Astralingua Beautifully Capture the Hopes and Heartaches of Existence on 'Safe Passage'
Flooded with gorgeous, philosophical melancholia from start to finish, Astralingua's Safe Passage is a masterful accomplishment in every way.
8 March 2019
Named after the Latin term for the language of the stars, self-described "nomadic space-folk" duo (and couple) Astralingua—vocalist Anne Rose Thompson and composer/instrumentalist/vocalist Joseph Andrew Thompson—seek to explore and express existential quandaries through the framework of transcendentally symphonic acoustic statements. Their latest outing, Safe Passage, is undoubtedly their finest realization of this purpose to date. Overflowing with beautiful arrangements and harmonies that flow together like a single heavenly tapestry, the record is a relentlessly comforting yet dejected guide toward internal and external reflections.
In our recent interview, Joseph explains that Safe Passage was made as they "traveled with a mobile recording rig" in the desert, while Anne points out that the LP was originally going to be a "quick" EP but that the addition of a string octet helped convince them to let it "grow" into something more substantial. Delving deeper into the album's themes, Joseph clarifies, "it's about the wonder and isolation that growing consciousness creates in a person". He also adds that its melancholic nature "shows a connection to reality" that resonates with both of them. Luckily, every moment of Safe Passage will surely connect with listeners, too, as it's damn near impossible not to get lost in its often subtle (but always breathtaking) introspective magnificence.
First and foremost, their voices radiate forlorn splendor on every track, with a few key moments standing out above the rest. Opener "Plunge", for instance, sees them uniting for matter-of-fact confessions, with Joseph's blunt lower register juxtaposing Anne's higher and more wistful deliveries. Each sounds wonderful individually, but it's how they interweave their timbres that truly spawns arresting glory. The same can be said for "Space Blues" and "A Poison Tree", whereas "NSA" finds Joseph taking more of a lead role and "Sweet Dreams" builds to an awe-inspiring cascade of vocal rounds to solidify it as the best track on Safe Passage, hands down. From start to finish, the LP would be gripping enough as mere acapella.
Of course, the Thompsons choose instead to bask their singing in elegant instrumentation that maintains a consistent acoustic heart while sprinkling enough distinctive trappings to make each entry feel like a self-contained piece of a powerful puzzle. The aforementioned "Plunge" must be praised against for its synthesis of six-string arpeggios, marching percussion, and volatile strings that evoke the Beatles' ingenious "Eleanor Rigby". Afterward, the slower "Visitor" relies far more on rustic woodwinds, patient piano notes, and ethereal tones, while the abstract natural noise collage "The Nimble Man" feels like a lost Agalloch gem as it brings avant-garde innovation to the fold. Halfway in, "Phantoms" acts as a chilling intermezzo comprised of piano chords, strings, and multilayered malevolent cackles, and "The Fallen" uses a musical box as the core of its unhurried divine catharsis. Really, there isn't a moment on the record that isn't compositionally enrapturing (no matter how faint it is).
Safe Passage is a masterful accomplishment in every way (including its immensely poignant and intellectual lyrics, which we haven't even touched upon and which are inspired by William Blake, among other things). Joseph Thompson fills every instant with something orally or instrumentally captivating and novel (often at the same time), and although her role is more limited in that respect, Anne's backing vocals are truly a precious part of what makes Astralingua special. Thus, the duo joins artists like Lady and Bird, Gazpacho, Anathema, Nosound, and Midlake as prominent examples of how sonically and emotionally stunning modern music can be, and they deserve far more acclaim than they'll likely ever receive.