God Is an Astronaut: Origins

[13 January 2014]

By Jordan Blum

As heavenly and honest as ever...

With a name like God Is an Astronaut, the Irish post-rock quintet clearly prides itself on prophetic undertones and meditative ambiance. Indeed, few—if any—of their genre peers are able to capture emotion and quandary with such polish and simplistic depth (a perfectly suited oxymoron, I assure you), creating music that speaks volumes about the human condition without ever feeling self-indulgent or overblown. On their seventh LP, Origins, the group once again exceeds expectations. It’s another beautiful yet unnerving experience.

Origins is the band’s first outing as a five-piece, and they classify it as “…perhaps their most saturated, striking snapshot to date.” This is due in part to the album’s “new vocal direction [and] a more experimental guitar approach”, which are purposefully affected to convey a ghostly vagueness. As for the dominant theme of the record, it focuses on “[the] perseverance in times of emotional hardship”. Although all of these attributes may make the record sounds like an utterly depressing affair, it’s actually extremely uplifting, as the compositional approaches exemplify the truest purpose of music: to reflect of our most impactful experiences and revealing feelings. You will get lost in yourself listening to Origins.

The appropriately titled “The Last March” opens the album with a lovely blend of harrowing effects, delicate piano chords and gripping percussion. Once a few other timbres are added, the soundscape explodes into a cascade of dramatic dissonance, and the central chord progression is sublime, as is the vocal layer. Really, it feels destined for the score of a life-affirming film.  Like many of Devin Townsend’s most revered pieces, this track’s wall-of-sound devastation is brilliant.

Naturally, the rest of Origins holds its own, with sophomore song “Calistoga” standing out due to its hard rock aesthetic and computerized singing (not unlike those featured on Anathema’s A Natural Disaster). It’s catchy and chilling. “Reverse World”, on the other hand, is more symphonic and tasteful, with plenty of subtle instrumentation (such as horns) and echoes adding a classical touch. Like its predecessor, it builds to great heights from a moving piano motif.

There’s an electronic base at the center of “Transmissions”, and contrary to the tedious annoyance of most circularly programmed beats, the repetitious loops here add to the overall vibe.  From there, “Weightless” fades in gracefully. It’s technically less musical than its siblings (it’s predominantly static and other noise), but it’s still very effective; in fact, it’s reminiscent of the more avant-garde work of Agalloch.

Later on, “Signal Rays” is relatively upbeat and shimmery, with a tasty bass line that holds everything together. It’s as if ‘90s Porcupine Tree ventured even further into spacey realms. In contrast, “Autumn Song” feels like a sorrowful ode to the bleakness of winter; the combination of acoustic guitar, horns, piano, drums, and harmonies is utterly stunning. It’s definitely among the best pieces here. “Strange Steps” captures a similar aura, although it’s more industrial and smooth (and less organic and dense). The album concludes with “Light Years from Home” which feels like a culmination of everything that Origins presented previously. There’s a great sense of closure to it, which is exactly what a finale should contain. 

Origins is a miraculous record, for it’s more than just a collection of songs; it’s a tragic, honest and thoroughly gorgeous experience. Not only does it manage to sidestep the monotony that dominates so many of its peers, but it provides a consistently thrilling experience that stems from ceaseless emotional richness and luscious musicianship. God Is an Astronaut has always been revered for its ability to do explore these sentiments so fluidly and grandly, and the fact that they’re still doing it this well is simply incredible. Don’t miss this one.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/177059-god-is-an-astronaut-origins/