Astronauts: when you’re not that high
Astronauts – When You’re Not That High (expand your own)
12 ″ / DL
The new version of Astronauts lives up to the claim to be the best band. For fans of dubbed punk rock, chemical beats and a festival vibe.
The eternal Mark Astronaut and his support group are back. He is one of the performers who, over the years, have always been there. The popularity of astronauts seems to rise and fall, but with a core of people enjoying what they are doing. They almost have cult status and are beyond easy definition. One leg in the anarcho-punk camp and another in the free festival circuit, just like their early label mates The Mob and travel buddies Zounds, they also incorporate elements of folk and psychedelia to create an ethereal sound. In a previous attempt to capture the riddle of the astronauts, I said that they “conjured up crispies with [Special] Hand brew and festivals when they were counter-cultural events.
Grow Your Own says this outing is 23 minutes if the astronauts are at their best and I should agree. What I hear from the record as a whole is a thoughtful look at how the hedonism and hope of the past 3 decades have gone wrong.
The opening track Heresy is, in my opinion, the outstanding song of the 4 featured on that extra 12 inch drive. If I was until this song was part of the set for sure. The backing track is very much in the tradition of the punks dubbing it and playing reggae properly – the experts being The Ruts. It also reminds me of the Angelic Upstarts track that I understand. It’s upbeat, the bass and drums lock in to keep him going. There are some echo effects and overall it has a flavor of the 80s / 90s dubby festivals, AOS3, RDF and PAIN.
The heresies summarized are the loss of sharing common resources and the community, meaningless rock’n’roll antics that are ‘shame on the stage’, and Tony Blair’s lies betraying pro-war socialism. (both lateral and war on the poor). As the songs draw to a close, the snare drum resonates and there is a dub cover with the mellow tones of Chris Bowsher from RDF / Military Surplus / Faction.
Have It is dancing in a different way with drums mimicking the repetitive rhythms of a rave sound system during vocal delivery. A groovy keyboard offers a lot of bounce in the interlude between words. Despite the fact that he seems to bemoan the dark side of what ultimately happened to some of the fun-loving rave generation, it still looks cheerful. “A punchy tune, a chemical rhythm. The weekends were so fun. Now you are wondering what it was like to have him big in a field in Kent.
High is a very standard fare from The Astronauts. It oscillates between a low-key indie and a roaring garage punk with little flourishes during the quiet parts and superb backing vocals. Maybe there’s even a touch of the here and now in there. Sex and drugs but no rock ‘n’ roll – the song paints a nightmarish picture of abusive behavior. And there is a descent. “What are you going to do when you’re not that high?” “
Melissa’s Party starts off to a floating sound with a strongly echoing guitar (that’s a delay for you technical types) before a softly plucked and clucky guitar accompanies softly intoned words. There is an overwhelming emphasis on line endings or keywords with keyboards and cymbals. When the song picks up, it has a pounding drive. It’s the perfect song to showcase the full range of Mark’s poetic vocals. Bass and drums slowly crawl like a malicious entity invading happy space. More nightmarish scenarios abound. “Where all the cakes are coated with charlie and all the spirits are mixed with strychnine,” Melissa’s Party quickly goes wrong as one of the participants stops breathing. “And now the party is getting hectic. They’re going to sacrifice a junkie and dance until they all go crazy “
Mark’s performance, as always, goes from poetry to song, from lament to exasperation to anger. This shift in speed maybe gives it more gravity than a group that is angry all the time.
The striking cover and insert looks like a watercolor, but I gleaned from the Facebook chats that it was actually a clever photo taken by Steph from GYO / Anthrax / Hagar The Womb.
Available from Develop your own records
Lyrics by Nathan Brown. Discover his archives of Louder Than War authors.