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What Strange Beasts - Starlight's Castaways (Self-Released)

12 January 2023

Washington’s What Strange Beasts certainly outdid themselves on their new album, Starlight’s Castaways. A massively ambitious psychedelic concept album with twenty-six tracks, the record is centered around a loosely-structured sci-fi theme, although at the core the songs all have a personal meaning for the songwriters. The band combines prog rock with lean, melodic ‘80s new wave for a sound that calls to mind groups like Utopia, Marillion, and The Cars, and although the track listing is seemingly endless, the group never forsakes a good pop hook for long, pointless instrumental noodling, and each song (not including the short interludes) works as well on its own as it does in the larger context.

It’s difficult to sum up an album this sprawling in just a few words, but thankfully the group makes it easy. Whereas other double-length albums will prefer numerous diversions and distractions, What Strange Beasts never lose focus here. The band explores a number of different styles like hard rock in the title track, bouncy R.E.M. jangle pop on “Plasticbrain,” and even piano ballads as on “A Different Light,” but there’s not a single song here that feels unnecessary. It’s insane to record something with a scale this large, but What Strange Beasts executes their vision with skill and ingenuity that is truly awe-inspiringly impressive. Starlight’s Castaways is out February 3rd, and prog fans should definitely not sleep on it.