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4 stars I was certain Astra was history with nothing new from them surfacing since 2012 with the Black Chord. And I was right. Keyboardist and vocalist Conor Riley and guitarist Brian Ellis teamed up with bassist Trevor Mast and drummer Paul Marrone and Birth is born (pun unintended, since the album is called Born). It's unsurprisingly like a third Astra album. Conor Riley's keyboard playing is the same as before and same for Brian Ellis' guitar playing. That great retro prog they succeeded at since 2009 but like the Black Chord, they keep the album short. Lots of great use of organ, Moog (looks like the Model D Minimoog from what video footage I've seen, rather than the Voyager), Mellotron (or sampled Mellotron). Guitar playing reminds me of David Gilmour at times. There are elements of hard rock (not of the Aerosmith or Kiss variety, but earlier '70s that still retained psych and even prog elements) but plenty of great proggy passages too. Like Astra before them it's obviously they're paying tributes to the greats of the past. I amazed at the amount of great retro prog since the 1990s, of different varieties and Birth is another great example. Of course if you already like The Weirding and The Black Chord you need this!
Report this review (#2785419)
Posted Friday, August 19, 2022 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I guess San Diego area psychedelic prog band Astra was the fetal version of what was to come out of pregnancy, as the revamped incarnation has now officially delivered a full-grown healthy baby. The natality needed some time in my prog nursery before even attempting a review, as it was quite obvious to my ears that there was a plethora of feelings and sentiments within the beauty of this rather fertile offspring! I took some tender loving care (no, TLC is not a mind trip drug) and repeated listens, as there were simply way too many thoughts and impressions that seemed to flood my senses. Birth is a prefect name and Born is the outcome, how wonderfully Californian! While keyboardist/ vocalist Conor Riley and guitarist Brian Ellis did bring their Weirdling gear to the clinic, they did add an excellent rhythm section to their musical family, with the arrival of bassist Trevor Mast and drummer Paul Marrone. The 10-year gestation period between Astra the Weirdling album and Born certainly honed their skills as this "debut" just may reach glorious heights as well as fame within the prog community. It did take me repeated auditions to calibrate their sound, as the foundational roots are clearly retro whilst adding a slick modern sheen that should appeal to many, as the playing is off the charts and the compositions are immediately attractive and compelling. The numerous winks and nods to past glories are not always that hidden and only adds to the pleasure. 42 minutes of absolute satisfaction.

From the cleverly labelled instrumental title track, the foursome set the mood right from the get-go, churning keyboard layers muscularly propelled by a roaming bass and some thunderous drumming, then settling down into a bluesy psychedelic groove, led by Ellis' spirited guitar, as he slowly ramps up the tension. His guitar style here and throughout took me some time to pin down, as there are hints at Duane Allman, and after a light lit in my head, Alvin Lee! Then, the flow then veers towards a glorious organ-led piece that offers up some effusive vocals, as Riley switches registers and hits some amazing high notes in the chorus while Ellis gets down and dirty on his sweltering axe, ranging from powerful to serene. Very retro, and very cool.

The third track "For Yesterday" is a 9-minute rambler that has an epic, grandiose and cinematographic sense, laden with whooshing mellotron, dripping guitar leads and the softest vocals one could hope, escorted by a simple organ whisper. Breathtaking in all its historical aspects, the sheer splendour of the melodies, the massive arrangements and the eloquent simplicity is beauty incarnate. The focus on little details is also exemplary, nothing overstaying its welcome, no filler, no wasted notes, just plain unadulterated bliss. As the screeching solo guitar slashes through the mellotron clouds, the paroxysm is just beyond the horizon, as the gentle vocal sets this one nicely into the comfortable crib.

Can this possibly get better? Well of course, just have to ratchet up the intensity with a heavy rhythmic groove, a playful and insistent synth, echoed by the same on the electric guitar and, here we go again on another thrilling "Cosmic Tears" journey, as the extended solo is a pure gem. Constantly shifting rhythms veer this monster into a jazzy foray, with scintillating drum work, rampaging bass and dream-like atmospheres that go from quilted tranquility to savage damage. The Alvin Lee image remains ironed on my mind, as the bluesy and speedy riffs and notes just keep on coming, unrestrained.

