Intro: Thomas Sarakintsis
Translation: Alexandros Mantas
18 / 12 / 2018
It is commonly accepted that the US progressive rock does not possess the splendor and shine of the English school. Yet, from the primitive works of the late 60s to the inert Astra, the historical but also diachronic value of US prog in the wider sense cannot be waved aside. But the point of this review is not retrospective. How could Astral Blue be linked with all of the above? Directly not, indirectly perhaps. The new-founded quartet from San Marcos, Texas put out its debut album entitled Out of the Astral Blue in the spring of the current year and we wasted no time in answering their sonic call.
San Marvelous vintage tunes
Due to lack of information about the past of the band members, it is an educated guess that the group consists of musicians with short or not at all experience in discography. The Texans were founded in 2016, initially as a trio. Towards the end of the same year though, one more member was added cementing the line-up that features on this album. Originally, the members were Rex Rape (guitar, vocals), Oscar Favian (bass, vocals) and Chris Nuñez (drums). The addition of Brittany Garza (hammond organ, Rhodes piano, vocals) completed the current configuration of Astral Blue and judging by the musical direction her role is deemed as crucial. A first taste from their material saw the light of day in March when Mushroom Clock was released as a single.
The core ingredients of their style are hard to be pigeonholed. Astral Blue draw on European and US school, namely heavy / prog και U.S. psych / prog. To elaborate, the Texans sound like a dismantled version of Sweet Smoke, minus the usage of wind instruments, had they joined forces with Message and Orange Peel, with fumes from the Germans Epitaph and Iron Butterfly and all of the above through the prism of a lurking 60s American West Coast feeling and not sonic slant. As a whole, the album consists of five compositions of high quality out of which the four are stellar plus the remarkable Astray. With regard to vocals there is a pluralism which is a far cry from anything ordinary, nevertheless things work smoothly in Astral Blue with no ups-and-downs and mainly without risking drop of interest. All of the voices meet the standards of the group’s style with Garza possessing a peculiar Roky Erickson tone whose miaow is not disturbing in the slightest. Therefore, in Mushroom Clock is the voice of the bassist Oscar Favian that we hear whereas in the rest, excluding the closer Moon Door where Rex Rape takes over, it is her who sings. The aforementioned single which kicks off the album leads us in a not-so-original path but rather in a permeating dance-oriented hippie prog approach which mesmerizes. Mushroom Clock is also the most radio-friendly cut of the album driven by the hammond organ of the magnificent Brittany Garza. The presence of the guitarist Rex Rape is deemed as austere, yet at times is stunning (his guitar work on Soft Earth is a testament to this). Excluding Mushroom Clock, the remaining four songs (Speak to the Lady, Astray, Soft Earth, Moon Door) are strongly jam-oriented. The compositions climax gradually, while surrounded by harmony, motion and thrilling melodies. If we have to pinpoint the most admirable moments of the album, then the psyco-prog masterpieces Moon Door and Soft Earth, Mushroom Clock, and this hallucinatory break in Speak to the Lady make the cut. Finally, with regard to the artwork, it is clear that the cover depicts Astral Blue’s musical spectrum, as if functioning like a compass of their aspiring aesthetical trend and artistic vision. The compositional summon of the band is in harmony with the fragrance of the spring atmosphere that the cover radiates.
In short, the music of Astral Blue is vivd, pictorial, improvisational but above all honest, without a sign of ripping off and reheating bygone styles and aesthetic. Out of the Astral Blue is an enticing proposition from musicians who seem to create and compose with abundant love, reviving the legacy on the one hand, updating it on the other to the delight of the seasoned listeners.
8.5 / 10