National Steam - "Steamdream 1" (Eternity's Jest 1997, Cassette)
National Steam - "Steamdream 2" (Eternity's Jest 1997, Cassette)
From Aural Innovations #2 (April 1998)
An offshoot of Quarkspace, National Steam consists of that band's Chet Santia on guitar, bass, and synth guitar, Dave Wexler on guitars, and Paul Williams on keyboards, samples, and loops. The most glaring difference between the two bands is that Williams is the percussionist in Quarkspace. Musically the bands are similar, but National Steam downplays the space jams in favor of ambient space and sound explorations.
The keywords that best describe National Steam are "imagery" and "subtlety". "The Pennsylvania Special" from steamdream 1, and "Tronhop Groov" from steamdream 2 both conjure of images in this listener's mind of a journey. The former song title sounds like the name of a train and indeed I felt like I was riding a train for days on end watching a slowly shifting landscape. Tronhop Groov has the Quarkspace penchant for funk, featuring funky guitars grooving and soloing over a singing mellotron sounding line.
The subtlety in National Steam's music can be elusive as the music is easy to get lost in. Songs like "Deep Space Moo" and "The Highs Of March" from steamdream 1, and "Don't Step In The Bog" from steamdream 2 are sometimes ambient, and sometimes rocking space and sound explorations. I liked the cool orchestral segments at the beginning and end of Highs Of March. And Bog has more of a jamming quality than the other tunes, pitting the guitar and piano against each other to great effect. On the more avant sound collage side is "Intersteller Catnip" in which the guitars and keyboards produce a kaleidoscope of sounds and textures that seem to paint a picture of a disastrous space voyage.
Like the Spacefolds tapes that Quarkspace produces, the steamdream releases are part of a quarterly cassette series that allows fans to peep into the band's musical diary throughout the year. Also note that April will see the release of the first full length National Steam CD.
For more information and to hear sound files you can visit National Steam at the Quarkspace web site.
More sound files can be found at the band's mp3.com web site.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz