Palace of Mirrors Review

April 22, 2009

61fjaazdsml_sl500_aa280_2Artist: Estradasphere

Album: Palace of Mirrors

Released: September 19, 2006

Label: The End

 

 

This is an excerpt from Estradasphere’s website and summarizes the group very well:

Estradasphere is a band of multi-instrumentalists from an unlikely variety of musical backgrounds. Timb Harris (violin/trumpet), Jason Schimmel (guitar/banjo/keyboards/vocals), Tim Smolens (upright and electric bass/vocals), Kevin Kmetz (Tsugaru Shamisen/guitar/keyboards), Adam Stacey (accordion/keyboards/clavinet), and Lee Smith (drums/percussion) were trained in disciplines ranging from classical and jazz to metal. This diverse instrumental and stylistic palette enables them to execute a vast array of orchestrations and even forge entirely new genres such as “Bulgarian Surf,” “Romanian Gypsy-Metal,” and “Spaghetti Eastern.”

Essentially the band is capable of playing a ludicrously diverse array of styles, and they do just that, plus create their own.  The group’s original lineup featured John Whooley (saxophone, accordion, vocals) from their early days in Santa Cruz until before their last studio album “Palace of Mirrors.”  Estradasphere became quite popular at clubs in Santa Cruz and their shows took on the bizarre atmosphere of a circus.  Fans were encouraged to come in costume and participate, which spawned a number of exceedingly strange sideshows.  Among them were fire-dancers, book readers, stilt walkers, and finally the infamous Mono Man, who “wore a cape, painted his bare chest with a large M, and proceeded to attempt to kiss people in the audience while pretending to have the disease of the same name” (Wikipedia).

After Whooley left the group they gained the renowned Kevin Kmetz who is one of the greatest shamisen players in Japan.  The next album was “Palace of Mirrors” and clearly fits their genre of “Epic-Cinema-Thon.”  After the intro, the title track begins with epic theatrical flair and continues to grow until it becomes a grand opus of strings, accordion, piano, and trumpet.  The following track, “A Corporate Merger,” starts with a jazzy guitar riff, before accordion, shamisen, and violin kick in and all begin trading themes.  The greatest realization I had from hearing “A Corporate Merger” was that the shamisen fits the song perfectly and matches the violin extremely well.

“The Terrible Beautypower of Meow” displays some really beautiful harmony on the part of Timb Harris.  “Colossal Risk” is even bigger than it sounds, and hits the listener with a musical range from walking bass lines to gloriously discordant trumpet.  “The Unfolding Pause of the threshold” is a psychedelic and heavy ride into a place that probably only Estradasphere has been.  “Smuggled Mutation” is a showcase for Harris’ frenzied violin skills, but also displays some really impressive shamisen, and underlying the whole vaguely bluegrass melody is a heavy metal foundation.  Trust me, it works.

Following the track is a sort of intermission-esque piece called “Six Hands” that seems to be entirely piano and harpsichord.  It is perhaps needed recovery time after the blistering Smuggle Mutation.”  It is very difficult to describe how much ass “Flower Garden of an Evil Man” kicks within the first two or three minutes, but suffice to say it is quite a large amount.  Nearing the end, “Those Who Know…” is the prime example of Kevin Kmetz’s ridiculous skill with the shamisen, and there is a majestic “Palace of Mirrors Reprise.”  Ending it all is “The Return,” which is probably best described as hardcore cinematic gypsy metal to the max.

This video of “Hunger Strike” off “It’ Understood” sums up the Estradasphere experience and is the epitome of their original lineup.  Instead of being intimidated by the length, start watching and you’ll be sucked in.