2. Railcar To Tasmania (4:56)
3. Lost Garden Gnome Hotline (6:59)
4. Eons & Ions (7:25)
5. Mammoth Capsule (7:08)
6. Loch Ness Square (6:19)
7. Aviatrix (The Sudden Birds) (9:02)
8. Where Smoke Blows Across (10:04)
9. Purple Mushroom House (7:42)
10. Sleep Divination (7:49)
“There is really only one band that so skillfully combined
psychedelia, ethereal, dance, metal, ambience, punk, prog,
goth, darkwave and electronica.
“That band is of course Trance To The Sun.” – Paul Angelosanto (2007)
And now they’ve done it again!
Ethereal, engaging, atmospheric and evocative, Trance To The Sun’s latest offering has been met with a very enthusiastic reception from fans and critics alike.
Trance To The Sun is a Psychedelic Darkwave trio that was launched in 1990 and created a series of critically acclaimed albums for the California based Tess Records label. The group toured extensively across the United States and Canada, and appeared on numerous artist compilations during the 1990’s before disbanding in 2001.
In 2013, an effort to crowd fund the creation of a new album succeeded within 48 hours. This paved the way for multi instrumentalist Ashkelon Sain to reunite with vocalist Ingrid Luna Blue to write and record a stunning new magnum opus. A cross-state effort three years in the making, with the addition of new drummer Daniel Henderson, the result at long last is the title “Via Subterranea”.
Reviews Editor –
From Stereo Embers
There are any number of factors that can exert existential pressure on a band’s viability. One of the most tangible, while made less onerous in our digital age, is the simple imposition of geographic distance. Even with the world-shrinking advantage of file-sharing though, there’s still the not inconsiderable issue of playing live, the costs associated with accommodating the most modest rehearsal/tour regimen putting significant strain on any group no matter their level of success or renown. Another, somewhat less obvious threat to a band’s continued health is the developing trademark of a sound that’s rich, complex, luminously dark and darkly addictive to a point where the threshold of listener expectation only rises with every release, a status that, in turn, invites such a concomitant devotion to maintaining that quality of sound by its primary architect that delays are not just inevitable but seemingly mandatory. Rabbit holes beckon everywhere, trap doors snap open underfoot with a troubling regularity, as if the spirit of the process itself is laughing at the futility inherent in any attempt to see it to fruition. Through brave, perhaps terse smiles, that person answers polite inquiries as to progress – ‘How’s the new album coming?’ – with as much esprit de corps promise as an increasingly frayed optimism allows, their jaw maybe clenching a bit until, eventually, the dread of fielding those questions accumulates to such a degree they doubt not just the wisdom of venturing out at all but the very idea of their sanity. Virtual hermitage cannot be far behind, complete with senseless gibbering and a shrugging disregard for personal hygiene. Put those two conditions together in one band and you’ve got either certain dissolution or… Trance To The Sun, who we find here blinking into the light with their ecstatically realized new album Via Subterranea in hand.
Long trading in something of a psychedelicized post-punk with epic shoegazing dreampop tendencies – as well (gasp!) a touch of prog – the fact that TTTS has withstood the double whammy career hits just described will be neither a mystery nor a miracle to those many that have followed their sinuous path over the last twenty plus years (from a Santa Barbara genesis in 1990, through an 11-year hiatus in 2002 – during which numerous comps and anthologies would appear – to the current resurrection featuring all original members, Trance are on their ninth album and have a fanbase that girdles the globe), but for the benefit of any new initiates reading this, know it’s nothing too complicated but instead comes down to that most fundamental of precepts: power. There’s a spiritually moving drive that inhabits these (mostly long) pieces, animating them with an intrisically captivating grandeur that spans the spectrum from the sinister to the sublime and explains how the now Portland/LA-based band (Ashkelon Sain guitar bass keys, Ingrid Blue vocals, Daniel P Henderson drums) can not only overcome whatever band-killing obstacles thrown in front of them but attract while doing so the type fans that tend to display cult-like allegiance. Evidence as to why permeates Via Subterranea.
Layered thick with nimble filigrees of swirling synth and effects-laden guitars, anchored by a moody beast of a rhythm section and never shy with melody as alluring female vox are textured into the the mix with a living breathing ghostliness, the album, despite its tricky gestation at the hands of a capricious Fate, makes a convincing case as the band’s most accomplished. Not always the case, of course, when a noted and much-loved band reconvenes for a shot at one of Fitzgerald’s infamous second acts but when it succeeds as Trance To The Sun has here the joy beheld is ever that much sweeter.
