February 1, 2010

Indie Week: Stratospheerius

Since this week is Music Month, I figured the month should start off with Indie Week, in which we highlight a different indie, new, or relatively unknown artist and review some of their work. To start out, here's Stratospheerius. Why them? Because I just happened to be listening to them, that's why.

Band info:

Stratospheerius is the bastard child of Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dave Matthews, and Blues Traveler. Lead by electric violinist/vocalist/mandolinist Joe Deninzon, the band has showcased their "psychojazz trip funk" at colleges, festivals, and clubs throughout the US. The New York-based group has opened for Mickey Hart, Tim Reynolds, The Slip, Ekoostik Hookah, and John Scofield among others. Their live performances are filled with funky dance grooves, rip-roaring guitar/violin jams, and hooks that mix jazz, funk, and world beat. The group was a winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, won the Online People's Choice Awards in the Cornucopia Festival, and was named "Best Jam Band" in Musician's Atlas Independent Music Awards. They have been featured in Relix, Downbeat, Jazziz, among other publications. After receiving heavy airplay and critical acclaim all over the US, Canada, Australia, South America, Japan, and Europe with their Live Wires CD, they have just completed their fourth release, Headspace, available now.
The band:

  • Joe Deninzon - 6 and 7-string "Viper" electric violin, acoustic violin, mandolin, vocals
  • Aurelien Budynek - guitars, vocals
  • Jamie Bishop - electric bass
  • Lucianna Padmore - drums


  • 1998 - Electric/Blue 
  • 2002 - The Adventures of Stratospheerius 
  • 2004 - Live Wires 
  • 2007 - Headspace 

 Review: Headspace

1. "New Material"- This track starts the album off pretty strongly, in my opinion. It's got a weird jazzy fiddle hook with funk bass. The lyrics have a certain style about them. The track is sung in a very disjointed manner somewhere between singing and rapping. It's damn catchy.

2. "Old Ghosts"- The first thing that comes to mind when this song starts is 'haunted island.' Strange, I know. I suppose it does relate to ghosts, though. Anyway, the singing in this one reminds me of someone reciting jazz poetry. And then there's congas... and the fiddle is back... This guy's singing seriously reminds me of someone. I'll think of it someday I suppose.

3. "Sold Out"- This is a fast one! It started out sounding like F-Zero in the country. If that makes any sense. Reminds me slightly of Sonic The Hedgehog somehow, actually.

4. "Today is Tomorrow"- This one's slow and it's got African drums. Interesting. Actually, sort of turns into your standard alt-rock song in the middle. I'm liking the blending of traditional rock instruments with  all this ethnic stuff. And now there's synth? Is there anything this band doesn't do? Mellow and yet not. Huh.

5. "Mental Floss"- No vocals on this track. Starts off with strings and percussion, then that fiddle comes back in there. Now there's electric guitar. Interesting. It's a kind of relaxing song. The way it's arranged gives me the feeling that it came off of a video game soundtrack. But then it gets into this guitar solo... and it sounds like rock music again. But then it all slows down for a bit. It sounds like it's going to build up to something big. And the main groove is back. This song is like going on a journey! Some blistering guitar at the end there. And the fiddle never lets up.

6. "Gutterpunk Blues"- A banjo? Oh yeah, it supposed to be blues isn't it? Oh man! The banjo exploded into metal. Mind= blown. It's like a dark jamboree. It would fit quite well into L4D2, actually. Oh, but then it slows down for a guitar solo. Man, this CD is like an acid trip. Oh yeah, there's no vocals on that one either.

7. "Driven to Tears"- This starts off sounding quite happy, actually. Kind of... atmospheric. Vocals are back. Again, the singing reminds me of someone, but I can't quite place it. About three minutes in it sounds like it's all going to end, but then it comes back in force. Finishes off with some nice jamming.

8. "Yulia"- Interesting guitar opening. Whoa. They've I swear they somehow fooled me into thinking that that violin was a sax. This one is kind of like smooth jazz. If smooth jazz had electric fiddle solos. Is that a guitar or a fiddle? Or a violin? Or viola? Well, whatever the hell it is it has strings. Why does track without vocals remind me of video games?

9. "Long Rd."- Sounds pretty funky to start out with here. Vocals sound kinda funky. Well, until the chorus. And then, of course it deviates into a guitar solo. You know, they should put these guys in Guitar Hero. They'd fit right in. I don't know about these lyrics though. They seem to indorse hanging.

10. "Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle"- Well first off, what the hell is with the name of this song? There are just so many things that make no sense about it. Moving past that, the song itself starts out with what sounds like djembes then adds a drum set and then the crazy violin thing. It sounds very Middle Eastern or Mediterranean. Oh yeah, I know my Mediterranean music and this obviously has influence. It's pretty epic, though. The end builds up until is seems like the song is going to explode. And it sort of does.  Nice way to end the CD.

My verdict is positive. I definitely recommend this group based on this CD. It's like a mash of everything ever, yet they mash it so well it sounds awesome. If the band intrigues you, you can purchase the CD for the low, low price of $1.52 at Amiestreet. Or you can listen to samples of the entire discography for free on the band's website to get an idea of what you're in for.

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