Posts Tagged ‘The Utopia Strong’

Rocket Recordings – 10th June 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

International Treasure is the second album from the ‘collaborative collision’ of Steve Davis, Kavus Torabi, and Mike York. And, of course, much has – and will – be made of the Steve Davis factor: he may have kept his musical interests largely under wraps during the lengthy heyday of his snooker career, but the fact is that he’s long been a fan and supporter of ‘interesting; music, and this is a musical unit that stands on the strength of its work – and its work is (utopia) strong.

As the accompanying notes explain about the origins of International Treasure, ‘All three musicians here found themselves operating outside of their comfort zones – Torabi’s purchase of a guzheng (a Chinese plucked zither) led to Shepherdess’s lambent allure and York’s spectacular and evolving array of pipes and wind instruments contributed just as much as his ruthless editing. Davis meanwhile, whose speciality lies in rich tapestries of modular electronics, sums up their relationship in characteristically self-effacing fashion: “I see myself as a strong midfielder, or a centre back. Kavus and Mike are like the Lionel Messi or Ronaldo of the equation, and I’m setting situations up for them”.

Davis’ application of an extended football analogy is amusing in context, and one suspects it’s an intentional slice of drollery. The music itself is not amusing – as in, there are no chuckles to be found here – but instead is intensely focused, with magnificent results. There’s a tangible sense of an intuition flowing between the three of them on this album as the sounds ebb and flow and weave and quaver, the elongated drones and meandering organs melting together like a stream of butter.

There are some odd samples – probably animal, rather than vegetable or mineral – flow together into a soft mass, with no hard boundaries, no distinct edges… ‘Shepherdess’ is spacious, meditative, but shifts over time to emerge as a more pulse-based modular synth work, and ‘Disaster 2’ brings all of the various elements together perfectly, as well as bringing together ambient, post-rock, and folk. It’s a beautiful and uplifting experience, and one which acknowledges the pains, trials, and tribulations of life, how it may not be possible to function all day every day.

There’s something soothing, even soporific, about the slow, mellifluous tones that drift together smoothly, seemingly effortlessly, to coalesce into some form, however cloud-like and abstract, to create International Treasure. Even when deep, resonant notes hang like the slow decay of a chimed gong, as on the title track, the darkness is always tempered, by light.

It’s not ambient and it’s not Krautrock – but International Treasure finds the three musicians drawing on elements of both to conjure something magical, something mystical. The final track, ‘Castalia’ is a calypso party party, and if it at first feels somewhat at odds with the rest of the album, it’s worth bearing in mind that the album exists at all because the players are keen to explore different terrains and territories. And explore they do: International Treasure mines many seams, and excavates a wealth of listening pleasure.

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Coming from the playfully intangible modular synth and multi-instrumental collective The Utopia Strong, is ‘Castalia’, a new taster of the voyage to come from their second full length International Treasure (Rocket Recordings, 10th June).

Here, the band share their thoughts on the second single and album closer:

"Castalia was one of the first tunes we started for International Treasure, it felt so optimistic and forgiving which was such a tonic during the somber period in which the album was recorded. Castalia initially felt at odds with the rest of the album which generally has a much bleaker, melancholic tone – to our ears at least – but by putting it in as the last tune it somehow makes sense of everything that went before.

Kavus continues, "It has this end of the night kind of feeling, it put us in mind of Orbital’s Belfast or Ashra’s Sunrain. Steve and I thought it would sound perfect as the last tune we’d play in a DJ set, in fact initially I wanted to call it ‘Last Song Of The Night’ but thankfully Mike wasn’t having any of it! The vocal at the end once again comes from Katharine Blake who sang on the last piece of our debut album, Moonchild. We liked the conceptual continuity of that but also, along with the use of acoustic instruments, the way it humanises the track too.

"Mike Bourne, who created the video, has been a friend before we were even a band. It was he who inspired Steve to take up the modular synthesiser in the first place. We loved his work anyway and he’d created an astonishing video for The Holy Family, another Rocket band Mike York and I are involved with, so we were very keen to work with him. He’d specifically asked to do the video for Castalia and knowing his work we gave him a free hand. I think the end results absolutely crystallise the vibe and atmosphere of the piece, we couldn’t be happier."

Watch the video for ‘Castalia’ here:

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Photo credit: David Ryder Prangley