Talking Elephant 2023
Feed your head and let it loose: British mavens of electronic hippiedom take their trip to the masses.
Such terms as “ambient-dub” and “tribal house” may mean a lot when describing this ensemble’s studio oeuvre, yet when the Britons take to the stage all the stylistic markers fly out the window to land on some other planes of existential rapture and solidify to create proper space-rock, allowing ASTRALASIA’s performance at Glastonbury to establish their mystic credentials in a way the famous festival did for HAWKWIND back in the day. Preserving the band’s ever-shifting sonic pastiches that pay tribute to the late ’60s’ lysergic abandon, but presenting the resulting raves through freshly fashioned interfaces of electronic and acoustic passages, synthesizer wizard Marc Swordfish and his compadres weave improvised wines via partially familiar pieces. A few of the sprawling cosmic vistas hark back to the mid-’90s, only each one of the six numbers on display is transmogrified into extended wigouts to transfix the audience.
From the dynamically growing “Astralasia Intro Theme” – where organ waves crash upon guitar riffs – onwards, there’s rarely a moment in this mesmeric aural brew to catch one’s breath, especially once harmonica is woven into the rippling tapestry the other instruments carefully unravel. Thus, when Bill Forwell’s bass and Ryan Snow’s drums propel ivories’ vignettes to groovy delirium, and Laurence Collyer’s harp vies for room with Dave Smale’s six strings and Peter Pracownik’s slider, the points of no return outlined on “Turban” begin to loom large. Yes, points – for it’s impossible to see how all the melodic strands can be tied together before the sounds of “Seven Pointed Star” give the threads a well-rounded – here’s an oxymoron on the move – form in which various genres blend seamlessly. As Paul Chousmer’s keyboards instill the controlled madness with a jazzy vibe and Swordfish’s gizmos whoosh and throb against frequent bluesy jive and the occasional element of country, the flow and ebb of “Platform 6” feel difficult to resist, the cut’s Eastern flavor and funky aroma wafting above the insistent chug and frantic filigree of fretboard-polishing fingerwork.
And if the “Hashishin” offers an array of straighter, and heavier, dance-inducing rhythms interspersed with bits of toasting and vocal wailing, the septet’s crossing lines on the electronica-driven “Salvation Road” – the concert’s epic, effervescent, triumphant, freak-flag-flying finale – seem earth-shattering even on record. It’s a worthy-of-legend document destined to launch this ensemble into a new, higher orbit.