic layers in the last third of the track. You can’t get more Jean-Michel Jarre than in the opening of Memories of Past Futures. The waltz of the synth layers hangs on a pulsating movement of a bass-sequence line. It gives a cosmic rock turning in slow motion and zigzagging between slow lunar orchestrations. A fabulous organ layer injects a dramatic dose to this kind of cosmic procession that clings much more to the melodic vision of its arpeggio lines, even if percussive slams excite the senses towards the finale. Cosmic winds return to haunt EA R TH EXPRESS in its finale with Epilogue: Far In. In fact, they dominate this long structure while sweeping away the derailed vocal effects coming out of what seems to be a vocoder.

One can’t be Jean-Michel Jarre who wants to imitate him or pay homage to him, so much he was influenced by his music! Although this EARTH EXPRESS is the album closest to the true essence of Jarre, except for the superb Music from France by Frédéric Mercier, it lacks the depth, the vision of spontaneity of the famous French musician. On the other hand, it is a very beautiful album of EM that Roger Universe (Ulrich Mühl) offers us as an ultimate artistic testament. Let’s also underline the excellent work of Gerald Arend who completes a more than interesting vision of what Jarre could have created after Oxygène 7-13.

Sylvain Lupari (August 20th, 2022)

The following video is a teaser track ‘Infinite potential’.

Roger Universe is the stage name of ASM culture editor Ulrich Mühl. Ulrich died of a brain tumor in January 2022 after a short, serious illness. The Earth Express album is the result of his rediscovered hobby and musical legacy.

Immediately after the devastating diagnosis in November 2021, Ulrich asked his long-time friend and companion Gerald Arend to finalize the mixing and production of his album. Gerald’s friend Udo Wiesner promised Ulrich that he would take care of the mastering of the soundtrack.

The result of this collaboration will be published by Spheric Music in Essen (sphericmusic.de). The release date is August 26, 2022. The total of ten tracks offer a playing time of over 60 minutes. In addition to a CD version, the album will also be available on popular digital channels such as Spotify or Amazon.

I’m very excited about Ulrich’s electronic instrumental music in the vein of early Jean-Michel Jarre. A review will follow on the publication date here.

The album is released through Spheric Music, more info here.