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ESTRADASPHERE

RIO/Avant-Prog • United States


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Estradasphere picture
Estradasphere biography
Founded in Santa Cruz, California, USA in 1998 - Disbanded in 2008

Guitarist Jason Schimmel and bassist Tim Smolens met in 7th grade at Miraleste High School. In 1997, their band Don Salsa recorded its first album, "Koolaid Moustache In Jonestown." In 1998, Jason and Tim moved to Santa Cruz, CA. Jason attended UC Santa Cruz, along with Timb Harris, John Whooley, and Dave Murray. At that time, John, Tim, Jason, Dave, and Jason Conception played downtown in the streets of Santa Cruz. Jason Conception left the band to pursue Netwerk:Electric, his other project. In December 1998, Timb Harris joined the band. The band continued to play the streets and at local coffee shops.

On January 7, 2000, Estradasphere held its first concert at Kuumbwa Jazz Center. This was a pivotal show for the band, and they began to play clubs exclusively. Later that year, they released their first album "It's Understood" on Trey Spruance's label, Mimicry Records. They went on their first North American tour, opening for Secret Chiefs 3.

In 2001, Estradasphere released their first EP, The Silent Elk Of Yesterday, which included a few new studio tracks, and some live performances. They also went on their second North American tour with the band Tub Ring.

The band released their second full length album, "Buck Fever" in Spring of 2002. Later that year, drummer Dave Murray decided to quit the band.

In 2003, they released their third full length album "Quadropus." Because they did not have a full time drummer, several guest drummers appeared on this album, including Dave Murray. In Spring of 2004, they released a DVD of life footage called "Passion for Life." It contained a full length DVD as well as a CD that included some live tracks and other material.

In early 2004, John Whooley left Estradasphere. Kevin Kmetz and Adam Stacey joined the band to replace him. They played their first show together as a new band with guest drummer Theo Mordey at 2004's SXSW Festival. After a few months of recruitment for a new drummer, Lee Smith moved from Atlanta to join Estradasphere as their permanent drummer.

Estradasphere played several shows as a new band throughout late 2004 and early 2005. They are currently busy in the studio recording a new album.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estradasphere



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ESTRADASPHERE discography


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ESTRADASPHERE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.05 | 57 ratings
It's Understood
2000
4.23 | 54 ratings
Buck Fever
2001
3.32 | 38 ratings
Quadropus
2003
4.25 | 101 ratings
Palace Of Mirrors
2006

ESTRADASPHERE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

ESTRADASPHERE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

0.00 | 0 ratings
These Are the Days
2001
4.00 | 13 ratings
Passion For Life
2004
3.20 | 6 ratings
Palace of Mirrors Live
2007

ESTRADASPHERE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

ESTRADASPHERE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.89 | 10 ratings
The Silent Elk Of Yesterday
2001

ESTRADASPHERE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Palace Of Mirrors by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2006
4.25 | 101 ratings

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Palace Of Mirrors
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

5 stars All good things must come to pass.

A band like Estradasphere that only exists and succeeds when the stars and planets are aligned is destined to have a short life. The fact that "Palace of Mirrors" exists at all is an astonishing fact considering one of the masterminds behind it all, John Whooley, sax extraordinaire, is nowhere to be found on the credits list.

That's right, nowhere on this album will you find that iconic saxophone of his. In fact, you're not going to hear any saxophone at all. (Ok, I lied, there is actually some baritone sax providing bass on some of the louder tracks, but it's barely noticeable half the time)

I was initially worried when I discovered that fact. I'm such a sucker for saxophone that I thought this album would be ruined without its glorious tone, but I'm glad to say it hasn't, because the rest of the band has stepped their game up in a big way by, as per usual with Estradasphere, going in directions and places no one else would dare go. In fact, the album proves to be the most polish and controlled yet, with absolutely NO vocals either.

After a meaningless title sequence, the title track opens up with a dramatic fast waltz scene with some elements of creepy carnival music to set the scene before "A Corporate Merger" returns that the classic eastern influenced jazz style Estradasphere is known for, but instead of hearing sax here, other instruments pick up the slack such as accordion and shamisen, adding extra wrinkles. Jason Schimmel gets more active and funkier here with some jazz and surf rock playing, while some funky rock organ provides some extra oomf, and the shamisen solo is top notch notch. Since the sax is generally a loud instrument, its absence here keeps the entire track relatively mild, at least until the heavy distorted chords kick in with a few minutes left (because obviously it wouldn't be an Estradasphere track with out death metal middle eastern jazz music).

So in terms of the longer songs, the more things change the more they stay the same, but the shorter tracks garner just as much attention. Much like the title song, "The Terrible Beautypower of Meow" is very soundtrack influenced (definitely some Ennio Morricone [&*!#] going on here) as it travels through different hints of movie sountracks and elements all while underpinned by a surf rock beat, a cool tune that feels like you're traveling from movie scene to movie scene in a Hollywood backlot or something. "Colossal Risk" opens similarly, with an air of mystique and curiosity before the string section barrels in onto a fast jazz drum beat and Schimmel's and Smolen's surf guitar roaring away behind Adam Stacy's rock organ. Eventually this dissolves the coolest elevator music I've ever heard before transitioning into some "Incredibles" style action jazz (the best kind of jazz FYI) before fading away like some creepy Addams Family home recording.

Keeping the creepy theme, "The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold" begins with some creepy electronic droning and a sort of Nine Inch Nails-esque heartbeat, a lot of electronic experimentation here before it fades out into an atmospheric soundscape, with the strings following suit thereafter. Not necessarily the most pleasant tune to listen to, but definitely one of the most radical songs the group has ever made (and that's saying a lot when you're familiar with their discography).

"Smuggled Mutation" is one of my favorites off the album. An accordian drone provides the backdrop for some violin and shamisen features before the band breaks out in a cartoonish bluegrass-esque frenzy before the distorted metal chords kick your teeth in. This is, quite simply, sophisticated, grown up cartoon music. It's always fast, always spastic. It never slows down, not even when the band pays homage to Mozart in the middle (at least I think it's Mozart some other classical or romantic composer of the time). It's freakishly good fun and continues to build in cacophony up to the very end like the final movement to a classical symphony, with everyone shredding what they've got. Simply an awesome display of instrumental prowess.

Taking a breather from that mayhem, "Six Hands" is basically a short player piano piece which flows right into "The Debutante", a jazz piece which features the sax! Yes, I said there was no sax on this album, and for the most part there isn't (apart from the backing baritone), but Joel Ford gets the credit for adding some sexy sax on a track that needs it. After all, you just can't have an Estradasphere without having at least one sax featured song on it. It'd be simply criminal.

"Flower Garden Of An Evil Man" is a very brooding track, beginning with haunting atmospheric elements before developing into a sludgy, spastic metal, almost Mars Volta-esque, but darker thanks to the band's signature heavy distorted guitars. "Those Who Know.." is a lighter song, with a crisp violin and shamisen spring in the step. A funky drum groove enters later to keep the party going to finish with a dramatic orchestral and decidedly Japanese-y flourish. The "Palace of Mirrors Reprise" is self explanatory, with the theme being replayed through different genres, elevator music and haunting movie soundscapes. "The Return" ends with a heavy metal base with some polka over top that ends in a furious, spastic finish.

In short, another fantastic album from Estradasphere as always, and an impressive final outing as well. It's diverse and eccentric like a typical Estradasphere album, but with Whooley's departure, the remaining band is forced to delve into more genres and elements to diversify their sound, and yet still sound entirely their own, and not just a sound collage, and they've succeeded with flying colors. An excellent farewell album from a band that will forever be uncontested in the realm of accessible avant-garde prog.

 Quadropus by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2003
3.32 | 38 ratings

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Quadropus
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

5 stars It's damn near impossible to follow up a great album, especially when it damn near breaks every single musical convention you can think of.

Yet I still think Estradasphere did themselves proud with "Quadropus".

Right away, the songs are more static with the genre changes. Sure the opener "Mekapses Yitonisa" showcases their typical eastern influences spiced up with disco and metal flavorings, but right away it's less spastic than say "Meteorite Showers" or "Millennium Child". Even so, the band still figures out different directions to go musically that they haven't tread before. "Dubway" is an a capella outing that features some nasty beatboxing skills and even some hints of Raga? A really cool song with very few equals out there.

"King Crab Battle" begins very dramatically, like something out of a movie before breaking out into some "Incredibles"-style action jazz (one of my favorite movie soundtracks ever BTW). Spice it up with some heavy distorted chords, as per tradition, and end with the same motif as the beginning, but better because death metal. "Speck" follows up with a softer, mysterious approach, with haunting vocals and spooky strings, a strangely serious track from a not very serious at all band.

"Hardball" is the monster on the album, beginning with a fierce falsetto, that classic detective "wakka-diga" guitar tone and back into the eastern dance motifs. It features extended jam sections, heavy distorted chords, mellow atmospheric passages and even a flamenco spot towards the finish. It's not as disjointed as previous Estradasphere songs (the transitions are much smoother and fewer and far between), but it also doesn't add anything new to their sound than we've previously heard before. Not saying that's a bad thing, but I believe that tends to be the biggest knock on this album following such a gamechanger like "Buck Fever".

"A Car Ride in Idealistic Ethiopia" sounds like something you'd hear in a Bond film (or Archer). Dramatic atmosphere, mysterious strings and sax, fitting music for a spy I think. Nothing super crazy but that's ok, because "Crystal Blue" is just a nod to 60's mod rock and surf rock, while "Jungle Warfare" is a death metal brawl and "Bodyslam" is basically Rage Against The Machine meets Beastie Boys meets WWE. It's basically a song you'd walk out to if you were a pro wrestler and you're just ready to kick ass everywhere. The closing track "At Least We Have Today" is a throwaway atmospheric ballad of sorts that's like 2 minutes long with a hidden track halfway through (even though it's basically part 2 of the same song with like two minutes of silence for some reason).

So it is as good as "Buck Fever"? Certainly not, it doesn't span the genre catalog as much and it's a bit more calm and restrained than its schizophrenic predecessors. But because of that, the songs feel even more like normal songs. Each song has its own identity. Sure, you can knock it for not being original, but what's the point. When you're a band that has set its standards so high like this, there's only so many genres, sounds and influences you can add to your repertoire. That's why I like the 60's homage "Crystal Blue", the mosh-pit inducing "Bodyslam" and the a capella "Dubway". It's a series of new and fresh sounds added to their typical menagerie of eastern dance rhythms with jazz and death metal chords.

Say what you want. It ain't no "Buck Fever", but it's still even more polished and focused. Each song has a stand alone identity that's memorable and, like any Estradasphere album, you'll never hear anything like this from any other artist anywhere (unless it's a John Whooley side project).

(side note: check out the Santa Cruz All Stars on the internet Archive, Whooley joins guys from STS9 and Disco Biscuits among others any played only 7 shows with completely unrehearsed improvised jams, they're awesome. They even had an actual DJ scratching away).

 Buck Fever by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2001
4.23 | 54 ratings

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Buck Fever
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

5 stars You ever play those theoretical games? You know, if you were stuck on an island and had only one thing to eat, or could have one thing to pass the time with, or if you could only have 4 albums to listen to, what would those things be?

As a fan of so much music and so many genres, picking a Mount Rushmore of prog albums, let alone albums of any genre, is a daunting task, yet if I had to take 4 for a Mount Rushmore, give me Dream Theater's "Octivarium", Pink Floyd's "Animals", Mars Volta's "Frances the Mute" and this album.

Yes, I'm excluding a ton of great records (I'd be smuggling "Court of the Crimson King" onto the boat before they dropped me off), but I chose these four simply for the variety. I get classic psychedelic perfection from "Animals", modern prog metal done right with "Octivarium", technical schizophrenia with a latin twist with "Frances the Mute".

And for every other genre under the sun rolled into a cartoonish atom bomb-like package that puts a smile on my face every time, give me Estradasphere's Buck Fever".

The first album from this outfit is enough to turn heads, what with their usage of middle eastern and eastern European motifs, along with jazz, death metal and video game sounds, but it was more of a rough draft than a final essay, if you know what I mean. There's definitely room for improvement, improvement which pulls through in spades on this record. This record, unlike "It's Understood" is built around a theme of, you guessed it, hunting. There is a story being told here, somewhere, but honestly it's not necessary. The instrumental performance alone carries this entire record, and the absolute enormity of different textures, sounds and genres rolled together here is mind boggling, not just the amount of different sounds, but the way each sound coalesces together in a neatly rolled package.

"Buck Fever" begins with a sort homage to a classic 50s-60s pop ballad before it jumps into the kind of haunted rockabilly surf rock you'd hear in an Addams Family cartoon or something Halloween related. Jason Schimmel has such a great guitar tone that leaves an impression very few guitarists can do, and with John Whooley wailing away on that sax of his, it's such a unique song with a dramatic soundtrack orchestra blitzing away behind the band. With a dramatic introduction like that, you know you've popped the top on something special here.

"The Dapper Bandits" continues this sort of classic movie soundtrack-inspired feel with a twisted waltz of sorts before the music breaks out into their trademark middle eastern inspired dance moves. There's considerably less jazz influenced motifs here, but you do get some funky interchangeable passages along with the first semblances of what I call the "detective" sound (you know, when the guitar makes that 'wakka-diga wakka-diga' sound when the detective walks into the room and takes his shades off in dramatic fashion while staring seriously at the camera during the TV promo? Nope, just me? Ok then...) before their eerie death metal drone fades the song out into nothing, foreshadowing the equally dark and heavy "Silent Elk of Yesterday", echoing bands like Enslaved and Insomnium. And, as Estradasphere tradition, after some dark and morbid sounding tunes, they throw in a 45 second homage to Super Mario Bros. on "Crag Lake" to put that smile back on your face.

"Meteorite Showers" is where things get wild and wacky. Within the first minute alone you get a groovy pop rock beat underneath a Russian dance sounding motif, a brief cartoon montage, a 70's dance spoof and crunching death metal riffs. This is just an ever changing kaleidoscope of genres, textures sounds and rhythms. It transitions to a soft ballad to polka to dramatic soundtrack rock to a Southside Johnny meets bubblegum pop bit. A brief silence allows a montage of sounds to build up before the introductory dance theme returns before the band waltz to a soft conclusion.

"The Bounty Hunter" just exudes cool. That jazzy intro guitar, some dramatic outbursts and some funky beats make this a really cool tune before the middle eastern and eastern european dances come in. Some brief heavy chords make their appearance before the tune turns decidedly latin. After some drum heavy grooves, the song once again returns to its opening theme (a recurring format throughout this album) before the band overlays death metal chords overtop before finishing with a funky disco flourish! Whew.

Those two tracks were a bit overwhelming, but don't worry, because "Super Buck II" is here to save the day! In essence, it's basically a swing cover of the Super Mario Bros. theme (another recurring feature on Estradasphere albums), and a damn good cover at that, featuring a funky upright bass solo.

Another hefty track follows in "Millennium Child", a song that begins with a wonderful vocal feature before a furious double bass drum assault joins in underneath. Two minutes in, a funky metal riff powers through trading off with a samba esque rhythm led by Whooley's sax. Also featured is a arena rock esque spoof, that detective guitar sound again, a killer Schimmel guitar solo, more Whooley amazingness and a brief spoof of a hair metal riff that I can't remember that's going to drive me nuts now, dammit.

