Astrocolour’s debut album is a Christmas Album…. but not that kind of Christmas album.
On Lit Up, schmaltzy jingle bells and baby-voices of old are replaced with syrupy, narcotic synth swells, hypnotic rhythms, and dense swaths of echo and reverb reminiscent of the dreamiest indie moments of the decade.
This isn’t just some strange re-imagining of some Christmas tunes though. The group succeeds in creating some serious earworms with jazz-inflected, vaguely funky ambient arrangements—injecting new life into standards many pronounced dead decades ago.
In the process, they’ve managed to put together a seasonal album with the potential to transcend seasons. “Sugar Plums”—an album highlight—features the kind of hyper-sensual vocals, kinetic rhythms, and soundscapes that could comfortably soundtrack summer patio cocktails framed by slowly descending twilight. Indeed, even in cases of more traditional arrangement—see “Silent Night”—the pieces still wouldn’t feel out of place in hip, pseudo-speakeasies like the Copper Owl.
Astrocolor is bassist William Farrant, guitarists Andrew Poirier and Piers Henwood, drummer Chris Mackenzie, and saxophonist Anand Greenwell—all members of renowned Victoria ambient-funk group Weird Party.
That the kind of reinterpretation featured on Lit Up comes primarily from members of Weird Party is unsurprising; genre-bending with groove and atmosphere as unifiers is their modus operandi. But Astrocolor believe they have something new to say with this project.
“Stylistically, we felt this project was musically different enough to perform under another moniker,” says Farrant. “We’ve enjoyed creating the album and will continue exploring unique ideas under the Astrocolor moniker.” The group certainly has achieved something different; while Weird Party’s music is more traditionally funky, Astrocolor’s output sees this funk buried deep beneath a haze of washed out jazz brass and ambient flourishes, serving more as cameo than featured player.
An authentic love of these Christmas songs pulled the band towards this project. “We appreciate the great Christmas songs—their enduring melodies and ability to elicit the magic of the season,” says Farrant. “We decided there was room for a unique artistic statement within the genre by deconstructing the songs into something more exploratory and artistic.”
The explorations began with rum and eggnog fuelled living room jam sessions where the band worked to hone song choices and arrangements.
“We found the best songs to use were ones we could re-create the melodic themes over minimal chord changes and repetitive bass lines,” says Farrant. “This allowed us to create really spaced-out dubby arrangements. We felt this was something artistic and interesting in a genre that typically doesn’t allow for much artistry.”
The group emerged from these sessions last December and entered the studio with well-known Victoria producer Colin Stewart (Dan Mangan, Black Mountain, AC Newman) to lay down the tracks at The Hive Studio. Lit Up’s final product is the result of three live performance days and five months of careful overdubs and meticulous mixing and mastering. While the band and Stewart handled production, collaborators Matt Lyall—of Gold & Youth— and Righteous Rainbows of Togetherness provided textural keyboard parts, and Vancouver producer Jason Cook brought it all together in the mix.
The band will be performing throughout December of this year, with one date at Northern Quarter confirmed for December 18. National and international travelers will also be treated with the chance to experience the album that month as Lit Up will be featured among seatback programming options on Air Canada and Virgin America.
Lit Up is a sneak attack Christmas album, one to be enjoyed by even the most vehement bah-humbuggers. If you’re put off by the seasonal tag, I urge you to block out the graphic, plug in your headphones, and let the sensual haze envelope you.
words: Michael Westwick
photo: Kim Jay