Album Ratings



Release Date:2017-01-23



Based on 1 rating0100


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Ryan Martin

A seldom spoken about (and slightly abasing) perk of discovering a band only after they’ve gone silent is that you don’t have to endure the turmoil of waiting between releases. In the case of interstellar quartet Astreal, all I had to do was pull up Spotify to listen to their 2006 album “Fragments Of The Same Dead Star”, and having submitted my review of it, I had only to repeat the process for the 2017 release “Light”. Having been quite enamored with the Interpol-in-space production style of “Fragments”, I was taken aback by the wooliness that envelopes “Light”. Before, the band had come across as lean and articulate; conveying a sonic lightness despite the abundant heavy thematic content. However, on “Light” it sounds like the band is playing under a huge blanket, and that the music has finally collapsed now from the weight. Now, I’m willing to accede to the possibility that this Big Muff was intentional, as it is a rather common stylistic hallmark of this sort of ethereal music, the shoegazer’s Wall of Sound if you will. However, this was a most unenjoyable component of the record for me; an unappealing “lo-fi” aesthetic which detracted from the urgency inherent in some of these songs, rendering dull and lukewarm what would have otherwise been incendiary. As a consequence of the aforementioned wooliness, the vocals of Ginette Chittick are buried way lower than any vocalist ought to be, and appears only as some kind of hastily-assembled afterthought to the music. This, again, struck me as a disservice. Having heard “Fragments”, which was dressed to the nines in cryptic imagery, particularly the suggestion of death as a metaphor for a doomed relationship and vice versa, I was positively chomping at the bit for more, as Chittick obviously puts serious thought into what she sings. Why have vocals otherwise if not so? And so on “Light”, Chittick’s interests remain firmly rooted in familiar terrain: 1st person narration, with a psychological look in the headspace of the narrator as she wrestles with intimacy issues. It’s just such a shame that one must strain their ears to catch even a modicum of the words. But wait. Perhaps this too was an intentional and deviously sneaky stylistic device concocted by the band: quietly-mixed vocals which can be used to reinforce lyrics of dissociation, as the listener renders a shocking visual of the vocalist drowning under ever-piling waves of aural woe. Wowza yowza. Then, consider Chittick’s sounding “spaced out” a representation of her psyche, distancing at an alarming rate from the issues at hand. Maybe on a future release she won’t even sing, because her psyche’s left the building entirely. As an aside, this reviewer must mention that he had experienced the music through an earpiece, and suspects that playback on speakers, cranked, might make for a much more rousing experience, rivaling and perhaps even echoing the amplitude and hysterics of a live show. Nevertheless, there are obvious improvements in “Light” which deserve commendation, and go towards abating the negatives described earlier. First of all, I dig the brevity of this release, as I’d felt that “Fragments” went on for just a tad too long. Clocking in at a little under 25 minutes, it’s hard to distinguish if “Light” is an album or EP, but for the certain ineffable sense of narrative continuity adherent in the material, I am compelled to conclude that it is a damned album. Second, I’d expressed in my review of “Fragments” that perhaps bringing in a little more edginess in the guitars ala The Mars Volta might be of some benefit. It would appear that Astreal had arrived at the same conclusion, as songs such as the one-two punch of “The End” and “Light and Magic” feature more inspired fare by way of brighter tones and sharper attack in the guitars, as well as a more overt use of effects pedals that seek to venture boldly beyond the tame and freeze-dried standards of the calcified post-rock playbook. For instance, a generous helping of tremolo and chorus guitars evoke a sense of sea-sickness in “The End”, building and building, culminating finally in the coda, a climax of oscillations and vertigo. One can’t help but fantasize about an alternate version of “Light”: Oh, what could’ve been had the aggression and brilliant counter-melodies found in the coda been extended to the other songs! And then there is the oasis and respite of “Light and Magic”, which from the get-go transported me to a summer’s day at the beach (remember the beach?) with the warm rays of the sun beaming down my face after having spent a short eternity drifting along in the vast, unfeeling cool of space. Clearly, a standout track and centerpiece of the album. As Chittick declares, “I am replaceable”, during the final number, one can’t help but wonder if perhaps this is a commentary on the state of the music industry circa 2017. If perhaps here was a multi-layered lament of the commodification and high turnover rate of art, of art-as-products fit for mass consumption, with its frequent utilization as a prop for advancing select political agendas and ideologies, taking precedence over the good stuff, of this vapid fast food entertainment which has come to encapsulate the zeitgeist of modern life. Maybe. It would be hardly surprising, seeing how so many artistes whose beginnings go back beyond the turn of the century find themselves lost in the deep, often-unforgiving ocean of the changing times. What more for a band like Astreal who appear most concerned with investigating their collective inner world, rather than ascending to the top of the charts, landing a big, catchy-but-transient radio hit (remember when we could actually hear songs made by our own on the radio?). And on that last point, I’m not even sure if there were any releases between “Fragments” and “Light”. It’s hard to find the adequate details sometimes when researching local music, as a lot of it simply does not receive adequate coverage. I’m just going to assume there was indeed a 12 year break between releases. If true, then I hereby canonize Astreal’s 2017 comeback as a minor-keyed miracle. They had a hell of a run too, returning to the stage with performances at 100 Bands Festival and Baybeats, as well as having their song “Projektion” featured in Sandi Tan’s documentary Shirkers, which went international and made an appearance at The Sundance Film Festival. No mere return to form, this is surpassing the former state, blasting ahead to set a new high score, and it is miraculous simply because so many local bands give up. National Service, interpersonal disputes amongst members, raising a family, a demanding job, frustration at paying dues for years and yet not making any considerable headway. Pick one, or three. Any project who dares take up the Sisyphean task of being a local rock band has or will tussle with some of these obstacles. I hope Astreal has a second second wind in them. I would like to see them put something out, or take to the stage again after this whole Covid saga blows over, just to experience them in the flesh, as well as to observe some of the changes this time around. Looks like I’ve got some waiting to do after all.