When I learned to listen to music – and I mean really listen to a full album, front to back, taking it in as the artist meant it to be heard – the music changed me. I remember being with my best friend at age 15, listening to O by Damien Rice. It inspired so much thought, deep conversation, and passion.
Not many albums have inspired such emotion since. But the Seattle band Autumn Electric just released Flowers for Ambrosia, their fourth album, and it transported me back to that frame of mind, as if I’d just learned to really listen to the music.
With the addition of Max Steiner playing intricate and atmospheric electric guitar and Chris Barrios backing each song with precise, rock-inspired drums, Flowers for Ambrosia catapults Autumn Electric into their rightful place in the progressive rock genre.
Many songs have multiple parts, often making for something longer than what you might call “traditional.” Several even fit together to create what seems like a few mega tracks, and ultimately a mega album, I suppose.
The album starts with “Motorcycle Hill,” lulling you into a gorgeous, haunting melody backed by a choir of vocals and swelling cymbals—goose-bump-inspiring as it opens up half way through. It bridges seamlessly into “Israel’s Curtains,” a much darker song. Lead singer and songwriter Michael Trew recalls the time his house caught fire as a child. Luckily, no one got hurt, but a family friend’s house also went up in flames, and his friends – two little girls – weren’t so lucky. His recollection evokes a somber introspection, culminating in Steiner’s intense guitar solo.
Possibly the most fun song on the album, and the shortest, came from the story of the recent capture of the North Pond hermit: a man who hid in the woods of Maine for 27 years, surviving off stolen goods. “The Hermit of North Pond,” written by Trew and Chris Barrios, is the only co-written song on the album. The bouncing tune will be over before you’re ready. You’ll likely want to listen twice.
Though it’s hard to pick a favorite, I must say that Trew really outdid himself with “Joe the Lion, Sleeps Tonight.” Originally the only solo track, it’s now backed by just the right instrumentation (banjo, flute, accordion) and layered vocals, resulting in a breath-taking, cathartic ballad specific enough that you sense the depth of underlying emotion, but open enough that you can relate. Have some tissue ready.
And as if your emotions hadn’t gotten enough of a welcomed rollercoaster, you then glide right into the album’s masterpiece, “Orange Stars.” A 22-minute, five-part song, “Orange Stars” combines pieces of music that Trew worked on for years, inspired loosely by The NeverEnding Story.
Naomi Adele Smith’s keyboard and synth contributions glide up and down at perfect moments, with intricate, beautiful solos like the ones at the end of “The Moonchild” (part one) and in “A Knock at the Door” (part two). If you need a muse for your own keyboard parts, look no further.
Johnny Unicorn, the band’s newest addition, contributes his fat and funky bass lines, backup vocals, and some pretty killer alto saxophone in “Snow Spectrum” (part four), where he really makes the instrument his own. At the same moment, Barrios lets loose on the drums, driving into what is possibly one of the sexiest and most intense parts of the whole album, and one of my favorites. The guitar, the synth, the sax, the drums, breaking off into eerie and looming vocals—I can’t hear it enough.
Flowers for Ambrosia showcases (in my opinion) the kinds of songs one should strive to write. I am continually inspired and awed by Trew’s gift for writing and the time he devotes to each song.
I got a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the recording, engineering, mixing, and mastering of Flowers for Ambrosia, spearheaded by Barrios. They recorded the basis of the album live as a group, busting out the eight main tracks in the course of one weekend, spending a few additional months to complete the album. They recorded almost all parts themselves—and they used a lot of different instruments.
All in all, I feel quite honored to know such inspired and talented musicians. As you might imagine, as I write about the same bands more than once, friendships develop, and I feel fortunate to have friendships with these particular folks. I am quite proud of them.
Conflict of Interest is a series in which we evaluate music by people we know. Download Flowers for Ambrosia free on BandCamp and stay tuned for the release of the hard edition. Stay up on Autumn Electric news throughout their upcoming tour through Facebook.