On the Scriptnotes podcast, professional screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin dispense advice to young and aspiring writers, and a recurring thread is the idea that building a career of screenwriting isn’t about writing one perfect script, but about being able to repeat that process on an ongoing basis. While not diminishing the merits of a single particularly good work of art, longevity requires more than that. That is the question that is asked of Astronoid’s self-titled sophomore album.
Initially the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Brett Boland, Astronoid released a pair of short EPs in 2012 and 2013 that while drawing some attention, didn’t really prepare audiences for the behemoth that was debut full-length Air. As a meticulously crafted studio project, Air was lush and gigantic, intense and earnest. It generated so much attention that Boland put together an actual live touring band, and has been at least semi-regularly touring ever since. And so it is out of a much different environment that Astronoid (the album) comes.
The challenge of following up an album that some people *cough* think is arguably perfect is that it doesn’t leave much room to grow. Musically, Astronoid solves this problem mainly by way of adding through subtraction. Whereas a thrashy song like “Up and Atom” was a lead-in to an album bursting with blast beats and tremolos, here “I Was There While the Sun Set” similarly sets the ceiling for intensity. The various melodies and harmonies sound appropriately Astronoid-esque, but the difference in the range of tempos help to keep it from rehashing its predecessor. Of course the addition of some tasty as fuck twin guitar solos and some almost Vattnet Viskar-ian (that’s a word) riffs don’t hurt either (RIP Vattnet.)
Although I can understand and accept the drive to move away from the “everything at 150%” mentality behind Air (despite it being half of the reason I thought Air was great), the relatively muddy production ends up hampering the album. There are a handful of times where the vocals are buried and the guitars blur together too much. This could be the result of any of the things mentioned above, though my money is that in 2019 Astronoid is an actual band trying to record in between tours instead of a couple guys in a studio with years of time to perfect dozens of guitar layers. Having seen them live a couple of times, Astronoid does sound closer to their live sound, which in certain contexts is laudable, but given what Astronoid has done in the past, it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow.
In all honesty, this probably explains the decision to self-title the album. For so many reasons, Astronoid feels like a reset of expectations, and that this will be the defining point from which Astronoid grow and evolve from, for better or worse. Despite some issues, it is still a pretty good album, one that bodes well for the band’s future.