Up next is a sequence of tracks that never fails to amaze me every time. "Trampoline Klan" is another video game inspired chip tune piece that fills about a minute of time before the obligatory "hunting skit" returns (as it does at the end of most tracks throughout this album) which then transitions into 14 seconds of pure and actual grindcore in "Burnt Corpse" (no, I'm not joking, it's about as close to grindcore as you can get) before it goes straight into the jazzy "Rise n' Shine" that then transitions into a funky tropical jazz pattern that closes out the sequence with some distortion added to the guitars before the band loops back to the opening theme. How bands do you know that transition from chiptune to grindcore to jazz in 4 minutes?

"Bride of the Buck" is a brief cartoony skit talking about the deer that's being hunted (at least I think that's what's happening, I'm not paying attention at this point), before "A Very Intense Battle" starts with very intense distorted chords and screeching strings. This is without a doubt the heaviest track Estradasphere made (I assume at this point in the story [if there really is one] is a massive bloody battle between the evil hunter Redcoats and the Arnold Bucksenegger of the Dearcoat tribe, defending his land from the evil space invaders. Sorry, I think I'm rambling here). Midway, a challenger appears! Tribal elements from Native American cultures, as well as dramatic symphonic elements and just a lot of noise.

Oh, and because we heard a dark, morbid track, the obligatory video game song follows, only this time "Green Hill" spoofs the Sonic series as opposed to the traditional Super Mario Bros (kudos to the pause sound effect as the gamer stops to eat some chips, as well as the game freezing and the player removing the cartridge to blow the dust from it. The inner gamer in me approves).

"Feed Your Mama's Meter" takes the standard Estradasphere recipe of funky rhythms with eastern elements and throws a techno remix overtop it all along with some disco elements while "What Deers May Come" is like an atmospheric outro that you'd hear in a dramatic video game campaign.

Whew, that's a lot of typing, because there's a lot to type about. That's how you can tell an album is good, when there's so much to talk about. When an album is average or mediocre, you're straining to find something interesting to talk about. There's just so much in this album that each listen introduces something new that you probably missed last time. Of course, the biggest thing is just the fluidity of which this band transitions from genre to genre to musical element after musical element, not to mention the fact that these songs feel like songs now and not like ditties they threw together and then ruined by screaming incessantly and throwing noise together for no reason (see "D(b) Hell" off "It's Understood").

Above all, it's listenable. It's so groundbreaking in terms of the genres and instruments implemented that not only is the musicality so mind blowing and awe inspiring, but it's polished enough that it makes you go back and listen to it again and again, because there's simply nothing else like it in the world, and there never will be. A gem of a gem if there ever was one.

 It's Understood by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2000
4.05 | 57 ratings

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It's Understood
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

4 stars There must be a reason I haven't reviewed the discography of Estradasphere. I believe for a time the band didn't have a page on this site.

Yeah, that had to have been the reason, because there is no excuse not to give these guys a listen.

There are two key factors I always use to grade prog albums: innovation and accessibility. Sure, prog music isn't written to hit the billboard charts, but no one is going to listen to Karlheinz Stockhausen's music because it's got a catchy chorus. I've played and listened to many contemporary pieces in college, and although musically and technically they're groundbreaking pieces, once you hear them once, you're not likely going to want to hear them again in the near future. So if you're going to do prog right, make sure its prog you want to come back to over and over again.

That's why the Beatles shook the world with "Sgt. Pepper", each song had a different texture or culture or influence that broke the norm, but each one was catchy and memorable. It completely rewrote the possibility of what music can achieve. From psychedellic, to classic British marching bands to raga to circus music to teary soundtrack string quartets, nearly every musical influence under the sun could be found on that album. The same of which can be said of Estradasphere's albums.

Which is why even during its (relatively) brief tenure, Estradasphere is on of the greatest prog outfits to walk this planet. Bar none.

What other band incporates elements of middle eastern and Turkish music with jazz, surf rock, death metal and video game chip tune music, and actually gets you coming back to listen to it over and over again? Go ahead, I'll wait. In the meantime, I'll wax poetic on their debut album.

Right away, the band comes in with a bang with their 19 minute colossus "Hunger Strike" (the longest song off any of their albums btw). Immediately the Turkish/middle eastern elements come in with Timb Harris's violin, but for the most part this track is very jazz oriented, with multiple sections for each instrumentalist to strut their stuff, like a cool jazz guitar solo by Jason Schimmel that segues into a cool funky flamenco groove. John Whooley's sax is ever present and rips like no one else. Throw in a few seconds of banjo and a few seconds of spastic grindcore beats and you've got yourself a winner. To cool you off after that monstrosity, "Cloud Land" takes you on a 1 minute time capsule back to your Super Mario Bros. playing days (because let's face it, everyone played one of those games at least once).

"The Transformation" is a bit looser with the influences. It's a bit funkier, perhaps even livelier than "Hunger Strike" at times, it's jazzier, it's got cuts of classic 50's soundtrack influences, and even breaks out into full out swing, capping off with a phenomenal display of drums by Dave Murray to close out the song.

The lengthy titled "Dance of Tosho and Slavi / Randy's Desert Adventure" once again goes cultural on us, this time veering more towards Jewish and Greek influences before cutting into early Mastodon-ish metal, verging on full on blastbeats with Whooley wailing and screeching away on the sax like it was a Mars Volta song. This is just loud and busy. It erupts into a flurry of screaming and growling before Whooley's sax fades into a soft, jazz-rock interlude before the metal chords kick in again in a more controlled march before the song closes with a reprise of the opening Jewish/Greek theme.

