Mars Retrieval Unit
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Mars Retrieval Unit

Portland, Oregon, United States | SELF

Portland, Oregon, United States | SELF
Band Rock Funk


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"The versatile Mars Retrieval Unit will land at Bombs Away for two sets"

CORVALLIS — Lucky me: I get to contemplate the universe two weeks in a row.

Previously, I feted our own Space Neighbors, purveyors of the Funk Beyond. Following the anticlimactic Rapture (which means I have to honor my deadlines; thanks, Harold Camping), I now have the privilege of scripting superlatives for Portland’s Mars Retrieval Unit, whose disc landed on my desk last Friday.

Honestly, the music on 2010’s “Two Sides” is far too immense to be flattened into bits and shot through speakers under a roof of any kind. Nay, it’s meant to billow unburdened over expanses of rapt humanity. The quintet’s versatility is ridiculously encyclopedic, flooded with virtuosity in progressive rock, jazz, street-gristle funk, thoughtful vamps ’n’ noodles, gape-maw’d psychedelia, dreamscape boogie — every form possible packed by masters into an interstellar jam.

In short, this storm is Cinemascope, vast beyond the limits of the blown human mind, but not so big that it isn’t disciplined or breathless in its technical precision. Musically, “Osmosis” wanders everywhere (a little Phish here, a wink of Allman Brothers there), casting shadows over ecstatic forms writhing in electric dark. Then vocalist Chelsea Luker breaks free, and with a confident tug on her sax, pulls the band in line behind her. The effect is near orgasmic, yanking structures to the brink, then returning them whole and immaculate.

“Wiggle” is similarly overwhelming, rising in intensity on a hypnotic instrumental crush. Joshua Birns-Sprague flattens his keyboards as Luker, bassist Joel Davis and drummer Murray Gusseck (Jon Barber plays ’em now) explode in every direction, leaving guitarist Rob Sipsky to tear at the edges. Then, at the apex of its frenzy, it shudders back to a cool shuffle. Well, kinda. By the time I reach the end of this sentence it’ll have gone somewhere else. You can’t keep a good beat down.

And beats — vignettes, really — are in mad abundance here, shifting, changing elastic magnificence. Horns pump the boogie (Luker is joined by Paul Mazzio and Mieke Bruggeman-Smith on trumpet and baritone sax, respectively) on “In This World” and “Outer Space,” and “Entangled” bops disco on an infectious tear. “I’m free to fall,” Luker sings on “Free” as Sipsky drifts through cosmos, spinning thoughtful curls of daydreams until Very Special Guest Ike Willis, who rode shotgun with Frank Zappa from the late ’70s through the ’80s, soaks his guitar strings in diesel and sets the song on fire. “Amanita Dream” imagines Jacques Cousteau as astral traveler, exploring otherworldly wonders via daubs of aquatic twang and hypnagogic instrumental burbles.

“Ares” proves a fitting exit, for both the Unit and me, a parting shot that answers all questions as it lifts off, homeward-bound. Bearing specks of Jethro Tull (though truth be told, Luker’s flute work throughout “Two Sides” is likely more inspired by fellow sax/flutist Karl Denson than Ian Anderson), King Crimson and a zillion other atmospheres, the number is primarily a showcase for Joshua Birns-Sprague’s vocals and exchanges of piano, church organ and techno-whirs from within the band’s interplanetary craft. They unveil their final analysis, “It’s covered in red, like the scientists said,” in a wondrous overlapping chorus that should leave no doubt in the listener’s space: Mars is where it’s at, astronomical in exotic funk.
- Gazette Times - Cory Frye

"CD Release Promo"

"Guitarist Rob Sipsky and vocalist/saxophonist Chelsea Luker have been steadily working hard at Mars Retrieval Unit for several years now, honing their psychedelic-funk sound through various lineups. With the release of their first album Two Sides, the local band has fully arrived, boasting a rich amalgam of influences and stunning musicianship that would put other bands to shame. To celebrate the record's release, the band is headlining the hallowed Crystal Ballroom, but such an impressive gig did not come unearned: Mars Retrieval Unit has been steadily playing around town and building up a devoted following, one show at a time. Now sounding better than ever, they seem perfectly poised to go national—you can expect them to make a Bonnaroo crowd very happy at some point in the near future. " - Ned Lannamann, The Portland Mercury (Nov 17, 2010)

