Review Summary: Astronoid are finished exploring; now they're staking their claim.
Is it okay for an album to be unsurprising？ Scratch that--is it okay for this
album to be unsurprising？ One of the most exhilarating things about Astronoid’s 2016 debut, Air
, was the way it adopted a novel sound (essentially a riff-heavy Alcest by way of Mew, though that description admittedly does the style’s originality no justice) and took it to places that were even more unexpected. Songs like “Up and Atom” and “Tin Foil Hats” were striking for their strangely cohesive blend of dazzling shoegaze and blistering metal riffs, but they also enhanced their impact by choosing to swerve their song structures and chord progressions off the beaten path and still ending up somewhere beautiful. So what to make of Astronoid
, an album that mostly stays in familiar territory？
To some extent, the familiarity is inevitable. Very few bands can be expected to completely reinvent their sound between albums, especially between a debut and a sophomore release, and Air
was already plenty innovative. And to be fair, Astronoid
does add a few new elements to Astronoid’s sound, the most prominent being several minor key passages that imbue many of the songs with a slightly darker tone. It would be unfair to call Astronoid
a retread of Air
, but that’s not what I mean when I say that Astronoid
is “unsurprising.” What I mean is that, when listening to any given song on Astronoid
, I feel like I know where the song is going, and it rarely proves me wrong. This isn’t because I’ve listened to Air
enough to pick up on Astronoid’s structural idiosyncrasies, but rather because Astronoid has chosen to organize their sound into more predictable packages this time around. Seldom does Astronoid
pull the rug out from under me the way “Up and Atom” did repeatedly, and different songs often follow similar patterns (such as “I Dream in Lines” and “Fault”), thus increasing the album’s predictability as it progresses.
I talk about this familiarity as though it’s a mark against Astronoid
, but maybe it’s perfectly okay that the album feels familiar. If Air
was a stunningly gorgeous glade, newly discovered while exploring uncharted territory, then Astronoid
is the comfort and reliable beauty of a well-known, frequently revisited garden. And Astronoid
is undeniably beautiful. The guitars on opener “A New Color” sparkle like a brilliant constellation on top of a bittersweet melody painted in night sky indigo. “Lost” tosses layers of tranquil shoegaze and propulsive metal chugs into a whirlpool and then forms the resulting kaleidoscopic patterns into a wonderfully satisfying arc. Astronoid
doesn’t break any new ground like Air
did, but it does declare, quite confidently, that it doesn’t need to.