Recently my mother mailed me a box of records from the family collection I grew up listening to. Among the first pressing Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and Velvet Underground was a copy of a little known album called “Playback” by Appletree Theatre. When I was a little kid I sat by the turntable with my parents’ giant 1970’s headphones on my little head and played this record over and over.
It’s a concept album though I’m still uncertain what the concept is. The series of short beautifully written pop songs are broken up by orchestration and scripted dialogue into three acts and an epilogue. In my seven year old mind it was a fascinating and enigmatic 35 minute story. I listened to it earlier today and decades later it still holds up as a testament to 1960’s LSD infused creativity.
Sound Mirrors debut album “Space Rockets and Sunshine” reminds me of the Appletree Theatre album. It feels narrative in a theatrical sense. The songs move in a loose arc of carefully constructed harmonies and dense instrumentation that begins with an homage to Kepler 186f—a planet 500 light years away that shows potential for human inhabitation. After several listens this album it feels like a love story. Kepler 186f as a metaphor for newly discovered love with the following songs telling of a Promethean ascent to touch the flaming heart of the sun.
The album takes the classic hero’s journey complete with references to Greek mythology and Longfellow’s poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus”.
There are moments while listening to this I’m reminded of The Makers amazing concept album “Rock Star God” or even a kinder gentler version of Turbonegro’s brilliant “Apocalypse Dudes” (Though generally Sound Mirror’s songs are more about love and the glory of light as opposed to Turbo’s themes of sodomy and pizza). It has the same dedication to creating a cinematic musical landscape. Hammond organ, complex vocal arrangements, and veritable orchestra of other instruments (including the amazing Theremin) are combined seamlessly. From the Nile Roger’s reminiscent guitar intro of “Stories High” to classic 1960’s layered harmonies and artfully executed break downs these songs feel familiar in the way all great pop songs should. Singer Rico’s voice can range from Damon Albarn crooning on the song “Suntan Soul” to a flawless falsetto that would make Thom Yorke jealous on the final track “VK”.
Sound Mirrors are undeniably clever and accomplished. Tremendous care was taken to blend the multitude of musical influences on this album so they flow and overlap each other to mold something unmistakably unique. “Space Rockets and Sunshine” taunts the tragic flaws of hubris and untethered ambition and emerges unscathed. This is an impressive and expansive album.