San Diego, California has long been a hot bed for all sorts of rock & roll. While never getting the hype that both Los Angeles, and San Francisco have received, San Diego has nonetheless offered up all sorts of amazing, rule-breaking, original, rock bands. From the early proto-metal thud of Iron Butterfly to the old-school, genre-defining punk of Battalion of Saints, to ‘Swami’ John Reis and Rick ‘Rick Fork’ Froberg’s collaborations, starting with Pitchfork, to the dizzying post-hard core of Drive Like Jehu, and the lethal, downstroke attack of Hot Snakes, and that’s not even mentioning Reis’s ‘main’ band, brass-bolstered garage/punk throwbacks, Rocket From The Crypt. You want alternative and grunge? Well, none bigger than Stone Temple Pilots, and the alt math rock of No Knife was championed in many circles in the 90s.
Now, 70s based, stoner/prog has emerged, and bands from San Diego have made their mark in this genre as well. Obviously, Earthless have established themselves over the last 20 years as one of the major players in stoner/psych, to say nothing of their place in instrumental rock music. Astra made a name for themselves toiling in the stoner/retro rock genre. As well, Radio Moscow wound up relocating to San Diego from Iowa. It is in this context that Birth came to be. Guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist Conor Riley and lead guitarist, keyboardist Brian Ellis, both from Astra, along with bassist Trevor Mast (Paper Forest) and drummer Paul Marrone (Radio Moscow) came together and Birth was born (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
Birth have given birth (sorry again, I couldn’t help myself) to a multi-layered, sprawling, prog-rock freakout with Born. The title track, Born, opens with a Hammond and Mellotron drenched instrumental-freakout, and freakout it is, as the organ-intro goes on for a solid two minutes before some nice, retro, lead work from Ellis.
Born leads right into the epic-prog of Descending Us, and it is here where we hear Riley’s voice for the first time. Beginning soft, and slightly echo-y, Descending Us builds up with some mega-retro-riffage, all the while the organs flow in the background. Sounding like Yes’s Fragile in places, as well as some early Jethro Tull, this feels like it was shot through a time portal from 1971.
For Yesterday opens with guitar from Ellis, teasing a slightly more straightforward song, before the band launch into all sorts of almost-folk-esque meanderings, acting as an appetizer, before the waves of organs wash back across everything. Truly an epic track.
Cosmic Tears is another epic, dizzying instrumental, featuring all sorts of riffs and leads, swirls of organ trip outs and holding it all together, not to be outdone is the first-rate rhythm section of Marrone on drums, whose tone is fantastic throughout, and bassist Trevor Mast, who’s deft spider-finger bass-stylings accentuate the song, while simultaneously keeping the groove so his bandmates can blast off to the prog-verse.
Birth have made a truly epic, dizzying, awesome sounding record…
Another Time finally delivers somewhat on the teased rocker, the big payoff, opening with gentle guitar, and soft crooning from Riley who sounds slightly like The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala, before we get the big, Deep Purple-style-organ-almost-climax, guitars and organ in unison. But alas, this does not continue, as Birth are content to drop into prog-trip territory for most of the song, before the big riffs and organ come crashing down, hurling us to the end.
Closer, Long Way Down, meanwhile has a slightly jarring organ intro, before the band launch into full-on prog-freak-out mode, Ellis firing off some killer, fuzzy leads, and, as noted, Marrone sounds fantastic, his snare-thwacks, really popping in the right places, as Birth weave their way towards Born’s conclusion.
There is A LOT going on throughout Born, I spun it multiple times, including on repeat all day while I was working, and I still don’t feel I absorbed it fully. Firstly, all four musicians are jaw-dropping in their performances, they really shine throughout, as the listener could get lost following Marrone’s drums, Ellis‘s guitar, Riley’s keyboard work, and Mast’s bass, to say nothing of all of them together as a cohesive unit in prog-freak-out mode. As well, it takes some accomplished musicians to make music of this depth. How do you even put all this together?
Multiple spins are required in just following all the movements throughout each song. Additionally, I’m by no means a prog-rock aficionado, generally preferring my rock of the more straightforward variety, so I was looking for sonic equivalents throughout. I heard Yes, King Crimson, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, as well as ELO, and early Kansas.
Born sounds fantastic too, evidently recorded and produced by Ellis and Riley, Birth captured such awesome tones, this record sounds more like a 70s prog-rock record than the actual prog-rock released in that era! Birth have made a truly epic, dizzying, awesome sounding record, a full-blown 70s prog-rock album in 2022. I commend these guys for this as it’s a musical accomplishment, but patience is required from the listener, and sometimes with people’s limited attention spans these days, this may fly right over the heads of those looking to have some beers and rock out after work. But for those willing to dive in, Born will reward the listener with its many layers, depths, and sonic explorations.
Scribed by: Martin Williams