As architects of some of the finest atmospheric rock albums of the last twenty years, Minnesota-born The Great Depression are one of music’s best kept secrets. For their first album in seven years, The Great Depression’s ‘In A Starry State’ promises “a science fiction romance which finds the band on a search for lost Gnostic wisdom deep in the woods”. If this all sounds a little proggy, perhaps even more disconcertingly, the album begins with spoken word over an ambient backdrop.
Maybe the group have spent too long apart and have forgotten the noble art of writing songs but this is The Great Depression and this was never going to happen. Indeed, true to reputation, ‘Hey Go Easy (Serpentina)’ makes a nonsense of such fears; it’s a track which shimmers with vitality thanks to rattling guitars, fleshy percussion and the kind of multi-layered arrangement which characterised the greatest of The Great Depression’s songs. Its boisterous brother, ‘The Thirteen Bells’, appears towards the end of the record but matches the song’s energy and vitality. These tracks also form a logical progression from main songwriter Todd Casper’s and Tom Cranley’s intense and more direct Admiral Byrd project.
For the lighter moments, there’s the unashamedly catchy pop of ‘New Salem’ and the humorously-titled ‘Philip K Disco’ which sounds just like the high brow techno-fest you would hope it to be. However, The Great Depression are often at their best when they slow down the tempo and let their richly textured arrangements unfold. The stately chamber pop ‘Visiting On Davenports’ and ‘A Dreamy Brochure For Elsewhere’ are possessed with the aura of vintage Hollywood. Meanwhile, the fabulous ambient rock formations of ‘Something Like Shame’ and the title track are reminiscent of The Helio Sequence at their finest.
‘Psirene’ is the kind of song which only Casper and Cranley could develop. Warm, complex and jazzy like Steely Dan and as imaginative and colourful as a modern ELO. This fine band have made a habit of saving some of their best songs to the end of the record and the finale ‘Sophia And The Fool’ is the perfect balance of beauty, grace and cinematic wonder. So much so that on hearing the lyric “I can’t believe it’s finally happening”, there’s a genuine sadness as the final anthem plays out.
The narrated interludes play a vital part in maintaining the filmic atmospheres, serving to heighten the anticipation of the next killer track and ‘In A Starry State’ is full of such moments. All told, it’s a fantastic tale and a magical and triumphant return from The (genuinely) Great Depression.
The Helio Sequence, Mercury Rev, The Silent League, Admiral Byrd