After paying homage to horror classics with the analog-inspired October EP, Los Angeles folk trio Sci-Fi Romance is back with a full-length album for the New Year. Said album, Dust Among the Stars, sees a return to digital production, retaining a deep warmth that enables the band to realize the full extent of their influences. As the creative process for the album began last year, work was rightfully put on hold as the wife of front man Vance Kotrla had given birth to twins. Accordingly, the album’s energy experiences newfound freshness, and is blessed with the gift of life in much the same way.
As an interesting point of reference, I immediately connected Kotrla’s vocal tone with that of John S. Krosche of Alexandra’s Tears. To me, Kotrla’s baritone had the same ghostly quality, fitting the album’s opener, “If I Fell”. The song itself plays as a test of loyalty, and that theme especially encapsulated once Kotrla’s voice becomes doubled. Somehow the strings and the voice drift slightly in tune and create a warping effect, as if to be caught in a repeated spiral of uncertainty. As the carrier single of the album, it fares well with introducing new listeners (myself included) to the feel that comprises the early portion’s subsequent tracks. The track to follow, “Autumn Waltz,” features a cello that constantly shifts register throughout each of its phases. It centers on the memories of two partners, who exhibit tender contact at every chance. But as the song progresses, those idyllically heartfelt moments have nearly vanished, and are with the male left in solitude. “Everything Burns” expands upon this subject matter, filling it with both intense and relatable mental imagery. True to the band’s stylistic direction, there is an understood level of contentment in the fact that all memories are bound to eventually die, as the body is ultimately laid to rest. The electric solo in the latter part of the song is a sufficient indicator of its progression, proving equally competent in its background presence.
Once the album reaches the midpoint, the track “Goodbye At the End of the World” assumes a newfound upbeat energy. Like the previous song, there is a ray of hope through the relatively negative outlook, in the sense that being alone actually proves more practical than being drained by an erratic relationship. At the chorus, Kotrla also demonstrates a greater range atop grungy guitars. “Shakespeare’s Lovers” achieves another feat for the album’s pacing, award-winning opera singer Kristin Vogel handling the second phase of each verse as well as providing backing vocals. Vogel’s voice actually comes across as gentle with plenty of natural soul. It adapts to the feel of the song by using vibrato during her lead parts, and relaxing during Kotrla’s—a multi-faceted talent indeed. On “Let’s Run,” the penultimate track, an inspiring moment of clarity takes shape upon one partner realizing the other’s outlook. Even though her sense of freedom starkly contrasts with his depressive state, the two find a common goal and decide to aim for it together. The guitars in this song are a bit more straightforward, as to complement its message of trusting one’s instincts without hesitation. Again, Vogel shines specifically when emphasizing the perspective of the female partner. The album ends on a positive note with “When You Wake,” a ballad emitting a more subdued, yet reassuring vibe. It is about half as long as long as the other songs, with the only focus being Kotrla and a single guitar, but both components actually work exceptionally to the song’s benefit and bring a heartwarming end to the album.
Overall, Dust Among the Stars continues to set the band on the right path. It has a disciplined throwback feel, akin to melodic indie sound of the previous two decades, but with a gothic spin—a humbled sincerity able to surpass myriad folk rock acts today. I’ve heard that Sci-Fi Romance are destined for big things, and such a statement couldn’t be any closer to the truth.
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“If I Fell” music video: