Terra Terra, “Terra Terra” (Independent)

The jazz-rock trio Terra Terra understands one very important element of science fiction: Be sure to stop every once in a while and instill awe. They actually have a vague, overarching, space-rock operaish theme, some wharrgarbl about halting the expansion of the universe before it violates the laws of physics or something, laced with some appropriately cosmic, Hitchhiker-y black humor and a healthy dose of Utopian philosophy, a post-humanism through music. And they get it all across, which is no mean feat for an instrumental band. A little Zappa here, a little Primus there, a touch of Sun Ra. No libretto necessary.

It’s impressive, but not nearly as much as their focus and their restraint. Progs or not, they bring most of their alien-sounding, off-time, structurally complex soundscapes in at around four or five minutes. Repeated listening actually rewards the Terra Terra voyager, because structures do reveal themselves before long. Pun intended: The form of these excursions is complex but sturdy, and every so often they’re actually anchored down by huge formations that can take your breath away. While their contemporaries are content to float, Terra Terra take big fat guitar riffs and produce Death Star–size way stations out of them.

“War of the Worlds” is ostensibly the single because it starts out as their “Planet Caravan” with violin before the stomping moon monster enters stage left. “Big Pharma” feels like a spidery Ritalin freak out before Pfizer zooms in and firebombs everything. It’s not always done with crunch, either. Witness “Bernie’s Song,” where a marching army of 99 percenters is blindsided by an ’80s discobot. You don’t need to know what any of this means, by the way. The sheer majesty of it all is enough: Like any space opera, the main objective is to remind you how small you are.