Astral: Orchids (Astralmusic, 2003)

by Jason

astral_orchinds_coverAstral is a three piece that hails from San Francisco. Submerged in the post-rock/dream-pop scene, Astral adds to that mix influences from 80’s giants such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Love and Rockets and The Church. Orchids is their first full length and the disc really brings me back to my high-school years of listening to K-ROQ in the 1980s. Honestly, I think that is a very good thing. Along with this nostalgic feel, I find the songs to be fresh and new with shoegaze influences infusing the 80s feel. Dave Han (vocals, bass, guitar), Amy Rosenoff (bass, backing vox), and Shawn Poh (drums) make up the current roster of Astral. That said, lets get to the music.

“Barreling” begins with dreamy guitar fused with minimalist drums and bass. The tone has a vibe not unlike very early Echo and the Bunnymen or Pornography era Cure. Han sounds a lot like Robert Smith in places and the guitar tones and phrasing are very much influenced by The Cure as well. “Blinder” has a very space-rock feel to it. The guitars are fuzzy and spacey with lots of distortion here and there. Again, there is a trip-hop feel to the drums and the guitar work is very blissed out. “In Heaven” begins with ominous distortion and feels very much like a Cure song. In all truthfulness, I think this song may sound too much like The Cure. Sometimes the influences shouldn’t be worn on the sleeve of the artists with such obviousness. That said, the song is actually good. This is followed by “Under Lock and Key” which has a thick vibe of Echo and the Bunnymen. Ok, ok, I know that it’s not as helpful to make straight comparisons with most bands, but Astral is not shy at all about their influences and those influences stand out like sore thumbs. Again, even though that is the case, the songs are well written and certainly good.

This song fades and the walls of sound become prevalent as “Turn Me Around” bursts through the speakers. With a trip-hop drumbeat and a high-energy guitar and bass, this song is infectious and really injects an explosive energy into the disc. “Slumber” takes things down a few notches and the guitars get quiet and dreamy. The vocals have a raw quality to them and the guitars eventually burst into My Bloody Valentine walls of sound. The guitar work in these songs is incredible and the effects are well worth the listen. “Orchids” comes on the scene like a soaring, triumphal noise and the guitar work, once again, is amazing. The drums and the bass really set the rhythm and throb under all the great guitar effects. “Last Night” begins with purposeful guitar strumming and killer bass and drum work. Han once again displays his melancholy Robert Smith style vox and the jangly guitars that are also Cure like. “Raining Down” begins with beautiful jangly guitars and Han’s own signature vox that sound, well, more like him. The guitars shimmer and glitter throughout the track and the band is really patient. I like slow, unrushed pieces of music and this is one of those compositions. “Forbidden Kiss” finishes out the full length and begins in a very quiet mode. This is probably the most Cure sounding track on the whole disc and it’s probably my favorite. The guitars, drums, and bass feel so much like The Cure that I would have mistaken this for an old lost track of theirs.

Ok. I am conflicted in my conclusion about this disc. One the one hand, Astral wear their influences on their sleeves. This, I would say, is usually a very bad thing, except that they use those influences very well and with their own kind of stamp on it. On the other hand, the guitar work is stupendous and the rhythm section is solid. I think I will give this disc a four out of five. The moments on this disc when the band sounds like no one else are brilliant and really show potential for Astral to find their own voice.

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