I ALMOST passed on the invitation to choose a ‘Desert Island Album.’ There have been some monumental albums that have served me well at various points in my life and I didn’t want to diminish their importance by omitting them.  After the initial anxiety faded, I found peace in the acceptance that life is about making choices and nothing that happens now or in the future can change the past. Once I got beyond the guilt of not selecting some favourites from the likes of ‘Permanent Waves’ from Rush or ‘Downward is Heavenward’ from Hum, I knew what my answer was.

Without a doubt, it would be ‘El Cielo’ by Dredg.

Released in 2002, El Cielo is a concept album inspired by the Salvador Dali painting ‘Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening,’ with additional themes of sleep paralysis, but that’s not why I chose it. For me, my favourite music transports me. It heightens my state of being in a convergence of thought and mood that transcends the notion of thinking and feeling. To me, El Cielo is sublime. It is sonically exquisite, rhythmically engaging, harmonically expansive and melodically transcendent. The lyrics are so full of gems that I lose count of the epiphanies. I can’t explain that which needs to be experienced, as Dredg says in the song ‘Convalescent,’
“Maybe you’ve never seen it. Maybe you’ve never been through it. It’s the only way to understand it.”

The album begins with a short opening track that is a mood setter, creating a soundscape that is both intimate and expansive—a bellwether for the entire album. It’s a transition piece and the album has five of them, each entitled, ‘Brushstroke,’ (with various subtitles). The sound of liquid stirred in a glass, swirling notes that drone and pan left to right, haunting and suspenseful, all pull the listener in the album’s world.

It’s the transitions that make the album flow in a special way, but the songs…without the songs, it’s just atmosphere.  Track two, the first proper song called ‘Same Ol’ Road’ gets right to it, striking that balance between the delicate and the powerful that displays one of Dredg’s biggest strengths.

Rhythms pound one moment and lilt the next. Guitars tickle the surface of the foundation laid by the bass, then soar into the stratosphere. Vocals haunt, soothe and inspire. Lyrics heighten the experience. “All you need is a modest house in a modest neighborhood, in a modest town where honest people dwell.” – Same ‘Ol Road.

“We live like penguins in the desert. Oh why can’t we live like tribes?” – Triangle. I could ramble on for far too long about the lyrics that captivate me and send my mind adrift.

The musicianship is top notch. Each band member has their strengths, like Dino Campanella on drums who also plays piano (several times live he actually does both at the same time). He has a lot to do with how the album feels to me, but it is the synergy…the ability to draw things in close and then build them up in a magnificent wall of sound that leaves me in awe. And still, transitions like, ‘Brushstroke: Walk in the Park,’ are just beautiful with Dino piano playing and additional instrumentation like strings and saxophone are sprinkled throughout the album. The sonic landscape goes to unexpected places with “BrushStroke: An Elephant in the Delta Waves,” which hints at exotic lands with eastern melodies and mood.

Ultimately, I don’t have a favourite track. I think they are all exemplary and flow perfectly from one to the next. On countless occasions, I have listened to El Cielo all the way through, several times in a row…and that’s why it’s my choice for a desert island album. I never tire of it.

Beyond the music, El Cielo has special, personal meaning to me. When the album came out, I had already been a Dredg fan for some time, having seem them several times at local clubs even before they got signed. When Dredg toured to support El Cielo, I was able to introduce my then girlfriend, who would eventually become my wife, to the band. It was the first live show that she and I saw together, which makes a truly special album even more precious to me. ❤️

Thanks for reading.

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