When I saw a chance to review a new album from Glen Phillips, a former member of Toad the Wet Sprocket which is still one of my favorite groups, I jumped at it. Secrets of the New Explorers did not disappoint.
This is not Glen Phillips first solo album. Immediately after Toad broke up in 1998, he began working on his solo career. In 2000, he released the album Abulum in 2000, Winter Pays for Summer in 2005, and Mr Lemons in 2006, along with the live album Live at Largo in 2003.
Beyond his solo career and touring, he's been active with other groups, including Nickel Creek and Works Progress Administration. And he has a new EP in the works for release in 2009 and another full album in 2010. So he's definitely kept busy in the wake of Toad the Wet Sprocket's demise.
Funny enough, the members of Toad get together from time to time, including a tour in 2006 and many single concerts across the United States.
Secrets of the New Explorers is a 6 song EP that features songs inspired by space travel. As the son of two scientists, the thought of space and space travel is familiar to Phillips. He says "I grew up reading Heinlein, Herbert, Asimov, and my dad's collection of Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction Magazines. The cover art for Secrets pays homage to those magazines from the '50s."
And the love for Phillips' music has even had an effect at NASA. Harlan Spence at NASA had his Cosmic Ray Telescope featured in the song "Solar Flare." He says "My NASA colleagues shared your song with me and I nearly died and went to heaven from its excellence and brilliance and relevance. 'Solar Flare' is awesome! I never thought I'd say it, but radiation poisoning rocks." He goes on to say that "to discover that someone far afield cares about the research I do, and that it was THE Glen Phillips. Incredible."
Of the six songs on the EP, I have to say that "They'll Find Me," "Solar Flare", and "The Spirit of Shackleton" are great, but "Space Elevator" and "A Dream" were my favorites.
"Space Elevator" talks about traveling up a space elevator to orbit, which is a long-term goal for space programs around the world. A long cable stretching from the ground to a geo-stationary object in orbit that could be used to transport goods and people into orbit more safely and cost effective than the standard rockets used today, the space elevator has been a concept discussed in scientific circles since 1895. The concept has also been featured in science fiction by Arthur C. Clarke, Charles Sheffield and Robert Heinlein.
Not only does "Space Elevator" have a great message, but it's upbeat, educational, and just plain fun!
Meanwhile, "A Dream" has a chorus that haunts me. "They're not gonna take it all away…" calls to something inside all of us. Keep your dreams safe, for they are that is truly yours.
This EP from Phillips was inspiring. Be sure to pick up Secrets of the New Explorers online at Glen Phillips' site or at iTunes. It's rare to find science-fiction themed rock or pop, and Philips knocked this one into orbit. I look forward to hearing his projects in 2009 and 2010!