While The Utopia Strong’s latest offering, International Treasure, has been on the shelves for almost two months now, there is still much to unravel about this ambitious voyage. Far too much to unravel whilst in the midst of COVID which was the case during the week of International Treasure’s release and shortly thereafter.
Much has been made of the three-piece outfit, which – if you’ve been hiding under a rock and didn’t already know – features snooker legend, Steve Davis. This isn’t a side act away from the billiard table, though. Davis has always been one of the true heads of weird, gooey psychedelia, boasting a knowledge that would put most to shame.
Alongside fellow crate-diggers, Kavus Torabi and Mike York, The Utopia Strong made waves with their 2019 self-titled debut offering. Through a portal of electro psychedelia, The Utopia Strong was an endeavour that most certainly had its moments, however you felt that there was something left within the confines of the studio that would hopefully be explored in later releases.
Which is where International Treasure comes in. It’s a level above its older sibling both in a scope and vision. There are more layers here, as each band member really gets under the bonnet and into the nuts and bolts of the creation that is The Utopia Strong.
There are a plethora of influences dotted throughout International Treasure. Starting with the opener, Trident of Fire, which sounds like Sunn O))) and Randall Dunn conducting the film score to Dune. Following is the vastly impressive Persephone Sleeps, as an acoustic thread sets the tone for acidic bleeps and a general psych chug that pulls you in various directions.
Shepherdess isn’t so much a homage to Turkish psychedelia (Grails have that arena covered); this is Eastern-tinged psych with more of a rippling effect. Here, The Utopia Strong get meditative, trance-like but in multi-faceted ways. If anything, it plays close to the lines of deep listening.
It’s a world away from Disaster 2, which evokes the damp imagery of highlands Scotland. With a wailing surge of bagpipes and rumbling percussion akin to a thunderstorm emerging from behind the hills, this is the kind of piece we wouldn’t have associated with The Utopia Strong until now.
Then there’s the cinematic sci-fi majesty of Revelations – a hypnotic wash of sounds that leads perfectly into the title track. Drawing from the sonic inflections of the preceding seven tracks, International Treasure is the defining moment, showcasing The Utopia Strong’s new sense of adventure and range. Exploring beyond the borders of safety, what do they find? The intersection of psych and Bark Psychosis-era post-rock.
Lacking the troughs of its predecessor, International Treasure is a far more wholesome prospect. While there isn’t an out and out banger like Brainsurgeon 3 (the closest they get is via the euphoria-in-seclusion delight, Castalia), amongst these compositions The Utopia Strong aren’t trying to push their listeners into orbit. Between the subtle textures (Spirits from the Deep and The Islanders), they gently guide you there. All told, this is maze-like psychedelia and a well-informed representation of it.
International Treasure is out now via Rocket Recordings. Purchase from Bandcamp.