Erasing any concerns anyone might’ve harbored for the band’s legacy due the delays, the distance, whatever, lead track “Max Mystic” just gets immediately down to the business of being beguiling, clustering its sheets of reverbed guitar, silver atmospheric synth and husky sibilant voice around a snaky persistence of a bassline that could lure the most resistant of us into our own stoned Sufi dance. “Railcar to Tasmania,” with something of a janglier intent, answers the unasked question of what it might have been like had the Byrds emerged in the late 80’s in thrall to Lush’s earliest stirrings. And then the record just all gets more broadly illustrious, goes deeper, falling into one dreamy abyss after another and filling them with a sharp ethereal inventiveness unique to this band.
The haunted flow of “Eons & Ions,” while spacious and acid-washed (Sain’s guitar approach could be described as a more brightly bedazzled cousin to Helios Creed’s), maintains its tension via a hounding bass augmented by subtly incessant rhythm guitar and piano lines, “Mammoth Capsule,” even with the album’s most shoegaze-indebted vocal – lovely melody, by the way – traffics in a pounding, curiously goth-shadowed wah-wah psychedelia, the popping drum-led “Loch Ness Square” transits from headlong relentless, the percussion and mutil-tracked electric furiously goading each other along, Luna’s sure, gauzy vocal their guide and referee, to a fraught hiatus, a satori of sorts, then back again, a thing of tumultuous beauty all told.
Trance To The Sun, from the beginning, have been in pursuit of textural – and contextual – solutions to mysteries they themselves create, throwing together with a reckless faith a sorcerer’s stew of their multiple elements and knowing that one day the results will bear extraordinary fruit, gems held in a bothered but exquisite suspension, existing as testament to both a tense harmony and a splendidly controlled chaos. Consequentially, there’s a level of inherent risk-taking that finds the occasional cut or two teetering dangerously close to the brink, their plans so grand the entire enterprise threaten to collapse into discord, the center unable to hold. Tantamount to tightrope walking, it’s the fact they allow themselves to flirt with falling that’s as – if not more – exciting than the fact they never do. While evidence can be cited anywhere in the band’s catalog, it feels ratcheted up on Via Subterranea, repped perhaps most boldly on the lengthy back-to-back tracks “Aviatrix (The Sudden Birds)” and “Where Smoke Blows Across.” Occupying spots seven and eight on a 10-track outing, it’s the point where, should it not have occurred yet, the hard- and long-fought gestation process, Ashkelon being so obsessive about the mix and the master (the material itself having been written since the band reformed to tour it in 2013), makes unquestionable sense.
“Aviatrix (The Sudden Birds),” dense with a lush menace, percussively on edge, the bass’s heavy presence in a league with JJ Burnel, guitars alternately chopping at the body of the song or arcing overhead as if in chase of the title subjects, is already a serviceable epic in no need of further confirmation when, just a tick ahead of the 6-minute mark, it breaks free into a melodic resolution that simply ranks among the most rapturously beautiful I’ve heard. Takes the breath away and one can only imagine the magnitude of a smile that came over its creator’s face when he came upon it. Naught but a moment in a nine-minute piece but it’s those moments, of course, that we live our lives for.
Though more deliberate in its unspooling, initiating at something of a bucolic pace, “Where Smoke Blows Across” is also the more impressionistic, lulling with an understated persistence as it passes through an hypnotic reverby fog that conjures a more refined yet emotionally roiled MBV, a soar of guitars slashing with an increased fury through it’s dovetailed series of movements, vocals hanging djin-like. There are, as the song picks up steam and ghosts, evocations at play, unshakable aural hints of exoticism, from tones of breezy warmth suggesting the dry tropics where the desert meets the ocean to snaking through the market stalls of a Moroccan souk through pounding pursuits down narrow dusty alleyways, arriving finally at a sustained catharsis, cinematic synth chorus on high, every element coalescing with a tapestry-like exactitude. A triumph in every sense and not least because one can almost tangibly feel the beast of multiplicity being tamed in an elegantly unleashed manner.
