(Here’s Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by Boston-based Astronoid, which is being released today by Blood Music.)
It’s a pretty widely-held (and widely-accepted) opinion that those gaudy golden idols of the film world, aka The Academy Awards, aren’t necessarily won on merit… or, at least, they aren’t necessarily won on the merits of whatever film or performance they’re being given out for.
No, a lot of the time the ultimate winner of Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor/Actress, etc, often receives the award not because of the quality of the work for which they’ve been nominated, but because they’ve built up enough cultural cache with their prior work(s), or been overlooked enough times, that they’re deemed to “deserve” it.
And, as I’m sure some of you are aware, the same thing happens in the music world too, particularly when the larger sites and magazines feel like they might have missed out or been a little behind the curve when (dis)covering an unexpected underground sensation, such that they tend to majorly over-compensate with their subsequent coverage in an attempt to reassure their readers just how “with it” they are.
Which brings us to the new, self-titled, album from Astronoid.
Air, the band’s phenomenal debut album, was, in no uncertain terms, the sound of a band capturing lightning in a bottle. It was also my favourite album of the year.
It was electrifying, effervescent, and utterly spellbinding from start to finish.
Their self-titled follow-up, however, is… less so.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a solid album. These guys still have a way with mood and melody that remains engaging and immersive even when it feels like the songs themselves are treading water a little, and the production is as precise and pristine as they come.
But, in contrast to some of the rather excessive praise I’ve seen bandied about elsewhere, I can’t help but feel that, in an attempt to escape the curse of the “difficult second album”, the band have instead opted for a much safer, and much less exciting, approach which sacrifices a lot of what made them unique.
Gone are the adrenaline-inducing blastbeats and shamelessly uplifting tremolo runs which drove their previous album, replaced instead with a much more mid-paced and vocal-heavy approach which hews even closer to the more mainstream end of Post-Rock.
There’s still the occasional moment of metallic vim and vigour of course – though even here these tend towards more generic Metalcore-isms than the Devin Townsend-meets-Enslaved-meets-Alcest sound of Air – but It’s actually quite surprising, especially for a band who once tagged themselves as “Dream Thrash”, how much lower the energy level seems this time around.
For all this naysaying and nitpicking, however, the brightest spots on Astronoid still shine pretty brightly, even if the record as a whole is less of an outrageous expression of joy than its predecessor.
Opener “A New Color”, for example, is a particularly ear-pleasing piece of Post-whatever with a strikingly effective solo section, while both “I Dream In Lines” and “Fault” do their best to recapture a fair bit of the spark and dynamism of the band’s prior work, without ever quite reaching the same sublime heights.
It’s the back half of the record where things finally start to come together though, with the triple-combo of “I Wish I Was There While The Sun Set”, “Beyond the Scope”, and “Ideal World” coming closest to reclaiming the group’s original magic without relying on exactly the same tricks.
It’s a little too late to fully save things, of course, but still a strong way to end the album.
Ultimately, however, whereas Astronoid’s previous effort felt like the product of a band flying by the seat of their pants, and really benefited from the feeling of uninhibited spontaneity which permeated every moment of the music, their self-titled effort seems like a much more calculated compromise, with the quartet largely content to play around within the boundaries set out by others this time around, rather than take any further risks themselves.
And while I don’t doubt that this record will probably outsell their debut, as it’s an immensely listenable (not to mention marketable) piece of work in its own right, it’s just a shame that their growing success appears to have cost them a fair bit of their individuality in the process.