Esoteric Antenna 2020
Remembering the future, venerated proggers revisit their past to map out fresh ventures.
Roey Albrighton’s passing in 2016 seemed to have robbed his ensemble from further exploration of cosmic routes, although those well-versed in this combo’s history could recall a period when the guitarist wasn’t part of it, so possibilities remained endless. The group’s German fraction – with the late artist’s son in the line-up – lacked authenticity, though, so in order to carry on the 50-year-long legacy, NEKTAR’s original drummer Ron Howden, who had returned to the fold almost two decades ago, rounded up not only the band’s old bassist Derek Moore and his colleague Randy Dembo but also Mick Brockett, whose visuals accompanied their performances from the inception, and six-stringer Ryche Chlanda who briefly joined the ranks in 1978 – whence most of the pieces on “The Other Side” emerged. Played in concert yet never taken to the studio back in the day, these receive a new lease of life now, linking classic era to the present in ways which many a younger collective would find unimaginable.
Their energy must expunge any tinge of nostalgia. The veterans let rip in the sonic space where mortality is a mere concept that stages the searing defiance of “I’m On Fire” and allows memorable melodies roll off tighly woven arrangements all the way to the slightly superficial, if life-affirming, uplift of “Y Cant I B More Like U” – through the epic coupling of a slide-caressed pop song “Love Is” and the ever-expansive title track, the record’s chamber-tinctured nocturnal delight. As heavy riffs get interspersed with loose fragments to create intense ripple which will ignite the soulful "SkyWriter" and outline the ensemble’s romantic mindset, Kendall Scott’s piano and organ ground these vibrant paintings, while Roye’s lyrical licks color the intro to “Devil’s Door”: the reveal of the band’s patented funk attack – dipped, as usual, in the art-rock filigree.
There’s an immense, abyss-esque depth to “Drifting” that’s shattered once simple strum becomes robust, contrasting the out-there vocals and ethereal synthesizers, and there’s a celestial acoustic lace wrapped around the faux-orchestral “Look Through Me”: the album’s vulnerable focus. 2013’s "Time Machine" may have suggested such a trip, yet “On The Other Side” is a whole new dimension in the ensemble’s catalogue. From here on, with the temporal loop closed, the only way is onward.