Change of pace, the bittersweet and blustery "Another Time" services a marvelous vocal with rapid fire exultations, intricate polyrhythmic explosions, fiery organ/ mellotron runs and then suddenly, reflective pools of bliss to keep the mood electrifying. And back and forth it goes, as the King Crimson influences start creeping in, setting up the climax yet to come. And what a finale "Long Way Down" is, since the theme here is birth, a trip down to the early glory days of King Crimson Mark 1 is called for, as this sounds like a homage to ITCOTCK/ITWOP, or even early ELP, as Riley's vocals are eerily respectful of Greg Lake's masterful voice and delivery, as on "Knife Edge". The guitars has definite Frippian tendencies as it rages uncontrolled, a "2022 Century Schizoid Man" slant, as Marrone does a fair tribute to Giles/Palmer on the drum kit. Shockingly impressive and deliriously attractive.

This album really knocked me for a loop, the sheer pleasure derived from listening to it repeatedly, in various settings, only improved further my attitudes about it. Unique music, not really, but since when is a giving birth an original concept? Yes, the mechanics are the same, but the results are all in the details, the spirit, and the character as the living entity evolves and matures into a hopefully valorous adult. This is a candidate for top album of 2022. To the purists who love all things negative, seek out Birth and get a life, tongue firmly planted in the facial cheek!

5 Renaissances

Report this review (#2786023)
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2022 | Review Permalink
2 stars A King Crimson/ELP/Pink Floyd/Yes mashup with some Deep Purple and Focus. That is what I hear.

This album is firmly rooted in the early seventies, almost like a lost album of one of the mentioned bands.

Obviously, there's a mellotron. And keystrokes similar to Wakeman and Lord.

Born is only 20 seconds old and I already hear ELP and Focus. At a certain point, there's also some Pink Floyd, like a David Gilmour on speed. It is nice enough, but nothing special. 7/10

Descending Us sounds very similar to Child in Time. I consider it a homage. 6.5/10

For Yesterday has a Crimson flavour to it. And a strong reference to the guitar solos of Echoes and the Atom Heart Mother suite. Nice. 7/10

Cosmic Tears has the mellotron and now familiar guitar. Even more Gilmour-like, especially the solos. I have to say, the track is very monotonous. 6/10

Another Time is akin to KC's stuff on Red, mixed with some Deep Purple organs and guitars. 7/10

Long Way Down is a mashup I rather hate. Especially the end is extremely messy to me. Yes, I notice the references to ITCOTCK. But they leave me cold. 5/10

All tracks are rather slowish, there's not a whole lot of variety here. I rate this one 2 stars. Recommended to people that wish to uncover unknown pieces of music from the early seventies, although it's from 2022. Not to people who wish to see bands pushing the envelope.

Report this review (#2786517)
Posted Thursday, August 25, 2022 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Out of the ashes of San Diego's ASTRA project comes a new album, reuniting Astra founders Conor Riley and Brian Ellis (yes: THE Brian Ellis--of recent West Coast psychedelia pop fame) with new rhythm section of bassist Trevor Mast and drummer Paul Marrone. The product is, in my opinion, even better than the previous band's two excellent albums, 2009's The Weirding and 2012's The Black Chord.

1. "Born" (4:48) impressive start: the four band members are definitely in sync. Organ takes the first lead but Paul Marrone's drums are mighty impressive. (Great sound, too!) The weave is sophisticated and the soloing supreme with a sonic palette that is similar to me of bands Procol Harum and Nektar as well as modern bands like Brighton's own Diagonal. And it's a full instrumental. (9/10)

2. "Descending Us" (6:56) a bluesy 1970-sound song with some fiery lead guitar play and great lead vocals that sound like some great vocalist from the infancy of the psychedelic rock movement. (13.75/15)

3. "For Yesterday" (9:14) a slowly-developing Crimsonian song ("The Court of the Crimson King" repeatedly comes to mind) with alternating delicate passages for the psych-folk vocals and hard-rocking parts for searing instrumental expositions--including a lot of Roye Albrighton-like guitar leads. Unfortunately, the vocal passages end up being inconclusive; it's the instrumental contributions that do their best to win us over. (17.25/20)

