I wasn’t previously familiar with Sky Cries Mary, a psychedelic outfit from Seattle, but they’ve been going for over 30 years (with a short hiatus in the early 2000s) and this is their thirteenth album, and fourth for Trail Records. They began with industrial and glam/punk influences before morphing toward the current style.
From a prog perspective, they are notable as the band with which Jon Davison had been playing bass (for nearly 20 years) before being plucked to be the new singer of Yes in 2012. Sky Cries Mary has been through numerous formations over the years, other notable alumni including Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, and the current line-up includes noted producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden), who engineered, recorded and mixed this album.
As with many releases over the last couple of years, Wandering in the Vastness is coloured by the global pandemic, a “synthesis of feeling, thought, meditation, and experience … So much isolation, loneliness, fear…”. Despite the logistical restraints on recording, the members collaborated via various studios and were, according to multi-instrumentalist Ben Ireland, “definitely encouraged to take risks!”
There is a clear spiritual feel at times, with the lyrics of founder Roderick Wolgamott taken from snapshots of life (“A snowy evening in New York spent waiting, witnessing a friend’s relapse, a family’s resolve to survive hunger in the streets, a shout-out to a friend in Rock legend heaven”), words emerging from dreams and imaginings as well as real events.
What you get is an intriguing hour that moves from the thumping space rock drive of Crystal Gazing, through the ’60s influenced indie groove of L Train and beyond with a rough-and-ready sheen. There’s forthright rock with a punk edge in Bridge Sleepers and melody aplenty, as in the engaging Can’t Find the Time, and an often dense, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink sweep, but elsewhere it’s stripped back, the vocals of Wolgamott and Debra Reese complementing each other nicely. Ethereal dreamscapes and trance elements support the solid rocking foundations to make for an interesting and varied listen. Drone is effectively deployed in Red Red Fox to give that other-worldly vibe that adds to the spiritual feel, most effectively laid out in the tabla and synth-sitar infused The Dolman and the undulating trip that is Raga Metal Machine.
Chaos at the Port is the first of three tracks to breach the 7-minute barrier, wall of sound chords backing Wolgamott’s out-there voice at an easy pace, random sounds and effects adding to a muggy ’60s haze, Reese again adding some lovely harmonies. It’s the hippy ideal, but shot through with decades of world-weary reality. Finally, Dream Yourself to Sleep brings things home via the outer rings of Saturn, tabla leading the way in a dense and haunting netherworld of extraneous sounds and voices, the rhythm keeping things safely anchored.
All an all, an interesting diversion that works very well when the mood aligns. A well-realised album from skilled hands, although it isn’t going to work for everyone.
01. Crystal Gazing (3:19)
02. L Train (5:15)
03. Red Red Fox (5:33)
04. Can’t Find the Time (5:00)
05. Chaos at the Port (7:02)
06. Bright Biggest Eye (4:32)
07. The Dolmen (2:52)
08. Jodo (1:35)
09. Bridge Sleepers (3:52)
10. Raga Metal Machine (7:23)
11. A Lonely Deer (5:46)
12. Dream Yourself to Sleep (10:21)
Total Time – 62:30
Rodrick Wolgamott – Lead Vocals, Lyrics
Ben Ireland – Piano, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Bass, Percussion, Drone, Mellotron, Organ, Synthesisers, Recorder
Kevin Whitworth – Guitar, Loops, Bass, Organ, Synthesisers, Keyboards, Percussion
Jack Endino – Guitar, E-bow, Programmed & Real Drums
Curt Eckman – Bass, Keyboards, Synthesisers
Debra Reese – Vocals, Synthesisers, Wooden Flute, Percussion
Record Label: Trail Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 22nd January 2022