In case you got tired of all the middle eastern or foreign influences, "The Trials and Tribulations of Parking On Your Front Lawn" goes full bluegrass. Yes. Bluegrass. With some sax, because why the hell not? Oh, and some death metal. For like 30 seconds. Because again, why the hell not? (Sidebar: Schimmel SHREDS the banjo)

Sure, there are some cuts here and there that are very abrupt, but the songs are still listenable, still melodic. Ok, if you're not a big fan of death metal, you may get turned off a bit, but there's no denying the fact that a) these guys are all talented as hell and b) nothing you've ever heard sounds like this and nothing even remotely comes close. "The Princes" is a quick dance of sorts, "Los Dias Sin Dias" is a Spanish influenced ballad, "XQuiQ" is another middle eastern groove with a bit of a side-step kind of beat, while "Hunnahpu and Xbalanque" continues the trend with a banjo lead. I like to consider these four tracks all part of a four movement suite as they all share the same musical influences and for the most part segue nicely into each other.

"Spreading The Disease" is the only iffy one of the lot. It's basically a death metal track build around a sort of yogi meditative thing, although I think lyrically it underpins more religious elements and possibly even hints at rape? It constantly segues between meditative music and death metal breakdown and there's no real synergy or smooth transitions, and overall just feels very uncomfortable to listen to, and that's ok because it's followed by "Planet Sparkle/Court Yard Battle 1", so the happy video game vibes come back and everything's ok! Yay!

This phenomenal groundbreaking album concludes with the second monstrosity "D(b) Hell", clocking in at around 12 minutes, and once again roots around middle eastern dance traditions with some loose jazz improv. Overall it's quieter than "Hunger Strike", and it ends with just annoying noises and screams by the band members and random audience applause thrown in at the end.

So yes, it has its flaws, yes, it's not for everyone, and no, I didn't give it a 5 star despite my raving about it because of these little foibles. It's the abrupt transitions into death metal breakdowns and random noises and clips they throw in that just throw off the whole momentum. That said, it is their first album, and it's more middle eastern/turkish heavy than say "Buck Fever", but it's still the groundwork for an incredible band that released 4 albums in only 6 years. It's an outlier in the world of prog music, groundbreaking musically and culturally, but still listenable, and begs you to come back again and again to hear something new you missed last listen.

4.5

 Buck Fever by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2001
4.23 | 54 ratings

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Buck Fever
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars Out of all the bands to find Mr Bungle as the primary influence in their genre skipping schizoid madness to making music, perhaps none was more successful in its endeavors than the Santa Cruz, CA based ESTRADASPHERE and after the band's debut "It's Understood," the band returned the very next year to unleash its second electric cauldron of every genre and the kitchen sink in the form of BUCK FEVER. And if the comparisons to Bungle and its offspring project Secret Chiefs 3 weren't already apparent then the production help of Trey Spruance on this sophomore album will only cement the connection but after all several members had already played with Spruance so the family reunion continues.

The debut album already displayed a knack for unbridled ferocity in genre skipping, fusion blending and the drop of the hat schizoid shifts from relaxing massage music to death metal and everywhere in between. BUCK FEVER continues all of this and takes it all even further by covering several styles of jazz, klezmer, surf rock, doo-wop, chiptune video game music, disco, funk, avant-prog and three styles of metal: black, death and grindcore. The entire album is the genre purists nightmare come true and the most representative successor of the Bungle legacy after that band's retirement in 2000. The band who plays on BUCK FEVER consists of only five musicians but between them they cover a whopping 40 plus instruments which gives this album a rather busy sound.

It all starts off with a title track that that alone covers many ground but remains in a 60s sort of surf rock mode with Bungle's "California" album as a prime source of inspiration with catchy booty shaking dance grooves, kitschy 60s pop charm and a horn section that's on fire during the uptempo swings. The tracks vary considerably as "The Dapper Bandits" jumps into Balkan gypsy jazz number but finds itself wending and winding through jittery progressive time signature shifts and even a polka section. The next track is one of my favorites, the atmospheric black metal "The Silent Elk of Yesterday," with haunting female vocals and arpeggiated psychedelic guitars leading in the melodic blasts of heavy guitar riffs. It's more like a mix of black, alternative and classic 80s metal with sizzling solos and eerie ambience.

After the black metal bombast, "Crag Lake" is a cute little 8-bit chiptune video game track that reminds me of Frogger as the little froggie hopped up the lily pads to get to the other side. "Meteor Showers" jumps back into a very experimental Balkan gypsy jazz / polka track but also mixes in some metal, chiptune and ska but ends as a 60s Baroque pop track in the vein of the Beach Boys complete with excellent harmonies by many of the members along with an authentic sax solo. These guys can really pull it all off effortlessly. "The Bounty Hunter" is another jazzy Balkan folk track, "Super Buck ii" is a lounge jazz cover of the Super Mario Bros 2 video game theme and a damn good cover as well! "Millennium Child" reminds me of the Mike Patton ballads on the Bungle "California" album except Dave Murray dishes out blastbeats most of the duration.

