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Album Review

What Strange Beasts – ‘Starlight’s Castaways’ [Album Review]



Washington-based psychedelic prog-rock band What Strange Beasts releases their album, Starlight’s Castaways, a lengthy body of music encompassing 26 tracks.

According to drummer/vocalist Jonathan Maxwell, “We built this album around a space theme to reflect on feelings of distance, isolation, loss, introspection, and ultimately the relief of interpersonal connection. We wrote that which we felt while hunkered down in our own ‘spaceships’ through the harrowing trials, and the few stolen moments of joy, of a global pandemic. As a lyric notes: ‘Every hour’s a gift: The signals, the noise, the sorrows, and joys.’”

Comprising Jonathan Maxwell (drums, vocals), Benjamin Ruby (synths, vocals), Aaron Kremer (bass, synths, vocals), and Alley C (guitars), What Strange Beasts started out as two musicians, Maxwell and Kremer, getting together to jam, followed by Ruby and Alley C joining.

In 2021, What Strange Beasts released The Maestro’s Tale, a 17-track album, which was produced by Don Gunn, who also produced Starlight’s Castaways, fashioned around the concept of the immensity of the universe.

For the most part, each primary track is bracketed by shorter, orchestral tracks, imparting the album with a series of grand interludes.

From a purely subjective viewpoint, highlights on the album consist of the title track, drenched in potent, gleaming guitars atop a galloping rhythm, featuring Kremer’s impressive, promenading bassline.

The intro to “Meteor Bath” conjures up suggestions of Dickey Betts, and then flows into textures of shimmering guitars reminiscent of Boston, with hints of Derek and the Dominos laced in. While “Cat’s Paw” spills forth on heavier guitars, a psychedelic-flavoured organ, and crunching percussion with deep accents.

Remarking on “Cat’s Paw,” What Strange Beasts shares, “Alley’s song idea was one we really workshopped quite a bit to get the right feeling to the lyrical flow, and really capture the offsets of chaos and excitement that the sound brought.”

Opening on gentle, glittering guitars, “Ocean Glass,” arguably the premier track on the album, features soft, undulating surfaces as diaphanous vocals imbue the lyrics with delicate timbres. At the midpoint, the harmonics ramp up, adding a sizzling wah-wah guitar, escalating the sonic panorama to muscular heights, followed by descending to a graceful, piano-filled culmination.

Talking about “Ocean Glass,” Kremer reveals, The chords for ‘Ocean Glass’ came to be in response to a long-time relationship fading away and wishing that wasn’t so. While playing it one day in the rehearsal space, Ben started singing words about trying to reconnect with someone, someone not spoken to in a long while. Stopped playing and asked him, ‘How’d you know that’s what this song is about?’ ‘I could tell by the chords you were playing,’ he said.”

An ambitious project, What Strange Beasts executes the complexity of Starlight’s Castaways with aplomb and finesse.

Starlight’s Castaways Track Listing:

1. A Call to Lights
2. Starlight’s Castaways
3. Point to Point
4. Meteor Bath
5. In Jest
6. Plasticbrain
7. Tides of Gravity
8. Scattered Skie
9. Homeforest
10. Imperfect Vision
11. One Time Pad
12. No New Messages
13. Stowaway
14. Cat’s Paw
15. Aeternium
16. Ocean Glass
17. Kalaloch Prime: An Intermission
18. Second Sight
19. Endless Routes
20. A Different Light
21. Azimuth
22. It’s Mine
23. Entanglements
24. Deeper Space
25. Inversions
26. Best Friends

Run Time: 75:11
Release Date: February 3, 2023
Record Label: Independent