In the best instances what best defines a band is what challenges them, and while those two central tracks offer widescreen examples of Trance To The Sun’s penchant for tackling the demands of their own immodest, ambitious impulses and wrestling them into a coherent, often glorious submission, the truth is this has always been their way. What surprises here, again, is how they’ve managed to create perhaps the best album of their existence despite the presence of added stressors like a thousand-mile separation and the curse of dodgy masters, which isn’t to mention the unspoken but palpable weight of their own legacy. One can only conclude, then, based on what’s presented here on Via Subterranea, that theirs is the type extravagance that thrives under duress and the provocations of fate. To which we can only say, ‘whatever works.’ -Dave Cantrell
Webstore Manager –
Many of us waited at least three years for this crowd-funded release to come to fruition. Was it worth it? Yes. This is a stunner of sound art. Is this the best Trance to the Sun recording ever made? Perhaps. A little more time will tell because that is a big feat. It’s tough to judge yet as it only came out in December of 2016, but it climbed to the number three spot of the best cds of the year after only one listen. A third spin brought it to number two. Further listens didn’t get it to the number one spot of 2016. Sorry Trance to the Sun.
This isn’t just a collection of unique songs, this is an addiction. I want to do nothing but listen to this record for months.
Max Mystic opens the set and takes us to a hazy dreamland between pop, psychedelia, goth, and the indescribable. It has beautiful alluring sonic spaces, guitar wizardry and freaking finger snaps! The drumming (not a machine!) is tasteful and not overwrought. Yes a real drummer by the name of Daniel Henderson is now in the band and what a great addition he makes. Off and through the wall lyrics zigzag around this tune. Wow. If I could eat this song I would be sated for years.
Another amazing track that must be singled out is Lost Garden Gnome Hotline. Yes, that is really the name of an incredible song that you should listen to right away. The words are so insane they would make Syd Barrett’s ghost jealous. This ditty booms, blasts, lulls, soars, crawls, and messes with your headspace in a delirious manner.
Ashkelon Sain’s production and guitar playing are all delivered with a masterful stroke. What also is amazing about Ash here, is his bass playing. Sure there’s been tasty bits of bass playing on prior Trance to the Sun releases but nothing that sounds as deep and bouncy as on this audio tome.
Before moving on, it is necessary to mention the force known as singer Ingrid Luna Blue. This record would not work if she didn’t deliver such a haunted nuanced, childlike, torch burning, wailing, rocking, monument to the power of the human voice. It’s all there in each breath and note. -Andreas Ravenwell
Webstore Manager –
Trance to the Sun is a post-punk, gothic trio that uses additional live members when needed. The core members consist of Ashkelon Sain (guitar, bass, keys), Ingrid Luna Blue (vox), and Daniel Henderson (drums). The band formed in 1990 with Sain being founder of the band. Via Subterranea is their eighth album and their first in 15 years. This band is not filled with newcomers to music nor to the genres they deftly meld together. They are veterans and the quality of Via Subterranea demonstrates that fact.
“Max Mystic” starts off Via Subterranea with dreamy vocals and an addictive bass-line that just keeps walking throughout the song. Luna Blue channels a bit of Siouxsie Sioux in her breathy, ethereal vocals. Synths play beautiful, floating drones under the percussion. The guitar work glitters and has this amazing counter melody to the vocals. “Railcar to Tasmania” has an almost laid back groove it, with reverb drenched vocals and acoustic guitar. The drums are intricate and the bass work spot on. There are these moments in the song where it reminds me of Gene Loves Jezebel at the top of their game. Don’t get me wrong. Trance to the Sun has their own sound but there are all these wonderful moments where the right touches just spark references to beloved bands. At about 3:00, there is a bridge that is emotive and a post-punk dream. The bass tones in this particular track are gorgeous.
“Lost Garden Gnome Hotline” has these sparse, almost disconnected drums and moody guitar. The bass plays a short line to keep it all together and in focus while Luna Blue does her vox in spoken word. There is a mystical and poetic nature to the lyrics here, as she breathes them into the speakers.
Under a salt crust they wait for the orchestra but it never comes,
it never begins.
Blank space between leaves
Blank space between…. Friends,
he’s missing again!
Quicksand or gusts of wind?
Crows with armor?
Some strange charmer?
Sixty-eight were glimpsed on a receding barge,
the horizon swallowed them,
their present location a mystery
Coupled with the tones and lines in the music, there is an almost ominous feel to the spoken words. The track builds as synths soar and guitars create slow, creeping walls of fuzz. “Eons and Ions” has spacey synth sounds, and a staccato texture just under the surface of the driving bass and drums. The piano work gives the piece depth and texture while guitars warble and create walls of sound here and there. It’s a wonderfully complex composition.
