[22 April 2005]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
With his unkempt hair, scruffy beard, bulging eyes, and casual clubwear, Alan Astor looks like Rasputin reborn as some kind of rave underground icon. Indeed, the music on his debut album, Everything is Possible, is no less brash. The prodigiously-talented New Yorker’s lyrics dissect the self-absorbed, chic-enslaved NYC scene just as his over-the-top, techno-plated music celebrates it. This juxtaposition results in an always entertaining and occasionally thrilling listen. Like a Broadway show, it feels just right when you’re out on the town, but its impression has largely worn off by the next morning. There’s substance here, all right, but it’s nearly trounced by style and ambition.
“Fantastic Fantasy” would be a showtune if it didn’t have such up-to-date drum’n'bass rhythms and synthesizer squelches. That’s not a bad thing, because what you have is a highly danceable showtune, complete with obnoxiously catchy chorus. “There’s No Shame” is one of a trio of songs on Everything that mix up slow-grinding funk with industrial clatter in a Nine Inch Nails-influenced fashion. On these tracks, even the meter and phrasing of Astor’s singing recalls Trent Reznor. But if Reznor’s sound is down’n'dirty, Astor’s is fresh’n'clean and less conceited.
“Shame” is also ample evidence of Astor’s talent for penning meaningful lyrics to complement his carefully-crafted music. With lines like, “There’s a crack in between every word you speak”, he cuts the fashionistas down to size. And, to keep the balance, there’s a winning, naively melodic chorus that sounds like it could have come from Human League’s synthpop masterpiece Dare. “Astral America” mixes melody with machines in a more straight-on anthemic fashion, while “Dragons and Beasts” serves up more electro-funk, but with a weak chorus that doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
“The World Is a Lot” is a nice change of pace. A “boy lost in the Big City” ballad, embellished with melodramatic strings and timpani, it really does belong on Broadway. The mellow mood continues with “Play the Night Away”, which adds an electro pulse and spaced-out, Eastern-sounding synth melody. Again, the focus is on the metropolis, with Astor wondering at “City people ignoring directions / Jumping from the tops of buildings”. Here, he comes off as a less nasal version of Placebo’s Brian Molko, and it works. Just as you’re getting lost amid the bright lights and scurrying clubgoers, though, “Power After Hours” breaks the spell with clumsy, distorted, OTT rock.
Everything is Possible‘s penultimate track is probably its most fun. “Baby Don’t Let Me Make It to Monday” is just the kind of hedonistic romp that its title suggests, completing the electro-funk trilogy and throwing in some disco just for the hell of it. “I Couldn’t Have Survived Without You” plays as a kind of postlude, a piano ballad whose repeated chorus swells with layers of effects and reverb. But Astor does disillusionment better than he does gratitude; though well-intentioned, the song comes off as trite. As an encore, you get two remixes of “Fantastic Fantasy”: an industrial dance version that’s awful, and a drum’n'bass treatment that’s more natural.
In theme and tone, Everything is Possible is like a midway point between NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine and Pet Shop Boys’ Behavior. You get the picture of Astor, a sensitive yet frustrated young man, sitting in his bedroom in front of his laptop, the city outside feeding him and killing him all at once.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/astoralan-eveything/