"Trampoline Klan" is yet another chiptune track. "Burnt Corpse" is a very short burst of brutal death metal immediately followed by another cheery 30s jazz styled number in "Rise N Shine." "Bride of the Buck" has a spoken narration over new age keyboards and my vote for the worst track on the album. "A Very Intense Battle" is the longest track on the album at 8:40 and starts off with a heavy muddled mix of keyboards, guitars, bass and drums and some spoken narrative in the background. It evolves into a grindcore / death metal hybrid with atmospheric keyboards and progressive time signatures zigzagging every now and again. As the title suggests, it is indeed very intense. "Green Hill" is another chiptune track and at this point one too many. In fact by the time i get to this part of the album it feels too long as neither the disco fueled gypsy jazz number "Feed Your Mama's Meter" nor the finale "What Deers May Come" with a silly skit about the theme seem like filler.

Overall ESTRADASPHERE cranked out an excellent followup as they navigated through the genre list like pros but the repetition of certain ideas ruin the surprise factor and the length of the album should've been trimmed to around 45 minutes and this would've been a much more effective experience but for the most part this is quite the enjoyable slice of Bungle fever taken into the next century and proves that this band has all the chops and sense of humor to pull it off however due to the album's inconsistency in no way dethrones the Bunglers from their perch as quirkiest prog artist since Zappa. This will surely not appeal to everyone since you have to be able to hang with the myriad genres that are juggled but for those of us who love left field twists and turns to who knows where then you can't go wrong with ESTRADASPHERE and BUCK FEVER is a worthy successor to the eclectic wild ride of the debut.

 Palace Of Mirrors by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2006
4.25 | 101 ratings

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Palace Of Mirrors
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by raigor

5 stars ESTRADASPHERE was an experimental-rock band formed in Santa Cruz, CA in 1998. The band, which in its last incarnation was based in Seattle, WA consisted of six multi-instrumentalists from a variety of musical backgrounds trained in disciplines ranging from Classical music and Jazz to Progressive Rock and Heavy Metal. The band is on 'a permanent hiatus' since 2010.

"Palace of Mirrors", which was released in 2006 through The End Records, is the fifth and final full-length album by the band. Beyond six core band-members, the brass section, two string quartets, the mail choir, and other thirteen auxiliary musicians were involved in its creation. The album presents 13 all instrumental compositions clocking in at over 50 minutes, and ranging from strictly organized, orchestrated pieces to weird and obscured experimental soundscapes. In fact, listening 'Palace of Mirrors' is like studying sophisticated ornaments, whose separate elements and details stylistically correlate Contemporary Classical music, Latin, Balkan, Greek and Gypsy music, Surf and Funk, Chanson Pop and RIO, Prog-Rock and Jazz-Fusion, Avant-Metal, Dark Ambient, Post-Rock, Cinematic Rock, etc. (yes, the musicians had all good reasons to proclaim themselves inventors of bizarre styles such as Spaghetti Eastern, Romanian Gypsy-Metal, or Bulgarian Surf). Everything over here is conceived and performed with incredible imagination, taste, aesthetic, artistry, and humor making "Palace of Mirrors" one of the most listenable and enjoyable Estradasphere's album.

Overall, this is nothing short of a masterpiece, a must have for those who are interested in truly creative, deviant, and inventive Rock music!

 Buck Fever by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2001
4.23 | 54 ratings

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Buck Fever
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Luqueasaur

4 stars Talk about eclectism: 8/10

ESTRADASPHERE is a side-project of musicians from SECRET CHIEFS 3 which in turn was originally a side-project (but now permanent) of Trey Spruance from MR BUNGLE. The only similarity on the three bands though is that they all are avant-garde and share somewhat mutual musicians because their approach on experimental music differ completely.

The experimental eminence of ESTRADASPHERE lies on their lack of cohesion, or "innovative songwriting and structuring" if you like fancy definitions, but NOT on inaccessible and difficult Frankenstein as say grandpa MR BUNGLE builds. This characteristic (approachability) was inherited (and improved) from daddy SECRET CHIEFS 3. Therefore, it's pretty accessible. A pleasant surprise.

The songs in BUCK FEVER, as said, are fragmented and disjoint (uncoherent), they present various sections all of which demonstrate different genres which dynamically alters between the vast arrays of styles within the multi- instrumentalist six musicians' grasp. In a moment, they might be playing jazzy bossa nova, moving right after to circus music and then to symphonic funk. There are also generous doses of black metal (although they are isolated in their own tracks, they don't interact with the multi-stylistical tracks) and rather humorous video game 8-bit songs (and a jazz swing cover of Super Mario Bros 2's theme!).

They could develop their ideas freely, as apparently money was not an issue: not only the record has great quality but also there is a huge assortment of multiethnic instruments, ranging from (Australian) Aboriginal horns to African percussions. I find the variety refreshing, the gigantic amount of things they use guarantee unique multiplicity of sounds. However, I need to acknowledge they have a clear preference for brass instruments, as they are nigh omnipresent and peppers almost every song.

For as much there is a constant shift with countless styles, ESTRADASPHERE does present moments with their unique sound, a syncretism of jazz (pre-bop? Post-bop? Hard-bop? Something bop, I guess), symphonic brass and a delicious funky slappy electric guitar.

Worth mentioning is the concept, blurred between ironic appraisal and implicit criticism of ole 'Murican idolatry of hunting. Buck fever is actually a term for Americans hell-bent on killing every single horned ruminant mammal (deer) within their vicinities' temperate woods. I say the concept is difficult to understand because there are moments that can be identified as criticism but also lapses of sarcasm, and it begs the question: are they indeed detractors or just jesting around? Personally, I feel that they express their humorous, satirical view on this issue through their jazz/rock tracks, whereas their thoughtful ecologist opinions are expressed in the black metal ones.

Back to the music. I will be honest. The first time I listened to their album I went to delirium. The musicianship is indeed spectacular, the copious amounts of intertwined layers that confers enthusiasm, the brassy overload, the symphonic black metal pieces? I was betting my buttons this would be a favorite of mine. Sadly, it isn't: 72 minutes is perhaps too long for me. After a while, the ecstatic boot loses adrenaline and ESTRADASPHERE's hitherto absurd deliciousness vanishes. Well, I still think them of proficient experimental (jazz) musicians, but not as brave genre voyagers as I used to.

The reason why I still highly regard (and rate) this album, though, is that its highlights are indeed worth highlighting. It begins with the dystopian and environmentalist The Silent Elk of Yesterday. Through mighty symphonies that build a dark atmosphere, female soprano singings and melodic black metal riffs, the band leaves its dystopian thoughts on the overly predatory behavior of men. Happily, there's none of that "lo-fi" and "anti-technical" bs common to black metal, so don't be afraid of sh***y brutality. Sweet guitar solo. I recommend watching the music video, the propositional (satirical, most likely) cheesiness of black metal tropes such as evil Satanic men singing in boreal forests and solos so melodic the guitarist literally is set ablaze. "The deer shoot back" is the emblematic line that characterizes the song.

Meteorite Showers is a delicious retro track that features a swing-revival core (sprinkled with various midsections from bossa nova to circus music) that'll probably stick in your mind (it did on mine), followed by a doo- wop one. The doo-wop is state-of-art: rhythm, vocal harmonies, 50s American accent, singing style, upright bass solo, all done terrifically.

The Bounty Hunter is where their Latin jazz excels. Using it as core, there are various different styles structured upon it, all of them sound fantastic when syncretized.

A Very Intense Battle is the lo-fi evil black metal tool in the shed, atmospheric, virulent, and very intense. What Deers May Come is a meditative, atmospheric Balkanic traditional folk music. This is where both the didjeridu (Australian horn) and djembe (African percussion) joins several other instruments to create the resonating ambience.

There is almost eight instruments for every musician and I could identify at least nine genres here. In conclusion, there is a considerable collection of diversity in BUCK FEVER, all played surprisingly well. Not for the faint of heart, lovers of slow tempo, or stillness adorers. Instead, I recommend for anyone who wants to listen to new, different stuff - stuff that morphs into completely different shapes repeatedly, and people who want to get into Avant-prog without hopping into stuff way too weird right away. The album is available on YouTube for anyone who wants to do test-drive.

 It's Understood by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2000
4.05 | 57 ratings

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It's Understood
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars ESTRADASPHERE was formed in 1998 in Santa Cruz, CA and a part of the extended Mr Bungle family as the band was formed by members of Trey Spruance's (at the time) side project Secret Chiefs 3. This musical ensemble was founded by violinist and trumpet player Timba Harris and guitarist / banjoist Jason Schimmel of SC3 fame along with drummer Dave Murray. On their debut release IT'S UNDERSTOOD they take the Mr Bungle, Frank Zappa and John Zorn approach of applying technical wizardry, healthy genre shuffling and frenetic instrumental workouts that created mind-bending fusion styles such as "Bulgarian Surf", "Romanian Gypsy- Metal", and "Spaghetti Eastern" and sounded like "Psychedelic-Sci-fi", "Gypsy-Metal-Jazz" and "Epic-Cinema-Thon," as described by the band itself.

Stylistically ESTRADASPHERE is somewhat similar to Secret Chiefs 3 from which they sprang forth only whereas SC3 used Middle Eastern music and Surf Rock as their template to experiment upon, ESTRADASPHERE uses the violin saturated styles of Balkan gypsy music and Klezmer as their foundation. That means generally speaking they begin a track with an energetic violin led outburst of rhythmic gypsy sounds that ride down the Mr Bungle highway as they genre skip and incorporate everything from bluegrass and klezmer to death metal and video game chiptune. Zappa influences are abundant with whimsical titles ("The Trials And Tribulations Of Parking On Your Front Lawn") and hilarious musical contradictions ("Danse Of Tosho And Slavi / Randy's Desert Adventure") where frenetic death metal can sit side by side with placid slowed down classical violin solos. Same goes for the death metal meets yoga meditation chant on "Spreading The Disease" which finds evil sounding metal riffs alternating with relaxing soccer mom meditation class instructions!

"The Transformation" and "Planet Sparkle / Court Yard Battle 1" both find use for cleverly crafted use of classic old school video game music. The album is bookended by two monster tracks with the opener "Hunger Strike" clocking in at 19 minutes and 30 seconds. Both are based in the same Balkan gypsy folk music but deviate from their belying intros manyfold and seemingly leave no genre stone unturned in their wake and if that weren't enough ESTRADASPHERE which is a band of highly trained virtuosos is quite playful in creating some of the most sophisticated and convoluted progressive rock time signature changes that never sound forced and always succeed in blowing the mind.

