Space-Folk Duo Astralingua Deliver Hypnotic Debut Album
Denver-based space-folk duo Astralingua live with their feet on the ground but their heads in the clouds. In this way, Anne and Joseph Thompson touch both earth and sky, especially in their music. Space-folk isn’t something you hear every day, but Astralingua have crafted something far beyond a couple of pretty tunes — on their debut album, Safe Passage, they create a sonic experience like no other, built on woozy orchestration and ghostly melody.
When we asked Joseph to tell us a little about the album, he said something so wholly Astralingua: “Though I treat my life as something meant to be lived, I seem to exist with one foot in this world and one foot in the next.” A perfect summary of Safe Passage, the record is indeed an exploration of the bridging between two worlds and the seemingly cavernous space between life’s color and death’s comedown. The subject matter on Safe Passage runs the gamut of these two lengths — “sometimes a mellow contemplation, sometimes schizophrenic, sometimes overwhelmingly and hauntingly sad,” Joseph says. “All in all, I just want to tell a story.”
Safe Passage opens with two of Astralingua’s lead singles. The first, “Plunge,” thrums with desperation. It’s buzzing and erratic, suggesting the rest of the record will mimic this dark folk urgency, but then we move into “Visitor,” a more melodic composition led by sharp acoustic strums and backed by the subtle swell of strings. Anne and Joseph’s harmonies are a dream, like their voices just fit together. On “Sweet Dreams,” Astralingua deliver a dreamy, layered arrangement following the bumps and dips of strings and strums. It’s aptly named because it really is like a lullaby — despite the fast-paced rhythm and slight hint of urgency, sweetened vocal tones and soft melody turn it into a tiny dreamworld. Next is “The Nimble Man,” a fleeting instrumental interlude comprised of warbling swells of warring sound effects, a break so stark and unexpected that it leaves you haunted for a moment before you recognize how true it is to Astralingua’s style.
“Space Blues” is one of the standouts on Safe Passage. Every track on the record battles a certain emotion, but on this one, we somehow sense that the greater feelings spanning Safe Passage — comfort, anxiety, wistfulness, loneliness — have merged in the fluttery soundscape. It’s a soft hum packed with feeling. On “Phantoms,” Astralingua take a turn into the shadows of space. Everything has gone dark. A jarring piano line opens the track but it’s soon followed by the sharp wail of strings before the arrangement devolves into a clattering clamor of haunting laughter. Where it’s maniacal, it’s also subdued, an eerie duality in itself for just a quick interlude. “NSA” resounds with a twangy echo before Joseph’s voice comes in relaying drawn-out, unsettling lyrics, mirroring the contrast of soft piano and strange melody in the track. On “A Poison Tree,” Astralingua transform the verses of English poet William Blake’s poem of the same name, putting it to music for a moving tribute to the artist.
Later, “The Fallen” once again combines many worlds, feelings, and sounds. Chirping with key sparkles and layered with pretty rhythms, it’s a meandering composition that takes its time traveling its own length. Think of it as the safe passage Astralingua mark between life and death — an actual bridge placed neatly towards the end of the album. On “Passage To Avalon,” tender acoustic strums and stunning orchestral waves swell. Another instrumental on the record, no words are needed to deliver the emotion. There’s a tone to it — so hopeful but practical, like it wades through the darkness in search of the light — evoked here that is, frankly, rare to accomplish so effortlessly, but Astralingua have done just that. Safe Passage ends with “The Troubled Road,” a dynamic seven-minute long conclusion that happens to be Anne’s favorite off the record. “It’s very easy to go somewhere else when we’re singing — to lose myself in the song if you will,” she tells us. After an album steeped in soul-deep reflection, it’s a sensible choice for finale because though it’s slow-moving, it’s rich with dizzying moments and motifs of tones and sounds that had made their way through the rest of the record. So much happens in this piece, but never when you think it will, and never as quickly as you’d expect.
On their debut full-length, Astralingua have composed a collection of mesmeric space-folk ballads. The details abound, hidden in the shadows and layers of each piece, so there’s always something that wiggles its way under your skin. Safe Passage is as sincere an effort as the people who have made it — it’s a dream.