Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Day Eight: Aspera Ad Astra - Peace

AudioInformationPhenomena ■ AIP 003

Released: ??, 1998

Produced and Recorded by Carmine Degennaro

"let the uplifting messages bring joy and goodness to your life and those surrounding. peace and love."
[From the insert included with the album]
Side One:Side Two:
  1. Taking to Waking
  2. Sick N' Sad
  3. Step Into Me
  4. [Untitled]
  5. Scannin' Lights
  1. The Yellowed Skin
  2. This Whim Breathes
  3. Fat in the Eye
  4. Takin' It Easy
I touched on this band on my previous/other blog, but didn't say too much about the album proper. Of course, I've forgotten over the years (repeatedly, actually) that this is yet another release (see also: Provocation and Kali Yuga Bizarre)with goofed up track listings. The back of the sleeve (as well as the CD case, I've just confirmed) lists the tracks as "Taking to Waking", "Sick N' Sad", "Step Into Me", "This Whim Breathes", "Fat in the Eye", "Scannin' Lights", "The Yellowed Skin", and "Take It Easy". The label on Side Two lists them in the order above, and, as usual, the lyrics are the giveaway. It appears the listing I've given in my standardized form is the most correct one ("fat in the eye" is completely audible and intelligible in the third track on Side Two, rather than the fourth track on Side One). "Takin' It Easy" could go either way, but seeing as the order appears correct on the label, I'll go with the title that appears in the same place. I know at various times I've also had the first track titled "Talking to Walking," though I'm not sure why. I think it may have been in the metadata of my initial digital copy.

So far, though it isn't surprising considering the composition of my collection as a whole, we've mostly looked at titles I acquired used through various means. This is one I happily snapped up when I saw a sealed copy in a shop. It was there for the standard label price (as I have gathered from the insert I found in the record) of $8 for an LP. The label it comes from is AudioInformationPhenomena, who do not appear to have been long-lived: I can see 14 releases from them during two years and nothing past that. They did, however, release one of Cerberus Shoal's earlier albums, though prior to my favourite (1999's And Farewell to High Tide, which I own two CD copies of in different editions). This is worth noting mostly because both of these bands participated in the "Post Marked Stamps" split 7" series, though not on the same release. However, because AIP was a tiny label, this isn't a release you would see around often, even if it isn't one that is likely to be snapped up at any point either. It has only become more rare as time goes on, with the fact that even the CD is now out of print.

I'm resistant to the notion of genres, simply because there is inevitable argument about any, but Aspera Ad Astra were partly introduced to me via the compilation Sounds from Psychedelphia, connoting an association with psychedelic sound. This is a bit tenuous depending on your definition, but does hold up under some qualifications. Peculiar found sounds and drones are scattered around the album, occasionally sounding like the real world attempting to fade into the music, but on an inappropriate timescale, with multiple clocks, alarms, busy/engaged phone signals, chimes, and falling silverware seemingly clattering in at one point late in "Scannin' Lights". More accurately and readily identifiable are the influences of the "shoegaze" sound, so-called because the bands allegedly spent concerts staring at their shoes (often meaning their guitar pedal effect set ups) rather than engaging other people--such as the audience. Hints of the fuzzy warbling of My Bloody Valentine can be heard, though one would never mistake Peace for Loveless, as its pacing is far more deliberate and its sound is far more spacious. Where Loveless can occasionally become a veritable wall of sound--however sweet and curvy--Peace remains open and airy throughout, even when the aforementioned sounds seem to wander by confusedly.

"Taking to Waking" starts the album with a drumbeat that isn't absolute simplicity, but carries with it a sense of relaxedness that approaches laziness, and immediately finds itself surrounded by the light roar of that shoegaze-y guitar sound. Lyrically, the song is odd and wounded but positive, or at least optimistic: "Awake and/Go on/I'm limping with a broken soul/I'm shaking as I'm driven". An already langorous pace is stretched further when the album moves to "Sick N' Sad", which has a lazy guitar line and carefully measured and controlled drums. Sleepy vocals maintain the tone, though the guitars eventually find a rising lick that gives a bit of shine to the song's otherwise cozy but calming atmosphere. "Step Into Me" pushes itself forward as if crawling up from rest until it hits the chorus and seems to find a more comfortable stride, the guitar bending and wobbling around it. The untitled piece is an unlisted track of just under two minutes and no lyrics that is clearly separated on Side One and is marked out as a track in digital formats. It's a solo piano piece that just bridges the gap between "Step Into Me" and "Scannin' Lights", the final track of Side One, which is the second longest track on the album at nearly seven minutes. Layers of sound are more delineated here than elsewhere on the album, though they are comfortable against each other as with a deep cross-section of earth.

"The Yellowed Skin" begins Side Two with Matt Werth's bass in isolation, sliding up and down the neck as the rest of the band joins him in a song that gradually builds and then seems to stop, dropping away to only guitars and changing slowly into a more disjointed and peculiar sort of song, with reverberating and spiky  guitars. "This Whim Breathes" seems to play half backwards, with muffled dialogue sampled in behind the music before the vocals begin to make it all spacy, as if it's drifting in and out of the sides of the audible soundscape. "Fat in the Eye" starts with a few guitar harmonics, and the darkest tone of the album until the non-verbal vocals begin to waft in over it and there's a palpable relief as we find one of the quicker tempos of the album, with vocals to match, perhaps the most energy in all of the release.

"Takin' It Easy" closes the album out with a sustained keyboard note that drops a guitar's downward slide and light but emphatic keyed chords and faint "Ooh-oohs". The relaxed atmosphere of the album is maintained as the song kicks into gear, but with another supply of energy--seeming to invert the usual approach of starting quick and heavy and slowing until the closer. But it's certainly still a light song, with the feeling of driving happily, if quietly, off toward a lowering sun, keeping things simple with lyrics composed entirely of "Come on right in to/Set your mind at ease". The song's title describes the feeling you're left with: that you should take it easy right now, enjoy the warmth of the sun and let things be.

I suppose it's not a surprise that I love this album a lot. To be fair, though, most albums I pick up intentionally on vinyl must have a fair degree of love behind them. That's all part of the ritual: understanding that you have to devote your listening time more fully to vinyl, as, at the least, you must flip the record over partway through to hear it all.

If you want to check the album out, it's actually even more difficult than it used to be. It seems eMusic no longer has the rights to AIP's catalogue, and I've mentioned this album is very out of print. Still, it seems that copies in either format can be found at relatively reasonable prices from Discogs, and cheap indeed on CD from Amazon's marketplace.

Next Up: The Association - Greatest Hits
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