If you were a kid in the late 1970s/early ’80s and your parents loved you, then you must have gone to Disneyland, which means you must remember when Space Mountain glistened with newness and high tech. You also remember waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ... in the outside line expecting that once you passed through the door into the "mountain," you'd arrived. But, no. The line wound around and around inside, too.
So it is with Strix Vega's new album, Estranged Meadow. We've stood by for years longing for the Arcata-based trio to release a follow-up to their lovely 2006 debut, Drunken Sky. Finally they're releasing Estranged Meadow -- CD release party at the Alibi, Saturday, March 7 -- and what happens when you throw it on the iTunes? Do the speakers come alive with the sultry-dreamy-pop-folk sounds we've anticipated? Not exactly. Welcome to Space Mountain, kids. The wait's not over.
Fortunately, once you get through the off-putting, prog-rock moment of "UFO Above the Pines" (this is why they make fast forward buttons), the strains of the familiar welcome you into the unknown. Strix Vega has always had the potential to be one of Humboldt County's musical success stories. Estranged Meadow, fortunately, overall serves to further remind us why. "Mad Rain," a live show favorite, stands out on the album as well. It's the kind of song that if you were to hear it while driving, your thoughts would cease to be about anything other than turning up the radio. Lost loves would be recalled. You might find yourself singing (or at least nodding) along, wondering how music can be both so cathartic and so melancholy. Strix Vega never brings a person too low, however. They're valerian root, not heroin.
Perhaps to stave off the inevitable sophomore curse, the Vegans take care to mix things up a bit with a little freak-folk tune, "Rugged Wing." The narrative arc climaxes with "Carson Iceberg Wilderness," full of wintry despair, before our ride slows down, slips into the dark exit tunnel of "Granite Peaks Under Lunar Glow," another instrumental, this one especially forlorn.
With only seven tracks compared to Drunken Sky's 12, it's hard to not feel a bit let down, especially with two of those tracks serving to bookend the songs Colin Begell actually sings on. Fortunately, when Strix Vega is good, they're very, very good -- and the slow parts allow you to look around and see the stars before being whisked back into the universe they've created. Note: Original member Andy Powell handles bass and piano both live and on the album, but drummer Chris Jaster (Que la Chinga, Dragged by Horses) has been replaced by "Jet Set" Jay Forbes since the recording of Estranged Meadow.