World/Inferno Friendship Society - The True Story Of The Bridgewater Astral League [Reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

World/Inferno Friendship Society

The True Story Of The Bridgewater Astral League [Reissue] (2019)

Gern Blandsten / Gunner

It’s one thing to reissue a classic album. All ya gotta do is run it through some software to “remaster” the sound and bada-bing-bada-boom, everyone will talk about how XYZ was such an amazing and timeless release and you might even get a few retrospective articles. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, you can add a second disc of bonus tracks or a live album, which allows fans to dig the album as something new, for a second time. There’s no shame in that, mind you, and thank goodness labels do this. There’s no point in making art if it is going to languish away in the $2.99 bin.

But, the more difficult challenge is the re-issue of the not classic album. Do you put it out and argue that it was wrongfully overlooked or ahead of its time? Do you acknowledge its faults and make the argument that it’s still worthy of documentation? Do you polish it up and try to sift the gold from the silt?

In line with its recent reissue campaign, World/Inferno Friendship Society has re-released their oft-overlooked first album, The True Story of the Bridgewater Astral League. Even the bands themselves, who to be fair have not disclaimed the record, often let it drift by the wayside. If the album is lucky, it might get one song from its track list played at a live show. So, what with the saluting of World/Inferno’s later day classics, why is Astral League so often cast aside.

Released in 1997, the album followed a string of three singles by the band. But, unlike their second single The Models And The Mannequins which tipped its hat to the golden age of Hollywood, Astral League was closer to the first and third singles, with the third one, Our Candidate seemingly shaping the release. While World/Inferno would go on to embody as sort of Gatsby mentality in the 2000s- nice suits, swinging music, anarchy, booze- Astral League evoked their now understated otherisde- witchiness and black magic. Basically a concept album, Astral League told the story of a a youth crew located in the hometown of Jack Terricloth who would use the psychic plane to help them steal cars and then sell the cars to Russian gangsters. Notably, that idea is a bit harder to explain in an elevator pitch than “seven to nine weirdos wear suits, do drugs, and like the Maltse falcon.”

Similarly, while later releases would rely on the booming power and loud, clean strikes of the likes of Tommy Dorsey or Nelson Riddle, here, the band was a bit more old-world. Fiddles and accordions mixed together in a mélange and songs seemed to whirl and ooze more than they shot through. Each track had many, many different layers so that unless you focused, you could get washed away by the racket as much as you could be enchanted by it.

And, on top of that, the band made many references to magick and tarot and the like- obscure references that is. So, while in retrospect, it’s fun to dig through the mass here, at the time, as an introduction, the release could seem like a giant puzzle box and an intimidating one at that.

Luckily, perhaps aware of this challenge, the band has made a tactical strike on the reissue and presented the album in somewhat of a new light. While the mass of instruments and concepts and vocal tracks are all here, the band has used clarity as a tool of enlightenment. Perhaps the original release was a bit muddy- but now, similar to the excellent Crass reissues- modern technology has allowed for the sonic separation of the army of instruments here. What use to be a mass of sound, is now an orchestra with several parts interacting at all times. It’s a revelation. For one thing, the distance between Astral League and the ‘20s revivalism of 2002’s Just the Best Party isn’t nearly as vast. The clean, powerful jazzy melodies cut through the din now, though the neo-paganism here is still much more pronounced. Terricloth’s voice is richer and fully, more like we’ve come to expect.

Astral League is still clearly World/Inferno learning how to be World/Inferno. But, as the remaster makes clear, perhaps for the first time, all of the band’s wonderful eccentricities and wonderful ideas were always there, they were just hidden behind a different set of eccentricities and wonderful ideas- and thankfully, that alter set still shows up in the modern recordings from time to time. Maybe it’s the earlier band astral projecting themselves into future recordings, or the future band projecting themselves back. To explain it all would kind of steal some of the magic(k).