At the dawn of the 1980s, songwriter Paul Marcano and his band LightDreams emerged from the psychedelic haziness of the previous decade with Islands in Space, a concept album about the colonization of outer space. Recorded entirely on a Teac 4-track in Marcano’s home studio in Goldstream Park, outside Vancouver Island, the record featured collaborations with composers Andre Martin and Cory Rhyon and instrumental contributions by other friends. Homespun but expansive in scope, the finished record proclaimed humanity’s need to travel away from Earth via a mix of psychedelic folk, progressive rock, ambient, and new age soundscapes. This month, Got Kinda Lost Records reissues the record, offering a chance for new listeners to get turned on to Marcano’s cosmic message.
“I had read the book High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space by Gerard K. O’Neill, the astrophysicist, and he just completely altered the way I was thinking,” Marcano says via the phone, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. “I was coming out of the ‘70s with an agrarian hippie mentality, kind of anti-technology. [But I wondered] what’s a good alternative if you’re not going to go down the road of the future?”
Though Marcano empathized with the back-to-the-land movement, he recognized in the book a path toward the future that resonated with his natural concerns. “When I read High Frontier, I realized probably half the problems on the planet were resource based — there’s not enough of anything, or everything, I should say,” Marcano explains. “[The book proposed ideas] like farming asteroids, generating energy in space and beaming it down to Earth, rather than burning coal and all that. It just seemed like ‘What the hell, why not?’”
The book also registered with his counter culture ideologies, igniting his imagination. “The psychedelic decade of the ‘70s had a massive impact on me,” Marcano says. “The psychedelic experience was kind of the virtual reality of the ‘70s. It was like another perspective, an entirely different way to perceive the world. Coming out of that, I was particularly receptive to new ideas.”
His thoughts on the cosmos, and his belief that humankind’s future waited in the stars, informed the sounds of Islands in Space. Opening with the playful guitar jam “The High Frontier,” Marcano and his collaborators evoke rock & roll motifs, but from there they explore synth-led ambient vistas, like the gentle “Voiceless Voice” and “Solar Winds.” Though it features progressive ideas, textures, and some artful abstraction, Marcano wanted the sounds to remain accessible, and largely, they do. “I didn’t believe there wasn’t room to make a decent pop sound that also had content, that wasn’t just about boy/girl relationships.”
Following the release of the album, he continued on with LightDreams, releasing 10,001 Dreams in 1982, Airbrushing Galaxies in 1983, and First Time Back a decade later in 1993. In 1984, he began working with computers, which has continued to inspire him creatively. “Right now, I’m actually working on a virtual reality Oculus Rift app for the Islands in Space album,” Marcano says, detailing an immersive 3D version of the record’s evocative album cover accessible via his Dreamscaping site. The convergence between futurism, science, and art is key to popularizing new concepts and exploration, Marcano says, citing astronaut Chris Hadfield’s cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from the International Space Station. “He brought that whole thing to life,” Marcano says. “He did that Bowie song up there. He showed the inspiration, the artistic element.”
Fundamentally optimistic about the prospect of the future. Space colonization still fascinates him, and he lights up while discussing potential “football fields full of solar panels in space [and] food growing in pestilence-free orbiting greenhouses.” Marcano thinks of his records as beacons of positivism in a time when dystopian futurescapes are often the norm in the field of speculative fiction (though he’s into those too — Blade Runner, especially). But beyond that, he doesn’t think of his records as works of science fiction.
“I never saw Islands in Space as a fantasy or sci-fi album,” Marcano says. “I saw it as a reflection of the concepts and ideas that we need to pursue. Somebody pointed out, “How can you sing ‘Islands in space will save the whole human race?’ and I said, ‘Well, years later, Stephen Hawking was saying the same thing.’ We’ve got to get off the planet.” words/ j woodbury