[31 January 2007]
The Asteroid #4, a stoically psychedelic, backwards-looking Philadelphia band, have received a bit more attention than usual for their fourth record, An Amazing Dream. The reason may be an increased maturity from the now decade-old band, but it may also just be related to the hypnotic attraction of this indie version of Brian Jonestown Massacre.
“Swirling psychedelica” doesn’t quite describe Asteroid #4’s sound, because there’s something really retro about the group’s deliberately low-fi guitar jangle. At the same time, their proclivity for high, background drones brings them a little forward in terms of present-day relevance. With these two sounds married together, Asteroid #4 has refined a spacey, folky style and leveraged this into a series of energetic and optimistic, if not always brilliant, songs.
It’s taken the group four albums to arrive at the root of the ‘60s/‘70s psych pop sound that is their obvious springboard and inspiration, but having settled here, Asteroid #4 never seem in doubt. With a clutter of multi-tracked vocals over droning guitars, “Take Me Down” is classically rock, immaculately arranged to highlight the psych aspects. From the way a bending counter-melody eases its way in to the suddenly long-held notes creating tension, this song beams competence.
The album isn’t all hits, but there are enough solid, catchy songs to leave a definite positive impression… at least during for the duration of the song itself. “To Be in Your Eyes” is another impeccably arranged psych-pop gem, full of bursting emotion: the image of the singer’s “sad reflection” floating up into the sky just to “be in your eyes” an arresting, and fitting, one. “Outside” showcases the band’s more mellow side, as the acoustic accompaniment blossoms into a wide-textured ballad. If the vocals weren’t so cloaked in echo, the song could even be mistaken from something off the new Shins album. As is, the sentiment’s completely correct, a sweet love song to the outdoors. Album closer “Belong” stomps irrepressibly forward, stating emphatically Asteroid #4’s still here, not going anywhere but forward.
If there’s one overarching criticism to be made about An Amazing Dream, though, it’s that these songs don’t leave much of a lasting impression. Maybe it’s that the form’s so familiar, but the band struggles with this: though the tracks are consistently enjoyable, their very timelessness works against them.
The Asteroid #4 aren’t for everyone, and if you’ve heard their previous work and weren’t impressed you probably won’t find too much new in An Amazing Dream. But if you think you might like a bit of ‘70s-inspired psych pop with the occasional gorgeous melody, check these guys out.