|I first met the members of Aspera back in 1998 when they were called Aspera Ad Astra. I hosted the album release party for their first album, Peace, on Marc Bianchi’s (Her Space Holiday) label Audio Information Phenomena. This was in the years of “psychedelphia” hype, but their particular brand of heavily affected psychedelic space rock and electronic experimentation flew under the radar for far too many people during their existence. The band had formed in 1996 after bassist Matt Werth moved to Philadelphia, relocating his label at the time (File 13 Records) and joining up with Justin Tripp (guitar/keyboard), Drew Mills (drums), Drew Worth (guitar) and Mike Robinson (vocals/keyboards) to form the band. The original name was Latin for “to the stars through difficulties” that came from Joyce’s Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man and also a phrase inscribed on the plaque to commemorate the Apollo One spacecraft fire (as well as the title of a Stars of the Lid record in late 1998). Tree Records issued a debut split 7″ as a split on their Postmarked Stamp Series with Haleah that also featured Bianchi.
In mid-1999, the band recorded the Winged with Rhymes ep for Insound’s Tour Support series with Mills taking over vocal duties from Robinson. They recorded a split ep with Philadelphia’s Lilys, incorporating permanent drummer A.J. Edmiston and Robinson left the band. The band shortened their name to Aspera, marking their newer denser, lush direction. They released Sugar & Feathered in 2001, which was produced by Michael Deming (The Lilys) and initially released by Big Wheel Recreation. In early 2002, the band released their Birds Fly ep for Suicide Squeeze and was a bit of a departure, experimenting with layers and layers of keyboards.
Bloomington’s Jagjaguwar later re-issued Sugar & Feathered and released 2003’s Oh Fantastica, the band’s final full-length. Oh Fantastica was produced by King Honey (who had worked with MF Doom) and Philadelphia’s J. S. Process and resulted in a more layered, electronic pop sound for the band.
After three full-lengths, two eps, and the split ep, the band was feeling the stress of having members living in both Philadelphia and New York City. Ultimately, they broke into two bands based on geography, Philadelphia’s Blood Feathers (Box Theory Records) includes former vocalist Drew Mills with Ben Dickey and New York City’s Favourite Sons (Vice Records) is Tripp, Werth, and Edmiston with Rollerskate Skinny’s Ken Griffen. Back When Love was recorded around the same time as the sessions for the final Aspera album, produced by J. S. Process, and was set to be their farewell release. Instead, after quite some delay due to problems coming up with a proper B-side etching, Back When Love is effectively a posthumous release. The songs are very melodic, backed with washes of drunken keyboards, and effected drums and guitars, in the vein of their Birds Fly ep. This one-sided LP keeps with tradition of having a portrait on the cover, a tradition strictly enforced by Aspera’s Matt Werth, and is one of the finest portraits in the series, a painting by Philadelphia painter Adam Schrader. Justin’s brother, Ethan Tripp, did the layout and was finally responsible for the final etching concept. Incidentally, Ethan has also done tour poster and album design for several Burnt Toast Vinyl bands and releases, as well as several for Aspera, The Lilys, and other prominent Philadelphia bands.
–S. Hatch, Burnt Toast Vinyl