Read a few reviews of Abronia’s first two releases and chances are you’ll spot some recurring imagery.
“When you listen to these songs you can easily imagine them being the score for grand Jodorowsky desert scenes,” Record Crates United’s Keith Hadad wrote about the Portland band’s 2019 album The Whole of Each Eye. Similarly, Dan Goldin of Post-Trash described the album's “scorched earth psych” as “a rattlesnake in the burning sun, determined and dangerous.”
A little closer to home, Mercury music critic Robert Ham called the roots of Abronia’s 2017 debut Obsidian Visions/Shadowed Lands, “a sun-baked strain of Americana.”
What does it all mean? In the case of Abronia, it means listeners are hearing the same thing founder and guitarist Eric Crespo—who formerly helmed local lo-fi experimental act Ghost to Falco—envisioned on a solo backpacking trip through Southern Utah back in 2014.
“One morning, I woke up and I had this clear image of a band, and it had one big drum and people around the drum with guitars." Crespo told the Mercury. "I couldn’t see the people’s faces, but I could see the instruments. There was a horn player. And I was like, ‘This is the band I’m going to form.’”
“I even drew a rough sketch of it. But I didn’t need to because it was just kind of burned into my brain,” he continued. “Within a year, I had [Abronia] going, and it became exactly what I wanted it to be.”
Crespo wanted his new band to be a musical love letter to Southern Utah’s distinctive landscape: Red rocks, sandy deserts, serpentine canyons, towering spires, relentless sunshine and bone-dry heat—the kind that causes rippling mirages, strange hallucinations, and psychedelic visions.
“I didn’t go down there with any sort of intention,” Crespo said. “But I loved that zone. It’s pretty epic down there.”
Eight years later, “epic” and “psychedelic” are two excellent descriptors of Abronia’s new album Map of Dawn, which the band will debut at Mississippi Studios on Sunday. At seven tracks and just under 40 minutes long, it’s a cavernous work that cruises by at the speed of a long, leisurely parade. In a time when many bands seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere, Abronia is nothing if not patient.
In our current moment, it seems that every band with a phaser guitar pedal gets described as psychedelic, but Abronia embraces a freakier, more free-ranging sound that incorporates droning folk jams, kosmische rock, spaghetti Western yarns, free jazz saxophone skronk, African desert blues, and beyond. Lead vocalist Keelin Mayer lends a Grace Slick-circa-1968 vibe to the whole thing, and on Map of Dawn, James Shaver’s 32-inch bass drum—that’s it, no drum kit—rumbles more prominently than ever before.
“James had a real vision for how he wanted the drum to sound on this album," Crespo said. "He wanted it to sound like it sounds to him when he plays it: Like it’s close to you. Like you’re in the middle of it."
That pursuit of Shaver’s desired drum sound is emblematic of Abronia’s commitment to a collaborative songwriting process. The band wrote much of Map of Dawn in 2020, after COVID-19 canceled a planned European tour. Each member contributed heavily, Crespo said.
A cooperative approach not only leads to better songs and tightens the band’s bond, it also draws on the backgrounds and influences of each member and gives Abronia a sound like few others.
“I feel like the freaks always kind of know who the other freaks are and what they’re up to. That’s always been a part of the music industry,” Crespo said. “It’s an interesting little tradition in America, and I feel good that we’re a part of continuing it and keeping it alive.”
Abronia celebrates the release of Map of Dawn w/ Death Parade, and Mouth Painter at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi, Sun, May 29, 9 pm, doors open 8 pm, $10, tickets here.