Various Artists – Breath Of Stars – Auralgasms compilation

Various Artists
Breath Of Stars – Auralgasms compilation

Auralgasms is a music-oriented web site that highlights under-appreciated artists who deserve more attention. The site caters to fans of the dream-pop, alternative rock, Brit-pop, and singer-songwriter genres of music and features an online streaming radio station, artist information, active forum, news, interviews, and much more – and Auralgasms also puts out a series of CDs as a way for listeners to discover new artists.

The third CD in this series is Breath Of Stars, a compilation of 17 songs wrapped in beautiful artwork (the CD itself is pale robin’s egg blue with curved white engravings and blush accents) and containing an eclectic, but fine mix of dream-pop to indie-rock music (including several male-fronted bands). Auralgasms knows how to pick ‘em. This is not a throw-away or stop-gap CD of amorphous musings, but a collection of complex, fully-structured songs that, for the most part, intrigue and delight.

“Sublunar (Sweet Angel)” by Sleepthief featuring Kristy Thirsk starts the compilation off on a high note, literally and figuratively, with a song that showcases Kristy Thirsk (of The Rose Chronicles, Delerium, solo work) as she effortlessly sings in a ‘to-the-stars’ register, all high-flying and expressive against a full synth sound, Spanish-vibe mandolin, reverberating electronic blips, and strummed guitar.

“I’ve Been Waiting For You” by Costanza is up next. Costanza has sung on some of Tricky’s songs, and you can hear in her vocals her affinity for songs with a downbeat, trip-hop feel. Her voice is slightly narcotic and hushed, sounding like a downcast young girl on the verses, and rises to a sweeter, higher tone on turns of phrases in the chorus parts. An undercurrent of dark synth, muffled drum beat, and a slow, curving, siren-like sound pervade the song, while ‘bloopy’ electronica beats keep the pace moving.

“Albatross” by Halou starts with strummed guitar lines, a steady drum beat, synth notes, and a slight tambourine shake, with Rebecca’s vocals sounding a little plain. That soon changes on the chorus section, with the elongated cello lines, reverb and strummed guitars, and Rebecca’s vocals coming on stronger, sweeter, and more melancholy. The lyrics are thought-provoking, as she draws out the words “You should know much better by now, from life there’s no easy way out.”.

“Lost (The March Song)” by In-Flight Safety is a definite highlight of the album. This band (at least on this song) melds the beauty and rhythmic lulls and propulsion of bands like Doves, Sigur Ros, and Coldplay. The tune commences with low-key guitar notes, then muffled drums, then added piano notes and a little cymbal shimmer, as John Mullane comes in sounding like a mix of Chris Martin of Coldplay and Jimi Goodwin of Doves – all plaintive and pushing his vocals out.
The piano notes and guitars get stronger, built up with cymbal shimmer, and then a Doves-like bright rush of guitars kicks in, and John sings in a higher register with a beautiful, aching cry like Jonsi of Sigur Ros. The song becomes even faster-paced for a bit, until the guitar notes fade into 10 seconds of silence that is then broken by a few contemplative piano notes that end the song.

“Alright” by Pilot Speed. Todd Clark, the vocalist of Pilot Speed (formerly Pilate), is a dead ringer for Jesse of Margot And the Nuclear So & So’s – and this song sounds like an out-take of that band! It’s an indie-rock number that goes from low-key to high-energy, starting with piano, strummed guitar with an alt-country twang, and slightly fragile, downbeat vocals. The broken-down vibe gives way on the chorus, with Todd trying to reach for Sigur Ros vocal-heights. He then works himself up to the exclaiming stage, with Coldplay-like guitars ringing out that soon get fuzzed-out and fiery. By the end of the song, Todd is exclaiming to the point of shouting that “… the road ahead is lined with broken dreams…and I failed to give you everything you need, for the fears behind your eyes…”.

“Until It’s Gone” by The Meeting Places. Look out! It’s another indie-rock song with a mid-tempo pace and Sonic Youth tinge to the guitars (that is, the quieter moments of Sonic Youth), and a very well done one at that. Chase Harris sings low-key, hazy, and distanced on the verses, and is backed up once in a while by female vocals singing “Uh-oh, uh-oh” on the chorus. The chorus also features two guitars, one lower and distorted that builds up to a circling cycle, and the other which has a higher, Sonic-Youth-like chiming sound. If you like the calmer guitar meanderings of Sonic Youth, you’ll like the laid-back guitar textures in this song.

“Loved By The Sun” by The Daysleepers. This melodic number harks back to the early 1990s with its The Cure-like guitars (watery, highly reverb-guitar notes), flat, echoed drum beat, airy, drifting vocals by Jeff Kandefer, and empty sonic feel. The song also features synth strings and cymbal shimmer amid Jeff’s distanced vocals and wordless male and female chorus (reminiscent of Dead Can Dance). Propulsive guitars briefly take on shoegazer grandeur on the chorus bits, amid rolling, crashing cymbals that lift the song up from its melancholy vibe.

“Crash” by Ether Aura. Ether Aura is a pretty well-known band in the bliss-rock genre of music, but Kate Hinote’s vocals, while pleasant enough, don’t seem to be very compelling, at least on this song. The beat is low-key, with runs of guitar notes and plain-vocal verses. On the choruses the cycling of the guitars becomes grittier and distorted and propulsive, but the short-phrase vocals and drum beat lack urgency, creating a sluggish sonic churn that lacks tension.

“Mayfly” by Honeybreath. While Chanell’s vocals aren’t very honey-like or breathy, she still sounds like a more direct, plain Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays, with a little quiver and catch to her vocals (and the inflection at the ends of phrases) when she emotes. Channel sings in a cool, downcast tone here, against a steady, unchanging drum beat, cymbal shimmer, and two guitars, one plain and one chiming. Once again, this song lacks urgency, although it is worth it to wait until the end of the song to suddenly hear Chanell sing in a higher range, quivering on certain words a la Liz Fraser of The Cocteau Twins (although not as heavenly or expressive in tone as Liz’s voice).

“All The Dark Horses” by Trashcan Sinatras. U.K. stalwarts Trashcan Sinatras seems like an odd pick for the compilation, but this song is another winner, in the vein of songs by The Smiths and The Housemartins. The short, melodic, clearly-enunciated harmonies, up-tempo, Johnny Marr-like guitar jangle (that flows through the whole song), and an almost- swaying, island-like vibe create a catchy atmosphere that is tempered by the melancholy, yearning male vocals, saxophone notes on the chorus, and bright, reverb mandolin. The lyrics are very detailed and interesting: “…through the fields, in the night, all the dark horses ride…now my aim is inside, to the wild…long-lost summer days are shining around the gate, the sky ablaze, run away…”.

“Thank You” by Sky Project. The lyrics are paramount in this song (“I can’t remember the last time, that I was close to being alive – is this my story?”), helped along by the hushed, slightly manipulated areo-vocals from singer Sky, strummed guitar, and drawn-out violins. Her vocals are sometimes doubled, with one line in the same melancholy pitch as on the verses, and the other in a higher range that recalls Sarah McLachlan. The song starts off voice-oriented, with the music in the background, until mid-way through the song, where cantering guitars and an electro-beat fill out the sound, continuing with the lyrics “I found the self I used to be, waiting inside of me…I thank you for helping me to see, that anything could be.”.

“Why” by Lou Rhodes. Lou Rhodes (of Lamb fame) sings with a tone and inflection akin to Beth Gibbons on her solo work, all dry, but yearning. Dusky, but sweet; sweeping upward on the high notes with a tremor in her vocals, against a mid-tempo, shuffling drum beat, cellos, and slow-strummed guitar. “Why” is basically a singer-songwriter tune, with very straight-forward instrumentals and vocal delivery, as Lou asks “Tell me why…why can’t we let the good things in?”.

“Late Last Life” by Ethos. Distant, old-time piano notes sound like they’re being played through a gramophone – and at first the vocals sound that way too, and it’s difficult to tell if the singer is a guy or a gal, then mid-word on the verse, the sound changes to upfront vocals by a guy who comes off smooth, but expressive (just a tad like Morrissey at his most glib).

This interesting vintage sound soon gives way to a letdown on the chorus, where the guy’s delivery suddenly becomes too snide and his vocal limitations are revealed. Somehow the expressiveness of the first verse is lost for the remainder of the tune…

“Healing Angel” by Kirsty Hawkshaw Meets Arnold Toutain. This electronica number starts off upbeat and fast, and full of sound, with drizzled-rain and mechanical skittering noises. Then Kirsty Hawkshaw’s melancholy vocals come in, clear and well-pronounced, and ascending on certain turns of phrases. The tune, however, changes into a too-poppy dance-electronica number in the choruses, with slick beats and ‘dance diva’ vocals. The lyrics and Kirsty’s voice compensate a bit: “I would move mountains if you asked it to me, I lose myself in memories.”.

“A Thousand Lashes” by Moev. The instrumentation sounds very much like the dark, industrial synth-pop backdrop of “Never Let Me Down” by Depeche Mode, except that it stays in one rhythmic gear for the entire song, with no shift in dynamics. Julie Ferris’s vocals, while pleasant enough, seem a bit pallid and of limited range on the choruses, with not enough depth of emotion.

“Return Our Lives” by Neverending White Lights. This is a slow-paced song with a percussive synth beat and a broken-down Judah Nagler (of Velvet Teen) on vocals sing-talking in a tremulous tone. Judah shows off his range on the chorus parts, where there are at least two vocals lines, one of him sing-talking and one where he’s either more muted or whispering in deeper tones. The multiple-line vocals of the chorus is involving with the exception of the too-plain sing-talking line, but, once again, there is not enough dynamic shifting of the rhythm to create tension in the song.

“Celestial Call” by Hotel De Ville. Hotel De Ville is the latest music project of the talented Rhett Brewer, and the placement of this song at the end of this compilation is an unusual and compelling way to bid adieu. The song starts off slowly and placidly, with a muffled beat, muted horn, ‘water-drop’ guitar notes, then Rhett singing in a lower-register in a non-English language. His voice then goes brighter and higher and builds in tone amid shaken tambourine and maracas, a cricket-like sound, and slow, muted horns instead of guitars. By the finale, there are three varied vocal lines harmonizing and moving in and out of each other. This is a song to lie back and gaze at the stars to on a cool autumn night.