Album of the Week: Byron the Aquarius – Astral Traveling

Soul-searching chords, rumbling bass synths, extemporised keys and tempered rhythms, sees Byron the Aquarius Astral Traveling the planes between Funk, Jazz and Hip Hop in one of the most inventive House records of this year. Byron “the Aquarius” Blaylock toes an imperceptible line between the functional aspects of US House traditions and the earlier organic genres that dominated dance floors before the advent of the drum machine.

If Kenny Dixon Jr. could play an instrument like Prince, that’s where Byron the Aquarius thrives and on his debut solo LP he manages to capture it  across 8 raw tracks for the Norwegian label, Mutual Intentions.

After making a few heavily Jazz-influenced House records for the likes of Sound Signature, “Astral Traveling” sees Byron imprinting his voice all over the record for the first time. The Atlanta artist’s vocal goes from a deep baritone to a sugary lament, flirting with a definable pitch. His voice guides the listener on a journey through a melange of sounds and textures coaxed between samples, synths and Byron’s eloquent fingers at the keys. It’s a versatile record with a fusion between Jazz, R&B, House and Hip Hop, but unlike his previous records there’s a new accessibility to these experimental forms, captured by his vocal treatments of these tracks.

On “Astral Traveling” he finds a way to crossover between popular and avant garde realms on a record with all the makings of future classic, and to think it might have all ended up on Soundcloud.  The bulk of the record was originally released on the streaming platform, but Fredfades (Mutual Intentions) spotting genius in the rough, pleaded with Byron to remove the tracks from the  site and channel it into an album for the physical  format on the Mutual Intentions imprint.

There is a very improvised feel to this record, like it was recorded in a single sitting, with Byron jumping between keyboards and  synthesisers in an organic progression that’s impossible to replicate in the digital realm. He’ll take to the microphone it seems whenever his key work becomes mechanical, and whether it’s just a repetitive line like “Sorry Kari,” or an entire rapping monologue like on “Spazzing Out (4U)” it’s the ultimate charm of this record.  Byron casts a wide music net on his work on this album and while  “Spazzing out (4U)” could’ve been what Kanye West would’ve sounded like if he hadn’t disappeared into his own inflated ego, on “Lost in Love” seems to open up a direct astral port  with the ghost of Sun Ra.

Byron the Aquarius steers clear of  the focussed House foundations of his early EPs like “Euphoria” with a record that is more texturally rich than his dance floor constructions. Keys lap over each other in dense extemporised movements that move through progressions in psychedelic musical forms.

Squeaking lead synths, honking pianos and trembling guitars all find a space on Byron the Aquarius all-inclusive LP. There are tracks like  “Deep in that ****”, “Universal Love” and “Sorry  Kari” that still retain the artist’s affiliations with the modern dance floor, but even those expound on the prevalence of  the 4-4 rhythms with arrangements that favour a fuller palette from the minimalist dominance of House music.

“Astral Traveling” is a 21st century fusion record that is a direct descendent from those early pioneers who first sought to fuse a myriad of musical languages in a new expressive form, but updated beyond the restrictive sonic trends of the 1970s.  It’s Byron’s voice however that is key in what is going to undoubtedly make this record a crossover success, and possibly even a future underground classic.