Picking bits ‘n’ pieces of their not-so-distant past, melodious Illinoiseniks create a fresh mosaic.
Out-takes are a testaments to any artist’s talent – a display of their quality control and knowing how to stop when rounding up a record – yet this is also a rare sign of consistency, if numbers which didn’t make the cut can be corralled together with new tracks, independent tunes and remixes to make a tapestry that’s an album unto itself. Thus, there’s nothing strange about “Strange Shores” except for a few familiar pieces sounding unfamiliar, but not too different from original template, and an unexpectedly logical flow of the dozen wordless songs’ cycle. As a result, even though those who followed the Chicagoan ensemble from the start and through "Voodoo Treatment" and "A Date With Destiny" will listen to what’s already ruled the waves via fresh ears.
However, while “Vodka Sonic (Techno Tonic)” seemed to have easily lent its belligerent groove to electronic beats and jungle rave to grow in scope and become large enough to be considered an arresting epic, complete with spoken cinematic lines, the reprise of “The Moldau” reveals gloriously nuanced sci-fi details in its brass-splashed funereal drift, and the “Twilight Version” of “Don’t Go Into The Woods” offers a movingly crepuscular experience, Jim Abrahams’ guitar and Jayson Slater’ bass weaving a thick cloth of adventurousness around the cosmic melodies, the atmospheric titular finale included. But whereas they release tension for the resonant, translucent twang of “O Holy Night” to feel festive and for “Icicle Park” to almost explode into space in this hymn’s wake, there’s no limit to the trio’s enthusiasm in their ebullient, exuberant covers of “Point Conception” and, more so, of “Tubular Bells” – driven by Marc Lockett’s drums, the Oldfield perennial has hardly seen a surf makeover, an exorcism of sorts, before.
Still, the album’s multilayered opener “Crystal Pistol” packs a punky punch with an equal force of nature until the stereo-busting “Rotation” distills the assault to a throbbing, mariachi-scented, filigree, and the retrofuturistic “Steppin’ Porpoise” picks up romantic slack to swing, in turns, wildly and reserved. Which is why the solemnity of “Escalation” is more than welcome, as it gives the record a tangible platform to twirl on. And on, and on – because returning to these shores should be not an option but, rather, a free, happy choice.