Avandra – Skylighting Review

After two full years, almost to the day, I finally received my first return customer. Puerto Rican prog collective Avandra come back to me with their third full-length record Skylighting. A year and a half feels like forever ago, and I guess thanks to the pandemic that time span probably allowed Avandra the same opportunity to write and record a new album properly as they would have within three years of normal band operation. Therefore, the only consideration left is whether or not they put out something worth my time.

Skylighting sees Avandra following the same space-bound, airy prog blueprint that I found refreshingly enjoyable on Descender last year. Less reliant on riffs and focused more on vocal lines and ascendant leads, Skylighting includes a few new baubles that the band never used before. Firstly, synths maximize their atmospheric qualities to the extent that I could see this record accompanying a nice, peaceful No Man’s Sky session beautifully. Secondly, just a touch of atmoblack creeps into the record by way of trem-picked leads following a simple three or four note melody. Lastly, death growls surface near the end of the record, a vocal technique I never thought vocalist Christian Ayala Cruz used at all until now. Thankfully, none of these new additions to their sound distracts from Avandra‘s ambient prog core, nor do they jar the senses by defenestrating the band’s knack for quality album pacing and flow.

As with DescenderSkylighting is best experienced as a whole. Songs may not blend into each other physically, but the tone of the record morphs and shifts in a distinct sequence and losing the context of an early cut affects the impact of subsequent ones. So if you get around to sampling the embed single, “Afferent Realms,” which is pretty and solid on its own, know that it feels stronger as the penultimate track on the record. In some ways, knowing that this record is stronger than the sum of its parts makes it difficult to pick out standout moments. “Afferent Realms” is a definite highlight, sure, but every song gives me something that perks my ears up. “Eternal Return” offers a smooth transition between the calming quality of Avandra‘s particular brand of atmosphere and a touch of danger added by trem-picked leads. “Noetic Probes” provides the most upbeat vocal lines, which lift me up as I listen and fuels my interest for what’s to follow.

Unfortunately, very few of these moments stick with me after the journey ends. Ask me to distinguish one track from the next without the list in front of me, and I fail with “Afferent Realms” as the lone exception. The hooks here aren’t sharp enough to leave scars, and the material that fills the space between them allows me to drift too far away to reel me back in. Compared with Descender, which had a stronger personality and more memorable songs, Skylighting feels transient. Furthermore, despite the fact that Skylighting undercuts Descender by a whopping twenty minutes, the former feels longer because the songwriting doesn’t have the same momentum, relying too much on latent atmosphere for fuel.

I looked forward to hearing what Avandra had to offer after Descender, which I underrated when I first reviewed it. However, once I had Skylighting in my hands, I felt somewhat let down. It’s still the same Avandra as before, and the record feels like a complete whole, but I just don’t feel drawn to it. It passes by me in a beautiful, if short lived, blur.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Layered Reality Productions
Websites: facebook.com/avandraPR | avandra.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: November 20th, 2020

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