Outer space flamenco

California Guitar Trio – Andromeda

Stream – ‘Andromeda’

There are a few things you need to know about California Guitar Trio before we even start this review: one third of their name is a lie, they were tutored by Robert “Flash fingers” Fripp and they have been together for a big while (almost 20 years).

They’ve also done quite a few covers on their career (including an impressive cover of Pink Floyd‘s ‘Echoes’) and with Andromeda, they have created an album of original material only, not a cover on sight. Always cool to let the creative muse out for a spin.

Although most of their arsenal consists of guitars, they don’t shy from having some guests (like a cello) and even if their original tutor was an ace of progressive rock, their style is very well defined and changes according to the feel of the song. There’s some folk, some flamenco tricks and a lot of arpeggios.

As much as guitar effects are a fun thing to play around with, you need a grounded sound from time to time and it’s pretty cool when a band consisting of three buddies on guitars can do so much around, making it even heavy to listen to.

‘Cathedral peak’ sets the mood, part music for an unseen documentary (closing credits, natch) and part progressive, the song is the first hook with which California Guitar Trio try to get your attention. The slow, introspective mood is stretched for a while with a song like ‘Turn of the tide’, but somewhere along the line, they decided to just go and have fun. Why the hell no?

So it kicks out with ‘Andromeda’, really, as in shape, it resembles a prog rock song (clocking at 6 minutes to boot) with the layered approach and the increasing pace, where the fast change of direction is done through different musical ideas being seamlessly integrated. The band pulls a fast one with some distorted guitar by the end, which feels just right.

Although it might seem like the album is pretty much defined by quick chord changes and some slight droning, there are a few moments where the band experiments. These experimental songs, called improvs and followed by a number, are a nice showcase of the creativeness of California Guitar Trio. Their M.O. for these segues is almost too simple: create an arpeggio and then play catch up with it, either by some effect fiddling (‘Improv 7’) or just by being really creative (‘Improv 8 / layered circulation’). It changes the pace in a nice, non-intrusive way.

‘Hazardous Z’ and ‘Middle TX’ are the heaviest acoustics (!) the band offers in  Andromeda. Imagine unplugging a progressive metal virtuoso and that’s a possible approximation of the ideas being thrown around, going into a few jams just to pull the carpet below your feet (and then playing a few playful chords to let you know it was all in good jest).

I’ve read somewhere online that the music of California Guitar Trio was used to wake up NASA astronauts while they were in space. There’s something spacey in their sound, the desolation of a few sad arpeggios (again, title track ‘Andromeda’ has it spot on) or the little noises do give Andromeda an otherworldly feeling.

Words: —Sam


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