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Astra - The Weirding CD (album) cover

THE WEIRDING

Astra

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.91 | 246 ratings

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FragileKings
3 stars This is one of those albums I have mixed feelings about. The strengths definitely lie in the music and songs, which as most others have already pointed out, resemble in many moments the styling of Pink Floyd between 1968 and 1971. Just listening to this album again last night in preparation for the review, I found myself in many instances thinking of "A Saucerful of Secrets", "Relics", "Music from the Film 'More'" and even "Echoes" from "Meddle". There are also times where the music could be from "Ummagumma"'s more lucid parts. Aside from Pink Floyd, I was also reminded of Hawkwind and surprisingly even Scorpions from their "Fly to the Rainbow" album of 1974, and one part of "Ouroboros" had me wracking my brains to find out what it reminded me off and finally I concluded that it was like a part of "2,000 Light Years from Home" by the Rolling Stones!

The music maintains a slow to medium tempo throughout, unlike the sophomore album "The Black Chord" which breaks into gallops and canters in a couple of parts. The electric guitar is at times heavy but mostly spacey, never really technical but full of expression. And each song is carried on a shifting sea of lush and cosmic keyboard sounds: plenty of synthesizer, Mellotron, and organ. We also can enjoy some flute in a couple of the tracks. These boys know just how to take us on a mind-altering journey through space that never jars too much nor gets too weird or uncomfortable (think "Echoes" or "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and not "See Emily Play" or "Bike"). It's a wonderful trip through a starscape of cosmic music.

Regarding the vocals, they are smooth and very much like the era of Pink Floyd mentioned above, sometimes uncannily so. The actual sung part of the songs are not long and Astra fill the length of their compositions with delay-effect guitar solos that often have a bit of an edge to them and keyboard solos that are everything I said above about the keyboards. The band follows the late 60's mentality of taking short songs and filling them with lengthy instrumental passages.

Where I have any criticism about this album lies in three aspects. The first is the sound quality. I respect that the band may have been trying to capture the atmosphere of that time period but the music sounds as though it was recorded in someone's home studio. It's not clear and bright but muddy and dull. I have music from the early eighties that actually was recorded in a home studio and it's exactly that lo-fi sound that makes great music sound less impressive. It's like viewing the ocean on an overcast day. There's all the power and magnificence but not the sparkle.

Next, I find overall impression of the album lacks variety. Individually, the songs have their own strengths and all of the songs are well enough composed and performed, but after having listened to the album through I feel there's a remaining impression of lengthy guitar and keyboard solos and some vocals. There is some variety in the music here and there, and the 19-minute instrumental "Ouroboros" includes some mixed sounds and moods (thankfully it's not just an epic jam session), with a very pretty guitar/keyboard/flute section. But again, overall, the lingering impression is of a very long cosmic journey retro space rock. It's like diving under the sea: there are colourful fish and corals but in the end what you actually saw was mostly water.

Finally, I find the album is very long. This is, in effect, a double album, or at least it would have been had it been released in the period of musical style the music emulates. It may have been a case of having so many good songs that they didn't know which to leave off the album and just put everything on. I actually can't say there is any song I could do without; however, some bands these days are putting out a normal length album and then including an extra CD in a deluxe package for fans who want a little more. The Flower Kings' "Banks of Eden" had such an option with four additional tracks included on a bonus disc and Wolfmother's "Cosmic Egg" came as either a single CD with a dozen tracks or a double CD with a total of 16 tracks. Perhaps Astra might have tried this approach.

The good news is that all three issues I mentioned above were taken care of in their next release "The Black Chord" which has slightly better production, more diverse music, and is under 50 minutes long.

So, good as the music is, I can only offer three stars for this album. I am very much looking forward to Astra's third album which I anticipate will be even better than "The Black Chord".

FragileKings | 3/5 |

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