Some Recent Astral Editions

3.30.22 by Matty McPherson

About this time last year, I had seemed to mentally surmise a genuine notion of what Astral Editions was likely to be. However, Nate Cross has the audacity to subvert that expectation with gusto; he literally just announced two more labels in the AS univers for fecks sake! Over 2021, AE developed into a free-for-all of music that rules of its own merits yet needs a freeform space to exist outside of the Spirits jazz canon. As a result though, Astral Editions has often erred towards the vinyl (silly idea! Tapes or nothing!) freewheels its visual component (outside of the spine, which is really a nice gesture <3), and actually has albums that border closer to a warped vision of Windham Hill than anything else I can recall. In fact, right now at the start of 2022, I feel quite confident stating that Astral Editions is the closest ancillary to a Windham Hill style label manufacturing tapes (go to Cached Media for CDs) at the moment. It’s no small feat, and it’s not something that even dawned on me until I dove back into three tapes from the present moment the past back half of the year.

Blogger’s note: It should be noted though, that when I wrote this, I did not know Nate Cross had handed curation over to burgeoning Columbus, Ohio rockstar legends Jen Powers and Matthew Rolin. They may not have picked these tapes for the imprint, yet they clearly are of the same genius flock and insipid spirit. I truly, sincerely cannot wait to see what tapestry they spring forth with and carry the imprint towards. I hear tapes from Shells(!) and Sunburned Hand of the Man(!!), amongst others, are on the way, which is always a good thing.

Orquesta del Tiempo Perdido – traantjes

Open up the booklet for traantjes and you’re presented with nearly two dozen names and instruments–most notable might be pedal steel and drums. Look a little further down and you realize that the initial rhythm section was pieced together *just* before it all hit the fritz in mid-March of 2020. Look a little further up and you’ll see that  all compositions are a product of the sick twisted mind of Jeroen Kinnman. There’s scant information that matters outside of all that in all honesty.

Across the 12 tracks Kinnman has assembled, traantjes holds no bars back from what it wants to achieve. Can we get arhythmic math rock jam-packed with like five instruments fighting for the title of sole survivor? Absolutely. How about space age bachelor pad lounge grooves going off the fritz and reassembling into music for a speedrun? Of course, that’s often the main course. Could Kinnman perhaps do a vocder trick or add a litany of zany samples? That one’s on the house, dummy! traantjes noodles through these styles without becoming completely trapped or wasting the immensity of this excursion; it’s density and unexpected left turns become an act of sheer strength, providing that you are game for the unexpected. 

While it’d be easy to peg the veracity of sounds as bordering on Orange Milk or even Crash Symbols’ more electronic heavy fusions, there is a clear groundwork for this sound. Central to the whole affair are the drums and pedal steel that beget this entire world to exist in the first place. For the pedal steel, it comes from the emotional versatility that the instrument can offer and even subvert; it doesn’t just yearn here exactly, but often tickles. For the drums, it’s the fact that it offers a propulsive punch necessary to act as a rhythmic bar for five instruments to fight over. As a result, one track may actually be a slowdown reprieve before nose diving towards a sputtering BPM fest. 

Bevel – Angler Senses

When I talk about Astral Editions going “free-for-all” on freeform, Bevel’s Angler Senses is another prime example. The five people (+ Bill MacKay featured on a couple tracks) are lead by Via Nuon, who might as well be crafting a new fangled oral tradition of his own accord. Their nineteen tracks have a chamber folk sound bordering on a reimagined Appalachian psychedelia. The thing about those tracks? They like to gallop in and out around ninety seconds.. It’s surprisingly competent in the adherence to this “we played our song until we ran out of ideas” principle, that keeps ideas beguilingly fresh and concise, yet also lucid enough to run a cohesive mirage together. enacting lyrical vignettes of dilapidated enclaves and arid waterways. In fact, hiding within the release is itself a piece of lost wisdom, “Ancient Air”, (“a piece sung by an old lutenist at an inn in Nankin in 1198 A.D. discovered & notated by Chiang K’uei”) that still feels of today,

J.R. Bohannon – Compulsions

Bohannon’s Compulsions is the current Astral Editions release on deck and (in spite of the rather Orange Milk-esque cover) perhaps the most straightforward release to come out of the label so far. If you told me I was listening to a 1985 Windham Hill album, I would believe you full heartedly and say something like “FUCK! This label really doesn’t miss, does it?” because Bohannon’s 2020/2021 era recordings really feel timeless and patient. Bohannon’s repertoire involves acoustic guitar, bouts of pedal steel, and even light synthesizer into his solo material. Compulsions presents the acoustic guitar in all its textured manners, occasionally throwing in those other pieces for good measure. Often, Bohannon strikes up a series of chords and plays a small motif or riff before pausing; that brevity allows it to glide for a second where you can’t quite feel what comes next, yet instinctively anticipate the next part of the dream. However, Bohannon is savvy enough not to limit this to just the guitar, and when a pedal steel overdub or droning synthesizer fade out is brought in, it shocks the system and feels like you just discovered a secret zone.  For a subtle, short tape, that’s all I need.