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Review: Stillness and Stars – Stillness and Stars 2 (released August 7, 2019)

Stillness and Stars is the latest project from Canadian musician Erik Culp. In the past, Culp has been involved with the space rock band Mind of a Squid and the progressive duo Ambisonic, as well as releasing solo works under the name The Atomic Cosmonaut.

For this effort, Culp’s band consists of himself (guitar, synths, vocals), Scott Bucsis (bass) and Brandon Munro (drums) with added support from Ashton Swinnerton on violin and Alex Unger and Sandra Fox providing vocals. Stillness and Stars’ first album was largely an instrumental effort of symphonic progressive music as filtered through the lens of post rock experimentalism. Stillness and Stars 2 is an altogether different beast, a weird, kaleidoscopic album that takes the familiar, albeit in vastly mutated form, and sprinkles it among the flora and fauna of an unfamiliar, alien landscape.

The album starts off in an unassuming manner, similar sounds to their first album with the explosive symphonic Equinox. But something strange is going on, as ghostly voices echo through the piece forming into something that sounds like a social gathering of angels all murmuring cosmic truths to each other as the music glides over them. Then the album takes a completely left turn into a particularly spacey take on the Phil Collins classic track In the Air Tonight ! The singer (Sandra Fox, I’m guessing?) nails it, and manages to evoke the raw and powerful emotion of the original despite the setting being quite different.

This isn’t the only cover on the album. The band turns Duke Ellington’s lovely and simple jazz composition La Fleurette Africaine into a magnificent, rumbling, psychedelic monster with symphonic tones, weird fluttering noises and vocals that sound like a mysterious transmission from another galaxy. Definitely one of the stand outs on the album! And following the original song Rust, a nearly gothic rocker, with heaps of reverb making it seem like you’re hearing it in a dream, the band does a strange and distorted cover of the mother of all gothic rock tunes, Bauhaus' Bela Lugosi’s Dead !

The rest of the album balances, almost precariously, on these three covers with an array of chaotic yet undeniably melodic instrumental cuts like the hallucinatory Quality of Life and the astonishing Faith in Burning Garbage, a song which careens wildly between distorted freak rock and Tangerine Dream like electronic sequences. Closing the album out is Birthday At the Garnet, which sounds almost like the theme music of some 1960’s European film but mangled and reformed into something that fits nicely into the eccentric and far-out world of Stillness and Stars.

Nothing can prepare you for this album. Seriously, not this review, not even Stillness and Stars’ first album. This is a unique experience, one that, if you’re adventurous enough to plunge headlong into that alien landscape, you might just find something there of strange and wonderous beauty.

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