Mars Red Sky

Stranded In Arcadia

Written by: AP on 19/07/2014 11:52:23

Despite a short-ish lifespan of seven years and just two studio albums to their name, French psychedelic stoner rock trio Mars Red Sky is held in unusual reverence by the who's-whos of the scene tied around those genres. I cannot claim to be familiar with their earlier output, 2011's self-titled LP or the "Be My Guide" EP from last year; but this latest outing "Stranded in Arcadia" certainly has the sort of irresistible resonance to it that such acclaim feels entirely just. Much like the repertoire of the iconic Sleep, the album blurs the boundaries between traditional definitions for stoner- and psychedelic rock, slinging dense droning riffs and wildly kaleidoscopic, wah-wah fuelled trips in equal measure. On it Mars Red Sky produce ample and keen references to their favourite artists, among them Hawkwind, Kyuss, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath (there is no escaping the clang of that band's legacy in these genres, is there?) and even Pink Floyd - but without ever resorting to simple idolatry.

It is daring to being the album with its longest and slowest track "The Light Beyond", which stretches past 8 minutes; but perhaps Mars Red Sky wish to predicate that prospective listeners must be willing to be challenged; to draw on their patience and sense of adventure for music that is not particularly accessible, and offers virtually no instant rewards, least of all songs that might be classified as hit singles. Instead, "Stranded in Arcadia" offers a demanding odyssey through a honey mass of psychedelia; warped and distorted, yet veiled in a light and ethereal, almost dreamlike atmosphere owing in no tiny part to vocalist Julien Pras' breezy singing (not unlike Tame Impala's Kevin Parker); swelling, reverberating and dissolving in the soundscape like some mind altering vapour. The intense miasma of searing grooves and hallucinogenic jams he - with his effect laden guitar - and his colleagues bassist Jimmy Kinast & drummer Matgaz cook up is as liberating as it is beguiling, the contrasts between rumbling low end, lofty tenor and spiralling solos ensuring a rich and diverse soundscape from whence there is no desire to escape.

There is no resisting the interplay between soothing, slow moving space exploration and driving Wolfmother-esque rock'n'roll in "Holy Mondays" (the riff Pras lays down for the chorus is, in fact, eerily similar to that found in Wolfmother's "Woman", alert ears will note), its simple and poppy chorus forming a stark contrast to the elsewise poetic nature of Pras' lyricism throughout the album. Her slow burning worship of the Sun in "Join the Race" is especially haunting, the droning instrumentation and intermittent acidic solos forming the perfect foundation for her esoteric musings. And the following "Arcadia" eviscerates any hope of more immediate rewards in its wake, sending the listener('s mind) drifting toward that star at an even more languid speed, vocals omitted altogether. Sadly, its purpose toward the whole remains veiled in mystery, and realising this, it might be wise to point out that in spite of the praise I have been heaping onto "Stranded in Arcadia" for much of this article, its many merits do have some counterweight from occasional passages that seem to have no direction.

Mars Red Sky are at their most exhilirating in tracks like "Circles" and "Seen a Ghost", when the arcane warmth of Pras' singing, trippy instrumental mesh work and progressive structuring strike a balance. Be that as it may: though imperfect, "Stranded in Arcadia" is still bristling with highlights, and its juxtaposition of intense/intimate and lulling breeziness seems the ideal partner to the activities typically associated with listening to stoner- or psychedelic rock. Be warned, however: the record is unlikely to expose its appeal at once, its finest qualities rather the sort to unmask themselves gradually, and often drowsily. A highly recommended addition to the European stoner scene, nonetheless.


Download: The Light Beyond, Holy Mondays, Join the Race, Circles
For the fans of: Causa Sui, The Flying Eyes, Samsara Blues Experiment
Listen: Facebook

Release date 28.04.2014

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