"Halloween Grooving at Mt. Tabor"

"People have been partying for some time now, and the energy in the air is thick. I didn’t realize just how thick the air was until Mars Retrieval Unit finally took the stage. It was so funky in there you could smell it, no holds barred. It seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork. Their fusion of the psychedelic and the funky were a match made in heaven. What made this band so interesting was the song structure. The interplay between an almost pop song and straight funk, with their use of spacey synthesizers layered on a lush Hammond was enough to make any alien’s head turn. It’s been a long time since I came away from a Halloween and felt truly satisfied, whether it was tearing up the town or a party. This was the first time in quite a while that I felt the spirit of Halloween still alive and kicking inside of me. So I guess the lesson here is: go see live music, kiddies." - Ryan Lory, Oregon Music News (Nov 03, 2009)

"Stars from Mars"

"Stars from Mars Taking the musical route progressive jam bands take will rarely lead you to routine commercial airplay – just ask Phish. However, if you win the spacey psychedelic rock festival crowd over, you pretty much are set for your touring life – just ask Phish. Portland’s Mars Retrieval Unit is a left-of-center sonically ambitious group in the Phish vein, stirring prog rock, jam rock, space trippy music, funk, jazz and even some Bjork-like wanderings into one heady stew that Frank Zappa’s ghost breathed a “Boo!” over. The group features Chelsea Luker on vocals, sax and flute; Rob Sipsky on vocals and guitar; Joel Davis on bass; Joshua Birns-Sprague on piano and synthesizers; and Murray Gusseck on drums. MRU is releasing its first album, the 11-track “Two Sides,” which features a guest appearance by Zappa guitar alumnus Ike Willis. The Martians share the stage with hootsy rootsy Fruition and funky danceable hip hoppish Outpost." - Rob Cullivan, Portland Tribune (Nov 18, 2010)


Two Sides 2010
MRU Demo 2008
Live at River City Saloon 2009



Described by many as a band where every member has equal shred capabilities, Mars Retrieval Unit brings it to the table with their fusion of spacey funk, rock and psychedelia. As a unit, MRU defines the word genre-hoppers, and leaves no musical rock unturned and no minds un-spaced. The music is sometimes danceable, sometimes cerebral, with both female and male vocals cutting through a densely crafted wall of sound. With the addition of saxophone to a jam band - you will hear nothing else like it.

Throughout the years, the band has waxed and waned; first formed in Florida by guitarist Rob Sipsky in 2004, then resurrected in Portland with sax/singer Chelsea Luker in 2005, the search for like-minded musicians was completed in 2008 with the addition of bassist Joel Davis and keyboardist Joshua Birns-Sprague. Jon Barber replaced Murray Gusseck on drums in 2010. Since then, MRU has made great strides to dominate the jam scene in the NW, and has played at many key clubs in Portland, rocked the local festivals, and played throughout Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Montana. They have opened for Karl Denson at the Crystal Ballroom, The Motet, Ozric Tentacles, and Rubblebucket at Mt. Tabor Theater, Hot Buttered Rum and Kyle Hollingsworth at the Oregon Brewer's Festival, New Monsoon at the Doug Fir and many other West Coast bands.

The band continues to unite the Portland jam scene, and has hosted and produced many private warehouse and house events that bring like-minded bands together as one big crazy family. This last year MRU has worked diligently to release their debut album, Two Sides, utilizing the advantage of all-access studio space and Joel's engineering expertise to self-produce something that lets shine their songwriting skills, vocal capabilities and improvisation skills, even including free jam sections on the album. The listener will pick up on many of the band's musical influences, which include: Phish, Joni Mitchell, Zappa, Rush, Yes, Parliament, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads and the list goes on...

MRU on Youtube: