The Utopia Strong – International Treasure: Album Review

The Utopia Strong deftly negotiate the comfort zones as they plough their experimental furrow.

Release Date: 10th June 2022

Label: Rocket Recordings

Format: digital / CD / LP

International Treasure finds the intrepid trio of Kavus Torabi, Steve Davis and Michael York panning for gold. Armed with various instruments and gadgets, some regular, some not so – hence the guzheng – their MO rests once again, squarely on the shoulders of improvisation and going with, and against to be fair, the flow.

The attempts to bottle lightning as they venture off and around the sonic map result in nine pieces that skirt the ambient and sombre, the mood relaxed and chilled. Don’t be led astray by the uptempo appeal of the teaser single, Castalia. A track that in bygone times might have been one of those unlikely breakthrough hits that could have graced the top ten and seen a bizarre appearance on Top Of The Pops with a studio audience frugging along. These days, it’s more likely to appear on some sports soundtracks and to be fair, even though it’s a bright spot, as a representation of International Treasure it’s more an outlier that brings a sprightly closure to the record.

Back to the beginning though and as Trident Of Fire hoves into view, we’re on the edge of Vangelis territory with the bold and deep drone accompanying a dancing sequence. You can imagine the thrill of discovery as this piece took shape, holding the form (“keep it there Steve!“) and adding some fine touches and sparkles before it evaporates. The core of a piece that in concert, could take up half an hour or more. Much more.

A celestial atmosphere holds a strong presence over Shepherdess, that across seven minutes follows a natural evolution into a more experimental vein as all sorts of unusual sounds creep into the picture – not for the only time do we get high pitched drones drifting in and out on the wind. Meanwhile, Spirits From The Deep takes us off into a space which is deeply reverential; it creates the sense of a quiet chapel as we file solemnly down the aisle and try to slide unnoticed into a wooden pew for a bout of Sunday penitence.

You can still spot the key element of improvisation and discovery in The Islanders where the shimmer and the earworm squeaks of ‘animal or man made/found sound’ buried deep is tempered by a hint of something similarly uncertain in the distance. The brief snippet of the latter and of Disaster 2 hint at tow pieces edited from the tip of the iceberg of a much larger canvas.

Knowing Kavus’ predilection for a bit of Maiden, one wonders if Revelations bear any resemblance to their Piece Of Mind number. It’s a long shot that’s not really worth the gamble – more immediate amongst the winds and waves are further hints of Genesis’ The Waiting Room in the haunting ‘annoying bluebottle’ effect that disturb a calm reverie. A calm revierie that’s reprised on the title track which has more than a hint of the Floyd trademark of the chords and notes hanging around while letting the music breath. Conveying the ‘shimmering droplets in caves circa nineteen seventy’, the impression is of getting a glimpse into a much longer form piece that has just as much to offer, such is the brutality which must go on at Utopia towers in editing the musings, whipping them into a more succinct shape. Cruel to be kind and all that.

But oh, how they’ve come on since they started to dabble in 2018, unaware of what was being set in motion. Hindsight eh? The Utopia Strong end of year school report would show an A+ for progress with the caveat that they must continue to keep pushing the boundaries. International Treasure finds The Utopia Strong purposefully avoiding the out of bounds comfort zones. You wouldn’t expect anything less.

Here’s the “optimistic and forgiving” album closer:

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