The Asteroid No. 4: Hail to the Clear Figurines

A good band still struggling to transcend their influences

The Asteroid No. 4

Hail to the Clear Figurines

Label: The Committee to Keep Music Evil
US Release Date: 2011-02-08
UK Release Date: 2011-02-08

Philadelphia's The Asteroid No. 4 has been around for some years now, specializing in retro-sounding jangle-pop, a la The Byrds, and for a time, occupying a spot on the Rainbow Quartz label roster alongside like-minded bands such as The Gurus and The Grip Weeds. Those bands have drifted away from Ruby Quartz these days, and The Asteroid No. 4's newest release, Hail to the Clear Figurines, sees them settled in to The Brian Jonestown Massacre's label, Keep Music Evil. The result is a more expansive and less derivative sound. The songs themselves are a mixed bag, but this is a good step for the band, and some of the tunes here are killer.

One killer track shows up right off the bat: "Wicked Wire" kicks off with a throbbing pulse of fuzz bass, jangly guitars, and processed vocals. It's a two-minute nugget of perfection, one that promises great things for the rest of the record, only some of which bear fruit. One of those fruits is the very last song, "Ignition Slated for Eight", which incorporates dreamy vocals and delicate, understated, yet massively fuzzy guitar to paint a picture of... well, I'm not sure what. "And it seems belief had got you down/But the legend takes you round and round". Take my advice, don't worry too much about the words, just ride the dreamy-groovy wave.

In between those two standout cuts are 10 others, ranging from wordless space trips ("Vesta", "In the Interest of Captain Marbles") to pretty down-tempo tunes ("Wild Opal Eyes", "A Sunny Day (One Afternoon)") to satisfying mid-tempo rockers ("The Unknown", "Be Yourself By Yourself"). The band's signature sound is present throughout: layered harmony vocals, with distorted guitars and keyboards used to create a texture that makes the sonic landscape engaging without being abrasive. Occasionally, other sounds intrude: brass on "The Unknown", harp on "Wild Opal Eyes". Generally, though, the band sticks to the basic five-piece rock template.

There are some missteps too. "Got Nowhere to Go" just sounds too damn much like The Byrds already, while title track suffers from a lackadaisical melody delivered without conviction. It doesn't help that the lyrics are a string of head-scratchers: "The legend begun in 2001, a strange new concept/That they were not real". Later we're informed: "Everyone knows the British Redcoats and Hessians believed/Hail to the clear figurines". Lyrics like that require some musical oomph to back them up, which is sadly lacking here.

Overall, there is more to like than dislike, but the back half of the record suffers from a certain repetitiveness. One pitfall of dreaminess and spaciness is that it can easily meander into formlessness, which some of these songs do. One of the more energetic outings later in the record, "Carnival", clocks in at just a minute-and-a-half, which is something of a lost opportunity. The band is at its best when it finds a muscular hook, whether melodic or instrumental, and constructs a song around it.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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

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