4. "Cosmic Tears" (7:41) this just has to be a Brian Ellis song, it sounds so much like his funked up psychedelia from the past ten years. ARGENT's "Hold Your Head Up" also comes to mind. When Brian gets cooking over the syncopated drums, pulsing bass note, and Mellotron, you think you're back listening to or Randy California, or Robert Fripp. When Paul Marrone starts to go off, you think you're listening to Ginger Baker or Keith Moon. When Trevor Mast gets moving he makes it feel as easy as Richard Sinclair or Nick Greenwood. (13.25/15) 5. "Another Time" (5:36) slowly arpeggiated electric guitar is joined by vocal and organ. This sounds like KHAN (Space Shanty) until it breaks into a Deep PURPLE/Procol HARUM/Wakeman-era YES passage. Flute-sounding electric guitar is a nice touch before Conor's GRAND FUNK RAILROAD vocal section takes over. But then there is shift into a more modern TED NUGENT/MOTORPSYCHO-like escape to the song. Brilliant! (9/10)

6. "Long Way Down" (7:17) part Red-era KING CRIMSON, part 1980s UK/ASIA, it's all John Wetton's voice (though a little bluesy at the beginning like early Robert Plant--he gets stronger as the song goes on--where he becomes JW)! Definitely a more hard-rock/early "Heavy Metal" inspired piece--though there is a floating jam-like section in the middle that sounds modern before the music descends back into the blues-rock chord progression and sound ŕ la Diagonal's debut album all of 14 years ago.. (13.25/15)

Total Time 41:32

Born's retro sound took me back to late 1960s-early 1970s bands like Procol Harum, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Cream, Nektar, and even Pink Floyd and The Eloy. Brian Ellis' searing guitar solos are so Clapton-Albrighton-like that they're stunning. The keyboard play of Conor Riley is on a par with Jon Lord, Gary Brooker or Matthew Fisher or Taff Freeman. The rhythm section is as tuned in that they could be from Cream or first generation King Crimson, even Camel. And the vocals could be from the first two KING CRIMSON albums or else some other psychedelic treasure. This album took several listens to be able to dive deeply into the depths of the music, the styles, the intricate weaves, the nuanced performances from each and every one of the players, but the sound engineering choices (and clarity) are fantastic! Great retro sound, great power in the imitation of some of psychedelic rock's progenitors, and great instrumental performances, but not enough fresh, new melodies and hooks to warrant masterpiece status.

B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you like superb retro imitation of the early masters.

Report this review (#2844875)
Posted Sunday, October 9, 2022 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Band Submissions
4 stars You occasionally have missed a sign of life from the band Astra? For what I know there's not any official statement available that says they were disbanded. I'm a fan, liked their albums very much, and have seen them live on the stage here in Germany several years ago. Very impressing psychedelic prog oriented music, featuring a proper vintage touch. Now with reason you can say that BIRTH appears on the scene as the distinct and maybe even consequent follow up, much the same as a re-birth. Not totally equal in style, but the general sound is rather similar anyhow. Responsible for that might be the simple fact that at least two current members actually were former Astra members. I'm speaking of Conor Riley (keys, vocals) and Brian Ellis (guitars, keys).

Both most probably are the inspirational force concerning this new project. Drummer Paul Marrone (Cosmic Wheels, Radio Moscow) and Trevor Mast (bass) are completing the quartet. Maybe interesting to know, the four musicians already had worked together beforehand in diverse constellations and on several occasions, exemplarily to note the band Psicomagia. Also, this album is not the first statement delivered by the band. As they already started with a self-named EP in 2021, consisting of three demo tracks. Quasi as a test, in order to check if the music appeals. They must have recognized enough excitement everywhere, well, at least appreciation. Hence the material was considered and then enlarged to a six piece subject matter, their debut album 'Born'.

