When you first talk to Aspera, you think they're high. Really high. High as Dr. John was the day he wrote "I Walk on Guilded Splinters."

But after a few minutes, you find they're actually sober. What's more, they're extremely intelligent. It's just that their manner of speaking is metered, contemplative and breezy -- especially bassist and songwriter Matt Werth -- in that easygoing way that's so Philadelphia (think of G. Love's garbled freestyle). Werth only sounds like he's just seen Jah.

Well, maybe he and Aspera have seen the Jah of indie psych/prog rock.


Aspera with the Gloria Record, the Liars and Elizabeth Elmore

Lyle's on the Rice University campus

Lyle's is in the Lovett College basement. Use entrance no. 3 off MacGregor Drive. Saturday, November 17. For more information, call 713-348-4098.

Aspera's latest project, Sugar & Feathered (Big Wheel Recreation), is a sign of spiritual reawakening -- certainly their own (Aspera's previous works were esoteric and rather uninviting) but perhaps the indie community's as well. This album may herald a rediscovery of the stymied art rock movement that began in the '70s.

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Ethereal, wispy, detached and adventurous, Sugar & Feathered is an important album for the psych/prog underground. Like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and early-'70s Procol Harum, Aspera (né Aspera Ad Astra) is willing to explore the delicate membranes of the human subconscious and bring to record a wide palate of cosmic illustrations and musical possibilities -- just like good prog rock should.

Aspera is not alone: Fellow Philadelphians the Lilys and Bardo Pond are also spearheading a return to innovative, artful (though hopefully not too self-conscious) rock. With luck, these bands will be able to bandage the bleeding sore that is mainstream music.

Apparently all that stands in Aspera's way of being the champions of indie psych/prog is that Sugar & Feathered conjures up immediate comparisons to the Flaming Lips. If Sugar & Feathered had come before that band's The Soft Bulletin, maybe the comparisons would be reversed. But as it is, Sugar & Feathered came a good two years later, enough time for Aspera to ingest an earful of FL's "Race for the Prize" and "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton."

What's really strange is that Aspera doesn't understand why people keep calling the band prog rock. Even though its indebtedness to Echo & the Bunnymen, David Bowie and '80s fantasy flick soundtracks is obvious, Aspera insists that Sugar & Feathered is a pop record. No matter. Pop or prog, Aspera promises to put on a memorable show.

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