Ah, the fabled sophomore release! We won’t bore you by enumerating, once again, the challenges inherent in an artist’s second release. Suffice it to say that all of those challenges are only compounded when the debut was as successful as Astronoid‘s Air was; it captured the imagination of an entire scene, albeit it a somewhat niche one, and allowed the band to instantly become a recognizable name and a touring band. Their name increased sevenfold, carrying weight and expectation where it was once obscure. So, now, as they stand at the foot of their second release, a self-titled at that, what’s the approach which Astronoid will take to tackling this beast, born of their own success?
The correct one, it appears. While Air was an excellent release, a few editorial members here at Heavy Blog also thought that it was a bit too long, containing some filler riffs and ideas that padded it out. That’s honestly an understandable approach when we’re talking about a debut; you want to make sure the release feels “meaty’, give people something to sink their teeth into. But with a second album, there’s a lot less lenience afforded to you and, therefore, you need to make sure that everything is necessary and in its place. Luckily, this is exactly the case with Astronoid; the album is almost ten minutes shorter, with tracks feeling more compact and punchy as a result.
Take “Ideal World” for example; in both placement and in impact, it’s probably the center piece for the album. It works incredibly well as one. The chorus is instantly memorable, Astronoid’s pop-drenched vocal style blending in with those big, dreamy riffs that made them famous to create an alarmingly catchy hook. However, the verses are where the lean, direct nature of the album most shines; they don’t meander, delivering transitions and riffs just for long enough, before the chorus comes back to thrill us. The entire album is like that; it moves with a better pace than Air, much more immediate and bouncy.
While the pacing on the album is different, the sound itself is not massively so. The half-joke label of “dream thrash” probably still applies to the album. The opening three tracks probably contain the most of that, fast, major chords riffs channeling shoegaze, tharsh, and blackgaze to an equal degree, while the signature vocals float above it all. But it’s also definitely true that more straightforward, and more “classically” rock n’ roll, structures have been added to the album, with tracks like “Lost” sounding like Astronoid as experienced through a “bigger” lens, focused more a slower, more pronounced rhythms for their structure.
This, in our book, isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, it does much to dispel the fatigue that would sometimes settle in as riff after saccharine riff pummeled you during Air. Besides, the album still has plenty “classic” Astronoid sounds, like “Breathe” which immediately follows the aforementioned “Lost”. When taken together, that couplet of tracks is a great example of why Astronoid works better than Air; it’s more varied, yet still recognizably Astronoid. No fan of the band will be disappointed by the main guitar line on “Breathe” or the amazing ideas on “Water”, personally my favorite track on the album. But some of them might find “Lost” (and other, newer sounding tracks on the album) to be a breath (get it) of fresh air, a respite from a sound which, while adored, can get tiring at times.
All in all, Astronoid is an accomplished solidification of a band that could have easily been just a meme, just a trend, a moment for the community which loved it and nothing more. Instead, while hanging on to their core ideas and sound, Astronoid prove they’re in it for the marathon and not the sprint, at least as far as musical ideas and execution goes. They’ve paid attention, given their formula some thought, and tweaked just enough things to capitalize on the success of Air and catapult Astronoid that much further.
Astronoid’s self-titled release is out tomorrow, February 1st, via Blood Music. Head on over here to pre-order it.