Regarding the stylistical spectrum the album is really broadened too, hence a highly praised matter in prog circles in the meanwhile. King Crimson influenced for example, exemplarily to hear on Long Way Down. Or being equipped with the more melancholic, fairly smooth and balladesque For Yesterday. And then a compelling rhythm is striking on Cosmic Tears, the album's center- and masterpiece, in between running into a jazzy fast-paced intermezzo. Preferably psychedelic oriented prog lovers with the preference on a retro sound can't fail here. Prosperous and entertaining, way more structured than a jamming matter. Overall the extraordinary lush supply of keyboard stuff marks a massive benefit, be it Hammond organ, Mellotron or synthesizer.

Report this review (#2870124)
Posted Friday, December 23, 2022 | Review Permalink
4 stars BIRTH is it a second birth? A sound from yesterday, a revival, let's jump into it since I love ASTRA and they would be its babies.

'Born' sounds from the 60s or 70s but very far away and yet the organ guides you on this melody from another age. 'Descending Us' on a sound that BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST could have composed; spleen, emotion, all with a sound of today; I who am not too retro, I can only approve of their approach. 'For Yesterday' yes it is indeed yesterday that they tell us about with their notes; the absolute pleasure of immersing yourself in these progressive meanders where memories bring you back to this or that group, I'll let you search but there's bound to be one you'll think of... from BJH to KING CRIMSON, The BEATLES, CAMEL of course and this melting Hammond, like DEEP PURPLE at the crossroads. 'Cosmic Tears' with the floydian intro of course, but the important thing is not there, the riff sends again on DEEP PURPLE, MOTORPSYCHO and the psychedelic guitar is more than its age. 'Another Time' guitar arpeggio before a fiery rise, holds an air of ANGEL from 'Caricatures', it's dated but it makes revise precisely; the genesis flute suddenly rounds off the air then a thundering solo, vintage but catchy brings us to 'Long Way Down' stamped KING CRIMSON for this tortured bass, all that's missing is the sax; Brian on guitar mistreats it to show that even without getting into prog metal you can play heavy sound; which reminds me that the KING CRIMSON in their 'Thrak' period did a lot of hard.

It's the story of an album to listen to as a concept, the one where you dive back into the world of the 70's; but not only; it's the story of an album that made me enter it in my top 15 2022 for this research and this fusion of old sounds beautifully brought up to date; it was worth a quick column to make your mouth water. (4.5)

Report this review (#2881477)
Posted Friday, February 10, 2023 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
5 stars I still remember the buzz over ASTRA's debut "The Weirding" back in 2009, the advertised retro sound packed with mellotron made it a must have for me back then and it delivered. A 5 star album for me and I mention it because the dynamic duo of Brian Ellis and Conor Riley led the way on that one and this is their new project called BIRTH. I wonder if they named the band after the song "Birth" from "Quipu" a Brian Ellis solo album from 2011?

In some ways I like this even better than "The Weirding" we do get a different rhythm section and I'll say this the drummer had my attention early on, the man can play. That would be Paul Marrone previously in RADIO MOSCOW but also playing on a different Brian Ellis solo album from 2015 along with the bass player Trevor Mast who is here on "Born", so yes the rhythm section has a history with each other.

Another connection is the band PSICOMAGIA listed here under Jazz with three of the four band members here being on the lone album they released. And there's some Jazz flavours on this record which blows me away. Psychedelic bands in general aren't considered to be complex or featuring prodigy- like players by a long shot but BIRTH is different these guys are into a lot of different styles including Zeuhl(see Ellis solo album from 2011) and of course Jazz Fusion and we get some electric piano here and walking bass. But this is dominated by late 60's early 70's psychedelia and this is as legit as it gets.

Conor by the way is on the latest MONDO DRAG record from 2023 which I hope to review in a week or so. We get six tracks over 41 minutes and there's a typo with the track length on "For Yesterday" which shows 8:08 and it should be 9:08. This album is so consistent and uniform but within that they do change things up as both Conor and Brian are multi-instrumentalists. I really like the vocals too and the overall package with the lyrics included and art work is pretty cool.

Voted 14th overall by the collaborators for 2022 which is impressive for a psychedelic record. It's in my top five for 2022 so I'm even more impressed.

Report this review (#2986045)
Posted Friday, January 26, 2024 | Review Permalink

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