“Mammoth Capsule” just screams seventies rock piece from the get go. However, it is sprinkled with moody synth and Luna Blue always brings the song back to a post-punk feel. High-hat blazes as Sain shows off his guitar prowess. Wah-wah shimmers through the track along with fuzzed out walls and long, drawn out emotive notes. The song ends with sounds of wind and then fades. “Loch Ness Square” begins with explosive tom-heavy drums a definite prog-rock feel. Something I haven’t mentioned much is the lyrics and their rather poetic quality. They are dark but there is a depth here, evoking a sort of goth and almost Black Sabbath sort of ominous feel. Luna Blue sings,
They saw it pouring through the valleys,
They saw it pouring down the hills,
And they fought it with their torches,
And their tinctures and their wills,
But we had no use for valor,
And we had no need for fear.
We lay all wrapped in our winter coats,
You lips against my hair,
While blood turned the dirt to mud
There is a large, picturesque, almost fantasy image being painted with words. The music, of course, really enhances the lyrics and mirrors the sense of urgency in Luna Blue’s words. Henderson should also be hailed for his intricate percussion work throughout the album. He’s another drummer that not only keeps time but plays his kit like an instrument, giving various touches and feels to enhance the overall composition of the music.
“Aviatrix (The Sudden Birds)” is another song that evokes seventies guitar power bands with a beautifully rendered guitar piece at the beginning. It is coupled with breathy synth drones and expressive percussion and bass. At about 5:08, there is a rather interesting bridge, as the bass, drums, and synths play with the melody in various forms. “Where Smoke Blows Across” is the longest on the album, clocking in at 10:04. It beings with an ominous guitar line and melancholy synths. It is a dreamy, synth-heavy composition with understated percussion and bass that hangs back in the mix. There are even flavors of a middle eastern sort in the guitar work about midway through the track.
“Purple Mushroom House” begins with rain and the sound of birds. Bright piano rings out as if in the distance. Jazz style percussion comes into the mix and then dreamy, floating guitars with droney synths fill the voids. This reminds me of the more ethereal moments in spaced out, drug-fueled seventies compositions. Luna Blue sings,
Postman, please deliver my note
To the purple mushroom house,
You can only find it at night,
By the light of the crescent moon,
You ford the stream,
Walking toad’s backs at night,
With the glint of Aldebaran in your eye.
Luna Blue’s lyrics are always provocative and create a story world with images, characters, and emotive touches. “Sleep Divination” begins with reverbed washed guitar, tinny sounds, synths that make spacey sounds in the deepest crevices of the composition, and expressive high-hat. A wood-block sound enters the mix and gives it texture. The guitars begin to build up layers as a wall of sound slowly grows throughout the piece. This is largely an instrumental song, with Luna Blue only punctuating the soundscape for brief moments with “I know you’ve been asleep for a few millenium” as a repeated line. The track fades as synths play a drone and the album is silenced.
Via Subterranea is a melding of genres with expressive goth, post-punk, darkwave, prog rock, and middle eastern flavors. Channeling the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Cure and many other artists and styles, Trance to the Sun creates their own lush and mature sound. The lyrics create word pictures, fantasy lands, and emotive moments that are coupled with with the larger, intricate instrumentation. – Jason Lamoreaux
Webstore Manager –
On Via Subterranea, their first full-length since 2001’s Atrocious Virgin, Portland’s Trance to the Sun conjures up a heady blend of goth, shoegaze, and psychedelia that brings to mind even such a landmark album as The Cure’s Disintegration.
Like Robert Smith’s magnum opus, there’s a commitment on the part of Trance to the Sun to go big or go home. Ingrid Luna Blue’s voice is coy, ethereal, and sultry, delivering abstract lyrics like “I could disrupt the orbit of your distant molten eye” and even garden gnome-inspired streams-of-consciousness. Meanwhile, Ashkelon Sain’s guitar evokes middle-eastern textures, tears through soaring solos, and delivers haunting ambience — sometimes all in the same song. (To continue with the Disintegration comparison, think “Prayers for Rain” or “Homesick” rather than, say, “Lovesong.”)
“Aviatrix (The Sudden Birds)” is a personal favorite. Sain’s guitar is at its trippiest even as the rhythms (anchored by Daniel Henderson’s drumming) evoke classic Cure-ish gloom. At nine minutes, it’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’ve been looking for the kind of ostentatious (I mean that in a good way) dark rock epic that goths don’t seem to make any more, then you’re in for a treat. – Jason Morehead //
Webstore Manager –
TRANCE TO THE SUN: Via Subterranea — dreampop with an emphasis on the “pop”; first track “Max Mystic” makes its case immediately without undue faff. (And that’s even with it being, at 4:51, the shortest track on the album.) Real muscle and not just atmospherics (though you can still tell they were a Projekt band with a not-so-secret goth past). Find of the day. – David Gerard //