Even before Porcupine Tree were on ice, bassist Colin Edwin had some musical projects on the side. But since the band has changed into its inactive phase, i.e. since 2010, the activities of the Australian are also increasing. He's as good a bandleader as Steven Wilson: With the bands Random Noise Generator, Metallic Taste Of Blood and O.R.k. he dedicates himself to modern visions of progressive metal. At the Ex-Wise Heads he tries his hand at North African folklore. As Endless Tapes or Burnt Belief and in joint albums with the guitarists Jon Durant or Lorenzo Feliciato he plays an ambient mixture of unobtrusive art rock and equally unobtrusive jazz. Not to mention his solo albums.
But now Edwin is entering new territory for him. A joint album with the Ukrainian singing duo Astarta recently appeared under the name Astarta/Edwin. Astarta was founded in 2009 and consists of the two singers Inna Sharkova and Yulia Malyarenko. Eastern European folklore, especially those from her native Ukraine, partly with self-written texts, determines the repertoire of Astarta. But they haven't left a big mark on the music business yet. He has performed at various festivals in Ukraine, Poland and Russia. But even the Internet doesn't know much. An own website is missing as well as a Wikipedia entry. Lastfm has a little something to offer.
It is therefore almost surprising that Colin Edwin came into contact with Astarta at all. "I heard the band for the first time when I played a concert with the Ex-Wise Heads in Kiev in 2012. Although I didn't know anything about Eastern European folk music at all, I was immediately impressed by Astarta's unmistakable and captivating singing style." So impressed that he didn't have to think long when it came to working with Sharkova and Malyarenko: "It was really a rewarding and fascinating experience for me. The pieces we've worked on are both atmospheric, mysterious and grounded, rough and even humorous."
With Edwin's previous musical work in mind, the Astarta/Edwin debut album has become exactly what one could expect and hope for as a symbiosis of these two musical cultures. The twelve songs clearly focus on the two voices of Inna Sharkova and Yulia Malyarenko. Usually both sing exactly the same lyrics and melodies at the same time, yet the voices can always be clearly separated from each other. This is ensured by the different vocal colours and the minimally offset inserts. In addition Edwin puts his distinctive and meanwhile unmistakable bass grooves on the fretless bass again and again. His playing is strikingly reminiscent of the great bass legend Mick Karn. Those who especially appreciate the bass lines known from Porcupine Trees "Up The Downstair", "Moonloop" or "Hatesong" will have a great time with Astarta/Edwin. But this is by far not the only musical accompaniment: Discreet keyboard surfaces provide volume. Difficult drum loops create a sometimes complex rhythm. And what's more: Edwin has brought in more, quite prominent guest musicians. First and foremost King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, who plays the drums on three tracks. The violinist Steve Bingham, known from no-man, also ennobles four titles. Edwin's Burnt Belief partner Jon Durant plays guitar.
The opener "Pid Yalinoyu" begins with Edwin's well-known bass sound. It's mumbling. First a female voice, then the second, with a clear folk character. A little synth, a little violin, catchy melodies in the vocals, a quick groove. There's an "alternative Ukrainian pop" ready. In "Kalina" the urban hustle and bustle - created by bass and drum loops - meets Eastern European folklore including a floating instrumental part, in the course of which the long bass notes form a solo. While "Oy U Lisi" clearly focuses on women's voices, "Orel" also features a man's voice. The simple marching groove gives the song a certain disco/pop feeling, despite an art rock guitar solo.
"A V Nashogo Shuma" is then a celebration for Colin Edwin fans: long bass notes, good loops and grooves. In "Vesnyanochka" it gets melancholic, almost sad. The violin in "Kupala" is sugar sweet - certainly too sweet for some ears. Again and again there are some small piano-plays. In "Troica" Inna Sharkova and Yulia Malyarenko even try their hand at rap for a few moments: so tender and sweet, with these sounds unusual for western listening habits one has rarely heard rap - if at all. The concluding "Cascade" is certainly the most interesting from an art rock point of view: strings, the voices only as timbre, subtle grooves. This comes quite close to the ambient jazz rock of the trio Jansen/Barbieri/Karn. The ethnic character of the eleven previous songs is completely missing here. In the end, the violin and the guitar with their solos rise into - if not the - highlight of the album.
Colin Edwin arranged, produced and mixed the album. He describes his method of working on the Astarta pieces as follows: "I did not care about the content and interpretation of the Ukrainian texts, but deliberately ignored their lyrical content. The Ukrainian language is still a mystery to me. It was always important to me to offer the two singing voices an appealing musical environment. After dealing with so much instrumental music, it was an enlightening contrast to working with vocals and real songs."
On the technical side it probably won't have come to common hours in the studio. So it says in the credits that the singing was recorded in Kiev, while Colin Edwin recorded all his contributions in England. Steve Bingham too. Pat Mastelotto recorded the drums in the USA. Jon Durant was also active on the other side of the Atlantic. So there was certainly a lot of file sharing between the continents.
So you can hardly speak of a real band. Whether it will be a project from which even more output can be expected in the future remains to be seen. It would be desirable, because a mixture of western grooves with eastern European folk music hasn't been anything unusual for many years, but it's a rarity like here. After all, Astarta and Colin Edwin have managed to perform together, but this was three years ago and took place before the album was recorded: In July 2013 at the Krayina Mriy World Music Festival in Kiev and in October 2013 at the first Ukrainian cultural festival "Days Of Ukraine" in London.
*** Bernd Sievers