Review Summary: God is a tired Astronaut.
Well, at least, if his namesake band here on Earth is anything to go by.
Six billion years ruling over a little blue planet, or just six of them releasing albums, the shine seems to have worn off a little and the template is oh-so-slightly stale. Although instrumental post-rock darlings God Is An Astronaut have always had a good one to begin with, their fourth self-titled full length finds the band embracing recycling more furiously than the greens, and predictably, the results are a little lackluster.
For the uninitiated, the Astronauts have always tended to lean slightly more towards the rockish side of post rock, with drummer Lloyd Hanney providing the solid footing for which so much of the band’s energy relies upon. Nearly all the songs here are filled with head-bop paced beats, while the rest of the band play like a finely sculpted and tightly controlled post-rock jam session in the background, flowing around each other with amazing ease and musical chemistry. But that's just it - Where once upon a time it was the Astronauts acute sense of self-awareness allowed them to play off each other so characteristically, songs here lack the definition and the distinctiveness that made early albums like All Is Violent, All Is Bright
and The End Of The Beginning
such strong successes. Instead, melodies here blur into each other and the tension that once carried the band so far are largely hidden from view, in a sad turn for a band that once made some powerfully interesting music.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that these are great melodies in the first place, blurry or not. The Astronauts are still at the top of their game with their soothing blend of relaxed momentum, and it’ll be hard not to at least tap a foot while listening to this. Opener ‘Shadows’ captures the band perfectly, with its quick build up to and from echoey piano keys and reverb laced guitar lines, before ending in a screaming, fuzzy mess of noise. When it comes down to it though, there’s just no getting around the fact that so many of these songs just sound the same. It hurts too, that for an album so centered on the drums, Hanney’s repertoire of beats is achingly limited, electronic looping or no.
Typical of the Astronauts defining sound, songs here don’t carry the slow, brooding buildups found in so many other bands in the genre. Instead, the band carve out their own niche, tending to let intensity feed off itself, with songs usually already let loose from the get go and dynamics soaring and falling quickly within the sonic space in which they occupy. Song lengths here are for the most part under five minutes long, with songs kicking into hi-gear within the first minute or so – ‘Post Mortem’ features a mere
thirty seconds of ambient introduction before almost immediately jumping into a snare and cymbal propelled rock-out (and they dare call this post rock!). Still, you’ll find lots of great posty bits dangling from all sides, from reverb laden guitars, twinkling, moody atmospherics and slow, plodding bass notes.
It’s also when the Astronauts try to break the mold that they shine most brightly. With it’s mix of tabla beats and sitar sounds, ‘Zodiac’ comes off as one of the more interesting tracks here, while ‘Remaining Light’s gentle piano melodies and airy, drumless atmospherics shows off Astronaut at its organic best. Unfortunately, even when good ideas shine through the lackluster, they tend to be drowned out by Astronauts policy of doing only what they are most familiar with. Even ‘Zodiac’ eventually lapses into typical Astronaut fare, while the (overused) tribal beats featured on ‘Shores of Orion’ come off simply as musical decoration, contributing little to the core of these underwrought songs.
God Is An Astronaut
then, is a meandering album, with its effortlessness coming not from ease, but the tiredness of a band whose done it all before. Like its own version of a zero-gravity space walk, everything is elegantly poised, precise and meticulously crafted - but it’d be nice if there was a little more expression here, a touch of something new that would make a great band go a long way further.