ESTRADASPHERE comes off much like Secret Chiefs 3 in their focus on the ethnic elements but is more adventurous and therefore seems a bit like a more refined and less schizophrenic version of Mr Bungle so in effect, the perfect extended family member of one of the most creative branches in the experimental rock universe. IT'S UNDERSTOOD is a highly enjoyable debut and one of my favorites in the band's canon. It is well-paced with the disparate elements utilized for maximum effect while incorporating strong ethnically based hooks that often make you think you've crashed some sort of alternative music festival in Bosnia & Herzegovina or something! Very few musicians could pull off these musical gymnastics with such grace and precision but the members of ESTRADASPHERE truly conjured up some highly addictive musicomania. Another one that will surely please all the adventurous listeners out there.

 Quadropus by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2003
3.32 | 38 ratings

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Quadropus
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

3 stars Here is the perfect example of a band that i really want to like more but they just lack an original edge to put them over the top for me. I immediately get that dejŠ vous feeling with the first track "Mekapses Yitonisa" which immediately puts me squarely in Middle Eastern influenced rock done much better by the Secret Chiefs 3. The fact is i've heard of this band for a long time and sampled a few tracks online and never been blown away but decided to take the plunge having found this fourth album QUADROPUS by ESTRADASPHERE at a ridiculously reasonable price at my local used music store. OK, so i took the plunge.

What i have found is that they fit perfectly on the Web Of Mimicry label for "mimicry' is really what they are all about except that unlike the bands they worship most, namely Mike Patton led Faith No More and Secret Chiefs 3, their influences are a little too pronounced on their sleeves and not weaved together in a brilliant manner. The frustration of this album is that everything is played extremely well and this is a very wonderful listen for every track takes you on a totally different musical journey, it's just that they don't manage to tie it together as beautifully as Mr Bungle and their other offshoots.

The second track actually brings The Manhattan Transfer to mind, while the third track "King Krab Battle" once again uses the SC3 as a template. Track four "Speck" follows the same SS3 although this template is translated into a Balkan Gypsy sound with outstanding instrumental interactions. "Hardball" is the longest track and excels at expanding the Balkan Gypsy sound into nooks and crannies of musicality hitherto unforeseen in the native culture of its origins but once again, this track sounds like an exact pathway that the SC3 would have conjured up.

At the end of the album we get a total change with "Crystal Blue" being a surf rock track that sounds like a hardcore Beach Boys song of the modern age. "Jungle Warfare" is an industrial death metal song that incorporates a nice sax solo and the finale "At Least We'd Have Today" finds the band doing their best Rage Against The Machine impression with some metal rap.

While i find everything on this album extraordinarily played and executed, i find zilch on this album to be very original. There are fine nuances of originality like jazz inclusions on board but each track just exemplifies styles of other artists that have been done much better by the original inventors. Having said that this is not an unpleasant album to listen to per se, but given the copycat approach displayed here i just can't give this album more than 3 stars. I realize that the SC3 similarities are because several members play in both bands but this isn't a satellite band of SC3 and i just wish they would create a distinct band sound since this is a different band.

 Palace Of Mirrors by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2006
4.25 | 101 ratings

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Palace Of Mirrors
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Sinusoid
Prog Reviewer

3 stars The RIO/Avant-Prog genre has a vast canvas of artists from a broad range of influences. Therefore, it can be difficult for a band to really step out as a unique entity within this very music- driven genre. Estradasphere doesn't quite hit the mark that I have come to expect from this sub- genre.

My basic understanding of this band is if French TV replaced their Cantebury sound with that of metal and Eastern European classical music. Kind of a strange brew of styles considering that when the metal, surf, gypsy and classical do merge, the sound is excellent and ''Colossal Risk'', ''The Return'' and ''Corporate Merger'' pull the style bending technique quite well. The song lengths are also kept at a premium meaning that many have time to develop and few overstay their welcome (the longest song is just past eight minutes). The muscle of PALACE OF MIRRORS comes from violinist Timb Harris as he weaves from beautiful classic (title track) to foot-stomping ballroom music (''Smuggled Mutation'') all with a technical flair that's to be expected from a violin prominent in prog music.

Sadly, I cannot grasp PALACE OF MIRRORS as a whole album mainly in that there isn't one cohesive style. ''Smuggled Mutation'' is a fine country-influenced number, but the sudden shifting of styles ends up serving the album like ''Anyone's Daughter'' from Deep Purple's FIREBALL album; a more country-influenced tune just comes out of nowhere. Keeping the overall cohesion in mind, you sometimes get a classic song, then a surf-jazz, then a surf-metal song, all within an Estradasphere sound (I CAN tell that the band is aiming for a particular sound) but enough of a shift to knock the equilibrium of PALACE OF MIRRORS out of line. And the Big-Lipped Alligator Award has to go to ''The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold'', a four-minute-long segue that ploys with Nintendo sounding keyboards.

Estradasphere never quite show me how much different they are compared to other RIO bands, so PALACE OF MIRRORS really doesn't stick out in terms of overall achievement. I give them credit for bringing in the shamisen prominently on ''Those Who Know?'', the album's best track. Definitely for the hardcore avant-prog fans, and I can almost get feeling behind the music, but not quite.

Thanks to useful_idiot for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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