San Francisco’s Astral attempt to take their place in the new-wave-of-dream pop pantheon with new album Sleepwalker. It is a gambit that is not entirely successful. On paper, I should love Astral – alternately bleary-eyed and crystalline bursts of guitar, choirboy naif vocals, percussion that varies between Mo Tucker-propulsive new primitivism and beyond minimal commas and periods to end each line, so to speak. Their influences on this album seem in order – My Bloody Valentine, Ride, early good Verve – to which they add hints of the Cure circa The Top and Joy Division’s headiness. Shit, they even throw flourishes of lo-fi garage goodness into the mix. The formula is superb. The execution on the other hand, is less than I would have hoped. The vocals definitely need more work, or more reverb; it’s just that simple. Lines that aim to sound like Marc Gardener or Robert Smith end up sounding like a very strained Jeremy Enigk. They don’t seem assured enough in their material yet – songs that should be delirious reveries or melancholy hymns instead feel like a collection of almost gorgeous riffs that don’t interlock as they should. Some songs (“White Tiger”) shamble to an awkward close after seeming quite uncertain of where to go next. Even the feedback is too hesitant to fully engulf you.
Hard-charging opener “Cracked” nicks the riff to “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” submerges it in honey and turns it into a burst of Cure-esque pomp and circumstance. “Hindsight” is more mysterious with chiming acoustic guitars and oblique vocals recall the Cure’s “The Blood.” “A Lullaby from Amsterdam” echoes the wondrous opaque inertia of early Lush, where every instrument and sound just melted into this pond of shimmering blue emotion. “In Circles” is enjoyably trembling and elliptical.
Ultimately, sadly, that moment of transcendence you long for – that ceiling of heaven that Astral’s forebears scrape – is never reached. Too soon for a full-length.
Vibraphone Records: http://www.vibraphonerecords.com