With just a few live shows under their belt and a couple of years worth of work recording, the three-piece prog/alternative rock band known as Superquiet from Des Moines, Iowa put out their debut Sansterra this summer. Recorded at Screen Door Studios in Jewell, Iowa the title for the album proved a challenge for the trio. The lyrics of guitarist and vocalist, Rob Strain, had recurring themes that dealt with space and the ocean. Mark Wohlert, the bass player, liked the ideas of having “no land” and being “ungrounded” so this prompted him to come up with a fictional comic series, and the conceptual art to go with it, thus “Sansterra” was born. Third member Dalton Siler lays down some sweet beats on drums.
Superquiet’s style has been compared to artists like Jeff Buckley, Soundgarden and The Mars Volta. The band’s philosophy is something I can get behind – they believe that there is no such thing as “my song” or “your song” – each person contributes something unique to a song. During the decision process of recording, each member decided that they would have to truly love the song in order for it to be on the album, otherwise their heart just wouldn’t be in it.
To start off the 11-track album, “Elefino” begins with a great muddy effect on bass and warm full drums. As the chorus breaks in with plenty of good guitar sound, I’m instantly turned on by a style that I can only describe as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Black Sabbath and Queens of the Stone Age all rolled into one. “Daydream Arrows” mellows things out with a slower beat and a dream-like feeling. I’ll add here as well that production wise, I was liking the band’s more mono toned, muddier sound approach, reminding me that sometimes this way of recording can really bring out a band’s personality.
The beginning rhythm of the drums and bass on “Plagueships” really reminded me of one my all-time favorite bands The Police, while other parts of the song’s structure were reminiscent of Radiohead. Overall, this tune really expressed the trio’s strong musicianship as a prog-rock act. “Textures (How Things Feel)” starts off with a shadowy, dark feeling and gets pretty experimental with some crazy good drum beats, bass and guitar work – and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t hearing strong similarities to Chris Cornell with Rob Strain’s voice – remarkable!
The structure on “Spirals” delves deep into a prog-rock style that reminded me of a darker, early Genesis tune. The bass and guitar get thick and heavy while Siler’s drumming lays down beats that are damn good and mean. “Darkstar” gets interesting with a jazzy, psychedelic feel that at times I thought I was hearing Jack Bruce and Cream. On “Trembling Act” the melody starts off with a lighter feel as the drums shuffle along. The tempo picks up as the backing vocals fill in the spaces with a beautifully haunting sound. “Jetsam” starts with a low, groovy bass line and drum beat and dreamy sounding guitar melody. The singing is simply gorgeous on this one and musically, the band’s approach feels like one-part Radiohead and one-part flashback to the groovier tunes of ‘60 sand ‘70s psych.
With “On Lookout” comes another fantastic, prog rock song with a great off beat rhythm. The band switches gears after five minutes or so into an alternative rock style and then back to the main off beat after seven. I thought this was the band’s most dynamic tune. “Monolith” begins with a low and ominous bass line that’s quite catchy. The band adds an effect to the bass in the next section as Strain’s gets in some healthy scream-singing throughout the song. The rhythm between Siler’s drums and Wohlert’s bass lines got so damn good and crazy, I had to give this one a few more listens. Finally, with “The Siege” which I think is a great title for a song, bass lines fill in solid with the main melody and the drums pick up speed with a fast shuffle beat. Very little guitar can be heard on this one, if at all – but there is plenty of gorgeous vocal work, both with Strain’s chops and additional backing vocals.
In my view, Sansterra is one of those albums you’ll want to listen to again…and then again. I could tell the band pulls ideas from a lot of influences and styles, but even so, they each bring their own unique musical strengths, which results in a sound all their own. I thought the way the album was produced also added to the band’s unique sound. Hoping to hear more soon.
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