The Star Prairie Project “The Shining Ones” (LP)

The baker’s dozen worth of songs written and recorded by The Star Prairie Project for their seventh album, The Shining Ones, represents the best work yet from this fascinating band. The project’s creative engine, songwriter Nolen Chew Jr., aims high with the album’s conceptual scaffolding.


Structuring a thirteen-song cycle around the concept of shamanic priests who walked the planet with humans following the flooding and sinking of Atlantis doesn’t seem to be an accessible idea for modern audiences. However, Chew uncovers an universal strand running through the work that will resonate with listeners rather than seeming obscure. Chew’s songwriting continuously grapples with questions and themes that have forever bedeviled mankind.

He likewise invokes timeless emotions without the benefit of lyrics. The album opens with the impassioned instrumental “Dawnlight of the Gods”. The human voice does play a crucial role in the cut’s development. However, the contributions are wordless and, in unexpected ways, perhaps more powerful because of it. It is a cry from the heart matched by intense musicality that soars to dizzying theatrical heights. “Where Did We All Come From?” dazzles thanks to the condensed lyrics of each line complementing the tight instrumental attack. It’s built around a hypnotic up-tempo guitar riff dominating much of the arrangement. Chew and his bandmates switch gears with dramatic deviations in pace that imbue the song with memorable dynamics.

Dynamics are central to the album’s musical success. The Shining Ones boasts a plethora of songs that skirt a fine line between progressive and hard rock. The majesty of the album’s first single, “My Kundalini”, makes it a high point. Chew and vocalist Sandrine Orsini captivates listeners with emphatic contributions that match the song’s anthemic roar. The anthemic tendencies of this collection help make it one of the most rousing releases in recent memory.

“Music is Gnosis” is an excellent example of those tendencies. The Greek “gnosis” which translates as “knowledge” is English and sets the stage for this deeply felt paean to music’s transformative power. The Star Prairie Project again marries guitar and keyboards with spectacular effect. It’s a song with several “mini movements” built into the arrangement that illustrate the band’s progressive inclinations. Quiet near-hallucinatory sections contrast with an aggressive hard rock sound during the song “The Ascension Seekers”. Chew and his cohorts incorporate chanting into the song’s vocals without undermining the song’s accessibility.

Elegant piano introduces “Trying to Climb the Tower” before the Star Prairie Project unleashes another blast of epic grandeur. The deliberate tempo of the piece generates tremendous energy thanks in no small part to the swirl of sound defining this performance. It’s one of the album’s unquestionable peaks.

They bookend the release with the closer, “Twilight of Mankind”, a largely instrumental track adorned with more of the same fevered wordless vocals that made the opener memorable. The Star Prairie Project’s The Shining Ones is an ambitious work distinguished by impactful standalone songs connecting into a cohesive artistic statement. It’s a powerful release reminding doubters that bold daring continues to define Nolen Chew Jr.’s musical vision.

Mark Druery