Music

Astropop 3: Allies and Stepping Stones

Will Harris

Astropop 3

Allies and Stepping Stones

Label: Planting Seeds
US Release Date: 2004-01-13
UK Release Date: 2004-01-26
Amazon
iTunes

Boy, does it suck to be an indie-pop band in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Of late, the Hampton Roads area of Virginia has become notable for producing such artists as Missy Elliot, Timbaland, the Clipse, N.E.R.D., and the Neptunes... and before that, it was notable for being the site of Teddy Riley's Future recording studio.

It has not, however, been what you'd call a hot spot for the independent pop scene; no commercial radio station is willing to play local music with any regularity (if at all), and small venues are few and far between.

As noted in their bio, Astropop 3 have been "persistently trudging through the dingy dive bars of the underground music scene in Hampton Roads, performing their own mixed bag of original music, and relentlessly promoting themselves." Over the course of a career that began in 1995, the band has continued to be fiercely independent, however, clawing their way up the ladder of success on their own terms.

After several cassette releases (some under the moniker Our Starblazers), Astropop 3 formed their own label, Planting Seeds Records, and released their self-titled debut CD in 1998. Since then, they're scored inclusion on a CMJ Certain Damage compilation, appeared alongside acts such as Alkaline Trio and the Smoking Popes on various other discs, and, in 2001, released their sophomore effort, Eclipsing Binary Star. In fact, two songs from the album, "Revenge" and "Same Old Story", could be heard on MTV's The Real World and Road Rules.

Now, in 2004, Planting Seeds has distribution through Parasol Records and their releases can be purchased through Amazon.com, which means that Allies and Stepping Stones, Astropop 3's latest release, may well be positioned to be the group's breakthrough album.

Astropop 3's general musical style hasn't changed dramatically over the course of their career. Frontman / songwriter Dan Villanueva has always worn his influences on his sleeve: a bit of '60s British pop, rather a lot of late '80s / early '90s British pop, and, as of late, a fair amount of today's rock / emo sound. What has changed, however, is the sound of the band's albums.

Villanueva co-produced Allies and Stepping Stones with Brad Rosenberg, and it's remarkable how much more crisp and clear the album sounds when compared to its predecessor. Admittedly, some of the light, breezy charm of the last album is lost with this slightly harder-edged release (there is no "Lost in a Dream" here), but the songwriting is as strong as ever.

Villanueva has clearly learned much from reading the lyrics from his Smiths albums. "Fade on Your Own" contains the very Morrissey-like couplet, "And if it hurts just like before / Our condolences once more / After settling the score / We're still bored". Still, he isn't permanently lost in melancholy; the album opener, "Forget Tomorrow", gently reminds, "No regrets / Don't forget / Tomorrow hasn't happened yet".

While occasional vocalist (though full-fledged band member) Angelique Everett doesn't seem to get as much opportunity to shine on this album, the jangly "Bubble Gum Breakup" is certainly the perfect spotlight. "Fade on Your Own", her other moment in the sun, is also fine, but it's "Breakup" where she best shows the goods.

There was a time when it would've been hard to imagine Astropop 3 breaking through to mainstream success, but times have changed considerably since the band first emerged. In a world where the White Stripes are nominated for Grammy awards, they've got just as much chance as any other indie band if they catch the ear of the right label executive.

Fortunately for Astropop 3, with Allies and Stepping Stones, there's lot of ear-catching material to be had.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less

Jamie Lythcott-Haims gives a voice to the internal dialogue—the self-loathing, really—of living a life as a biracial woman who, for most of her life, wasn't quite sure if she was allowed to call herself black.

About 25 pages in, I realized the irony of my hesitation to review Real American, a new memoir about one's place within the spectrum of race by Jamie Lythcott-Haims, a former Standford dean and successful public speaker.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image