ALTERNATIVE & PUNK
Stratospheerius Head Space
Psychojazz mavens Stratospheerius bring their violin influenced jams out in full on their latest release Head Space. Blending their influences into a style all their own, Stratospheerius make music that teeters on becoming its own genre. Part Dave Matthews Band, part modern rock and part classical, Head Space bounces from sound to sound with total ease. The violin playing by veteran Joe Deninzon opens up the dynamic of Stratospheerius with total urgency and takes what may at first seem like normal rock songs to an entirely higher level. However, it is not just the violen that makes Head Space a great experience. The vocal performance of Joe Deninzon is on par with his stringed abilities. This is most apparent on Head Space’s far and away hit track “Today Is Tomorrow.” This track still features Deninzon’s trademark strings, but he holds off on bowing them and instead plucks the strings for the first half of the song. “Today Is Tomorrow” also shows off the bands ability to craft a radio friendly song and one that still operates perfectly within the context of the album.
Opening track New Material is an interesting song to start off Head Space with. The song at first seems very Rocky Grass and a listening that does not penetrate the album may not get passed it if they are not a fan of the genre. However, as Head Space progresses, it reveals the many different sides of Stratospheerius. New Material shows a more roots rock and bluegrass influenced sound, “Old Ghosts” shows off the bands summer fest jam band appeal, and “Today Is Tomorrow” takes the band and puts them right into the best parts of the mainstream. On “Mental Floss,” Deninzon shows how he has earned the nickname the “Jimi Hendrix of violin” as he tears threw a distortion heavy solo that points more in the direction of Guns N Roses’ Slash than Yo Yo Ma. The other effected instruments on “Mental Floss” give Head Space a great push in the psychedelic direction, adding to the long list of the bands genre leaping abilities. Head Space is an exciting experience, taking the listener by the hand and whipping them around an Alice In Wonderland like journey of musical exploration.
Stratospheerius – Headspace
By Greg Olma
Stratospheerius is really a vehicle for the talents of Joe Deninzon. His electric violin is the main focal point of the music and although the other musicians in the band definitely hold their own, it would be hard to take him out of the equation. I am reviewing this after just seeing my first concert by Stratospheerius so some of the tracks are still fresh in my mind. What I find captivating about the CD is that although many styles are brought to the table, they somehow live comfortably together within the context of the songs. There is a little jazz mixed in with rock on some tracks while on other tunes, the band melds in some country and funk parts that give the whole album a little bit of a prog feel. With that odd mix of styles, this project could have gone horribly wrong but Deninzon and company keep things musical so that the listener is kept interested but not overwhelmed with styles and sounds. Only 4 out of the 10 songs on offer here are instrumentals so it really is an album for the masses (not just the musos out there). My recommendation is to put away your pre-conceived notions of the violin (this is not The Charlie Daniels Band) and give the record a shot.
Track by Track Review
New Material: The album starts off with an almost country feel but during the verses, a little bit of The Police comes through. The chorus goes into a totally different direction making it almost 3 different songs. It all somehow fits seamlessly making it the perfect opening track. There is also a nice electric violin/guitar interplay during the solo section.
Old Ghosts: It’s the second song and I’m already hooked. This track has a little mix of Steely Dan and later day Toto but most importantly, it has an effortless feel that is contagious. I guarantee that you will be tapping your foot to this tune before it finishes.
Sold Out: As mentioned earlier, this cut really has a jazz rock sound to it. There is a nice violin solo that fits the cut without being over the top. Deninzon’s restraint really shows that he is true musician by making sure the song comes first, then showing his talents second. Had he over did it on the solo, it would have ruined the track.
Today is Tomorrow: This song starts off slowly but builds until the chorus where it gets quite heavy. During the verses, it has a very Police-like sound, especially in the vocal delivery.
Mental Floss: Instrumentals are not always my “cup of tea” but Stratospheerius know how to keep it interesting. The tune starts off with a Jethro Tull/Joe Satriani hybrid that even adds in some Pink Floyd sounds. Even though the track goes in a few directions, it all comes back to where it started wrapping things up nicely. It is hard to believe that the cut is 6 and ½ minutes long because it goes by quickly.
Gutterpunk Blues: This instrumental cut has a mandolin intro but once it gets going has some heavy Black Sabbath style riffing. There are some Jethro Tull sounds thrown in there for good measure making this one of the heavier pieces on the album.
Driven to Tears: If you guessed that this is a Police cover, you would be correct. Stratospheerius does the song justice by staying close enough to the original but adding their own flavor to it. It is not a straight cover of the song and that is why it works. If you are going to pull out a popular track, then you have to add something of yourself to it; and that is precisely what the band does.
Yulia: This cut is definitely the showcase for Joe Deninzon’s talents. At times, it has a little bit of a classical feel but it builds into a heavier tune as it moves along. Because most of the music on this CD is upbeat, this instrumental somehow feels sad; as though the violin is mourning the loss of someone.
Long Rd.: Aside from the chorus this track is pure funk. The chorus is repetitive but the rest of the tune has a nice groove.
Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle: The name makes you think of Led Zeppelin and that is precisely what this tune gives you. This is Stratospheerius’ version of “Kashmir” which is heavy in a different way to let’s say Black Sabbath. It makes me want to go and hear what Part I sounds like.
Led by electric violinist/vocalist/mandolinist Joe Deninzon, Stratospheerius unleash their fourth collection of songs. Hot on the heals of their acclaimed CD, Live Wires, Headspace brings their live energy into the studio. Vocal rock anthems like New Material, Old Ghosts, and Today is Tomorrow, shout alongside some ripping instrumentals. From the bluegrass punk of Gutterpunk Blues, to the psychedelic roller coaster ride of Mental Floss, and the bigger and louder sequel to the Heavy Metal Hora Heavy Shtettle II. The disc also features a unique cover of The Police Driven to Tears. This album is filled with memorable hooks alongside the without a net instrumental jams the group has built its reputation on. Influences range from theMahavishnu Project, Mr. Frank Zappa and the mightyZeppelin, to Dave Matthews, Radiohead, Jeff Beck, andBela Fleck.I had the chance to chat with Joe to discuss the new album, the strangest billings he’s been a part of and,well just…
LISTEN TO OUR CONVERSATION HERE