After two intriguing self-released EPs, varied Virginian double-guitar four-piece Corsair return with their first full-length. Self-titled and self-released, like its predecessors, in a folded digi-box with a hand-screened cover, Corsair’s Corsair is the Charlottesville unit’s most progressive outing yet, comprised of eight wide-ranging tracks totaling 37:43. As on 2011’s Ghosts of Proxima Centauri (review here) and 2010’s Alpha Centauri (review here) guitarists Paul Sebring and Marie Landragin and bassist Jordan Brunk share vocal duties between them, leaving only drummer Aaron Lipscombe without a mic, but if the fact that Corsair isn’t named after a star is to signify anything, let it stand for the shift away from space rock that the band has undertaken. These songs, in addition to being their most complex to date, are also their most grounded. They take their richness from the interplay between Sebring and Landragin, who often line up for harmonic flourishes in lead sections and accordingly complement the melodic vocals. Musically, that leaves Brunk and Lipscombe occasionally in a sonic place where they need to keep or catch up, but the rhythm section has no problem doing it and Corsair keep their tightness for the duration, veering only for the more open post-rock ambience of the closer, “The Desert,” on which Landragin’s vocals top echoing guitar squibblies and the mood shifts toward the pastoral side that some of the soloing has hinted at all along, at least earlier on. The album is something of a shift still from Ghosts of Proxima Centauri, though as that EP was a grounding from the first, the progression in Corsair’s sound feels natural. If I hadn’t been introduced to the first EP when it came out, the phrase “space rock” would probably never enter into it, even for “The Desert,” and I’d be more like to compare the harmonic noodling to the likes of Iron Maiden or the post-Mastodon/post-Baroness new school of metallic prog.
Maybe all that’s a fancy way of saying Corsair dig Thin Lizzy, and if so, fair enough. They put the influence to decent use especially on the bouncing “Chaemera,” which follows crunchier instrumental opener “Agathyrsi” and features Brunk’s vocals, and finds the guitars holding out individual chords for the bass to run fills under during the verse, leading to a more winding chorus. Both Landragin and Sebring give more than solid showings as lead players almost immediately on “Agathyrsi,” with distinct but ultimately cohesive tones between them, and as with the tiered build of the opener, for much of Corsair, it’s the guitars responsible for driving the songs. Just as well, as Corsair has already proven their ability to write intricate and individualized material without losing sight of their technical appeal, and cuts like the classic pop-rocking “Falconer” seem to affirm this same penchant. Lipscombe particularly seems to revel in the straightforward groove that ensues during the opening section and again later, spending the verse alternating between his ride and crash cymbals while peppering in choice fills along the way, which sets up the more classic metal-derived “Gryphon Wing,” on which Sebring takes the fore vocally for a tale of riding the sky and victories earned. The disparity of influence between “Gryphon Wing” and “Falconer” preceding is enough to suggest multiple songwriters, and the latter track shows a patience in its later instrumental progression that eventually pays itself off in several measures of intertwined guitar leads, culminating in a well-plotted section on which Sebring and Landragin seem to foreshadow the sunshining to come at the album’s end.