Psychedelic prog-rock outfit What Strange Beasts is set to drop their expansive new 26-track album, Starlight’s Castaways, on February 3, 2023.
Drummer/vocalist Jonathan Maxwell shares, “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.’”
Made up of Jonathan Maxwell (drums, vocals), Benjamin Ruby (synths, vocals), Aaron Kremer (bass, synths, vocals), and Alley C (guitars), What Strange Beasts’ genesis occurred in 2016 when Kremer and Maxwell attended a performance at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall with a friend.
After the show, they began talking about music and were soon jamming together. A few months later, they added Ruby and Alley C to the lineup. They released their concept album, The Maestro’s Tale, in 2021, receiving vast affirmation.
Produced by Don Gunn and recorded at London Bridge Studios, Starlight’s Castaways includes themes of distance, isolation, loss, hope, reunion, and joy.
According to the band, “When we write a song, it’s personal. It’s always personal. The characters and concepts in the music are metaphors for emotions we are all experiencing to varying degrees and the stories give us a way forward with those feelings.”
Entry points on Starlight’s Castaways include the title track, with its surging, heavy guitars, and glowing vocals harmonies. Whereas “Meteor Bath” drips with creamy, scintillating textures atop a pushing rhythm.
The album’s structure – short song, long song – gives it a shifting flow with the abbreviated songs tending to be more lysergic in nature, while the longer songs conjure up suggestions of Boston merged with Queensryche, drenched in dazzling washes of gleaming guitars and driving energy.
Personal favorites such as “Plasticbrain” and “No New Messages,” display the imaginative creativity of What Strange Beasts, along with outstanding tracks like “Cat’s Paw,” which travels on rumbling drums and potent guitars as delicious harmonies give the lyrics intense savors.
Speaking about “Cat’s Paw,” the band says, “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.”
Perhaps the best track on the album, “Ocean Glass” rolls out on gentle, kaleidoscopic coloration as soft harmonies fill the tune with subtle radiance. Orchestral surfaces infuse the melody with a gossamer soundscape, drifting and floating. Then the harmonics ramp up, taking on dense, platinum guitars accented by searing licks.
Grandly wrought, overflowing with lustrous vocal harmonies and bravura symphonic elements, Starlight’s Castaways is superb.