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Steampunk Music Review – “Æther Shanties” by Abney Park

The “Other” Steampunk Band

During the recent peak of the steampunk craze in the two-thousand aughts, a number of musical groups became known as steampunk bands. The best known seems to be a certain robotic cabaret act I reviewed a few weeks ago. Yet there are other groups that aren’t quite as theatrical but capture the genre’s ambiance equally well. One of the most outstanding is a band from Seattle called Abney Park.

Abney Park was founded back in the late 1990’s as a goth band named after a cemetery in London. According to founding member Robert Brown, when the steampunk movement caught their attention they realized that this described their existing style, which had been so difficult to categorize. Despite its appeal to the steampunk sub-culture, their music represents an opposite pole from the aforementioned cabaret act Steam-Powered Giraffe. Rather than being light and whimsical, it’s dark and apocalyptic.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Abney Park perform live, but the Internet brings these performances to us in a way that audio-only recordings can’t. Æther Shanties (love the archaic “æsh” character in that name) is their seventh album, released in 2009. I must say I like it quite a bit. Of the eleven songs, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. As the title implies, the album has a a nautical theme dominated by traditional instruments like accordion and mandolin, though in keeping with requirement to “punk” are modify history, many of these numbers are up-tempo and electrified.

The album starts with “Under the Radar”, which sets the album’s tone of intrigue and adventure. Number 6, “Throw Them Overboard” expresses their disdain for modern technology. The best songs, in my opinion, are toward the end of the album. One of the most memorable is the slow ballad “Victoria” which evokes the era of that name. The title, “Æther Shanties,” is another gem: “No telling just now what we have in store.” The penultimate track “The Clockyard” deals with the steampunk fascination with gears, clocks, and time.

Though the steampunk culture puts a strong emphasis on the visual arts, we need to appreciate the auditory as well. I strongly urge steampunk fans to patronize musical groups such as Abney Park.

 

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