“There are two kinds of fools. One says, “This is old, and therefore good.” And one says, ” This is new, and therefore better.” John Brunner, The Shockwave Rider
There won’t be comets crashing all around, no great lick of a sun’s flare nor a great flash of nuclear fission set to rend our atmosphere into collapse, there won’t be a hundred years long war to cloud the air with the smoke of burning bodies and fossil fuel’s sabotaged fonts. There will be no glorious warrior death for humanity enough to warrant any such miserable romancing of the end. There will be no grand spaceship escape or tunnel underground to wait out the rebirth of the Earth’s poisoned soul, only the slow and unbearable onset of hapless and hopelessly complacent denial-fiending we’ve experienced over the course of the last few years wherein merchants of death-en-masse’s profitable constriction becomes a new normative low, comfortably sinking more into destitution and servitude month over month. Mankind will eventually simply set down in place, set weary skull into each palm and quietly resign to a fetal balling-up under the stress of poisonous environmental collapse. The few who cling to hope among us are simply waiting for someone else to do the work, anyhow. San Diego, California-based progressive psychedelic rock trio Birth manifest an introspective examination of the macrocosm of nature, technology, and human behavior as these collectively degrading elements represent tandem collapse of society and environment. ‘Born‘ is not a self-involved statement of a project sorceled into being out of hardship but a very direct meditation upon impermanence, leaving the other half of the equation, Death, up to the logic of the listener.
You’re gonna get hung-up on it, man. Lost. — Since the initial free download of ‘Birth‘ now appears to have been about half of the full-length experience verbatim and sits off the digital shelf at the moment, the search for meaning and precedence will inevitably find us looking to past works for foundation. This might end up being a blurring brushstroke, a distraction from the main event in the long run but the context is damned impressive when we consider the varietal body of work from the musicians involved. Approaching Birth‘s debut with the preface of some of the members’ previous spiritual predecessorship in Astra is a double-edged sword in the sense that yes, these are (some of) the same musicians involved in creating a similarly intoxicating mode of progressive psychedelic rock aspect yet it doesn’t necessarily build the right expectation, nor does ‘Born‘ read as a set of songs from the same headspace or intent; Expect a touch more late 60’s heavy blues, more immediately struck theatric hooks, and glorious feature of sublimely unfettered showmanship on guitar and electric piano performances with -none- of the epic longform stretches of build up, which the very popular Astra were known for. Not every second of the full listen is comparatively rousing in its conjure, they are a bit more to the point with the heavier stuff early on and sleepier when things lean celestial, so, you can set your copy of ‘The Weirding‘ aside and stop expecting a revival of that band.
Without Richard Vaughn, whom was a third dimensional aspect of the Silver Sunshine/Astra sound from what I gather, the duo of Conor Riley and Brian Ellis appears to be aimed the U.K.’s still maturing near-second generation era progressive rock sound, somber in a bluesy sort of way but still very much eating at the early 70’s diner of ambitious wonderment incarnate in shaping their core conceit, and in the process of doing so they go bit more heavy psychedelic rock -and- spaced-out, gloomy prog-rock than Astra ever had. In this sense we can loosen up on the obvious comparisons to pre-‘Relayer‘ Yes and Armageddon‘s self-titled record without setting them aside, you’ve got myriad groups like Wobbler whom fully go there in an inspired way nowadays anyhow. This might seem like a bit of a contradiction with reality once you’ve heard lead single “For Yesterday” paired with the spaced, odd-time tension of “Cosmic Tears” but ‘Born‘ simply has a different presence, a more direct line to throwback kitsch and synthesizer worship without trying to be future-past submerged stuff. Though I am aware this’ll all read as heady drivel parsing away deep expectations, that choppy reconsideration of any direct association with past works will likely be the typical listener’s reaction as they inevitably contextualize Birth as separate from Astra. The important thing is to sit back, knock it off and let the theatric Crimson-ian ebb of the record (see: “Long Way Down”) do its thing and get to the point on its own time.
Opener “Born” and its striking into simple riff/organ doubled rhythm immediately read to me as something like Atomic Rooster‘s “Vug”, that era of virtuosic electric piano and/or Hammond organ grinding minus the ‘tonk of Crane‘s rhythmic sensibilities. This turns out to be the wrong first impression all things considered, we’re not exactly in such an extroverted early Uriah Heep mood from the get go anyhow. The band right this wrong quickly with the suggestion of something a bit more moody, specifically the easier-going side of King Crimson‘s ‘Red‘, whereas my mind had been expecting a ‘Tarkus‘ sort of gig up front. We won’t necessarily hear this side of the band again until “Another Time” strikes back into it as a deep cut on Side B, so don’t read into the get-up of the opener too righteously.
The sleepy, easier drift of previously released singles “Descending Us” and “For Yesterday” are the bulk of the full listen’s vital statement both in terms of defining style and lyrical voice as Birth explore various synth/keyboard voicing in pair with drawn out swells of lead guitar and exasperated, occasionally folkish vocal cadence. “Descending Us” is more-or-less unmatched per its surroundings in terms of pulling together something soulful yet heavy psych in its trade-off of inspired verses and fiery guitar solos which peak in the last two minutes of the piece. “For Yesterday” is the major work done on ‘Born‘ to convince the listener of its viability and/or lasting value, an opus which showcases the cloudy run-on compositional space where Riley excels most and presents a very clear love for the exaggerative arc of peak prog rock songcraft. Eh, albeit a succinct one even at ~10 minutes, which depicts the soul lamenting its inevitable dissolve in relation to others, a peak moment either way. The song does however feel like it drones on without a third act, which we must assign to very worthy Side B starter “Cosmic Tears”.
See it as an intentional descent, a dissolution, a passage between mindset unto a darker new reality but I’d eventually find ‘Born‘ an in-quest of an original idiom that’d been difficult to expand as the songwriting process continued, what we experience is their working around a very persistent mood in order to shape a disparate narrative. What I’d imply therein is this sense that a second record from Birth will likely be entirely different, potentially a bit more on the emotional spectrum of the expressive, dread exhaling relief of closer “Long Way Down”. This’d end up being the most inspirational piece for my taste and in no small part due to it following the bustle of “Another Time”. Again, these songs feel like they were ripped from the same sessions as opener “Born” with a bit more severe twist on electric blues in their core statement which almost sounds like the band had transformed into themselves mid-album and wanted to stick with a running order that expressed this directly. The feeling is that of getting a bit lost, collapsing into torpor and waking up refreshed with a bit of a lingering dread in mind. Either that or I’m projecting the sullen arc of everyday life onto a very entertaining, retro-brained heavy rock record.
Though ‘Born‘ occasionally feels like it’d been salvaged from the band suddenly realizing “Hey, we’ve got something here. Now we need to do something.” and making timely statement out of it in terms of a release it nonetheless lands substantial and well in keeping with the best tradition of ambitious yet personal progressive rock. Though the sleepier shades of dread on this album are its most imaginative cerebrum, and surely the thing to emphasize for newcomers, the restless showmanship and yearning introspection found on Birth‘s debut ultimately sold it upon repeated listens. I’ll resign myself to hindsight and any further iteration to frame the experience in mind accordingly. A moderately high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Bad Omen Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||July 15th, 2022|
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