Red is the color I associate with this Austin-based noise-pop band. The first time I saw Astroblast live, I was wedged between some half-drunk, mostly-pierced groupies and the disgruntled lead singer from another band that had somehow gotten gypped out of their stage time earlier that night. The Oven in Houston is a divey, roadside pizza parlor/punk club where the angrier teens like to congregate and where the stage lights are tinted the appropriate shade of crimson. I wasn’t expecting any more than angst and distortion that night, but then these four kids took the stage and proceeded to prove that everyone in the club, yes even the keyboardist, should do that funny slow-mo pogo dance that goes so well with indie-rock. The rest of the night was a blissful blur of redlead singer Jen Kellough’s bobbing head, guitarist/brother Bob Kellough’s hands and a happy-at-last audience under pinkish house lights.
Astroblast is all about visceral, metallic noise and piquant sweetness, and the best part about the band in concert is the lovely and animated Jen, who sounds very Pixie-ish herself. Despite the Mission-to-Mars name (and the fancy techie web site, worth a glance at www.astroblast.com), the band in concert is neither disenchanted, disaffected nor distant, which is why I was disappointed with The Scientist, a recording that really doesn’t do Ms. Kellough justice. It sounds like someone got a little too happy with the Pro Tools vocal doubling effect and thought that Jen needed a little back-up. The result is Jen times six in vacuum chamberher vocals are so trapped and deadened by the wall of noise on opening tracks like “New Shot”, “Poppy Seed” and “You’re So Gone” that she sounds inhuman. Luckily the instrumentals, on the other hand, are well-executed and well-mixed. This album offers the same ebullient rock I heard at the Oven, except with less distortion so you can actually hear the different guitar parts. On “Pixie”, the drummer sounds like he’s bored and pounding nails into a wall, but for the most part the plodding rhythms are more than compensated by Bob Kellough’s deft guitarwork. From the blistering, 100-mph guitar intro to “I-35 Masssacre” to the screeching plane crash at the end of “Pixie”, The Scientist proves that Astroblast, if nothing else, knows how to nail the art of noise. The gently discordant “Led Wings” closes the album effectively with a tidy power-pop lullaby.