Sunday, 19 August 2012

Album Review - Cancel The Astronauts - Animal Love Match

Pop music is the oft chastised genre of music.  Thanks to the mutilations of the genre by those looking for a quick buck by spewing out rancid same-y flaccid tracks where boy meets girl and everyone dances a merry choreographed jig around a beat that's been around the block more times than J-Lo.  Yet in amongst the desire to embrace new genres dreamt up by the NME, and to appear hip by listing 'expiremental new wave trans-step-drone' as my favourite music, I love a good old fashioned pop song.  When done well, pop music is worth it's weight in gold.

And that's exactly what Cancel The Astronauts do.  They've been building up to this, their debut album since the release of their first two EP's, 2009 & 2010, and sneaking out two singles, 'Seven Vices' in September 2011 followed by 'Intervention' in March of this year.  Both tracks appear on their debut album 'Animal Love Match' which will be released on 17th September, a date which incidentally is full of great releases with Rachel Sermanni and The State Broadcasters also dropping new albums.

The album opens with the title track, which builds melodically in a rather climatic We Were Promised Jetpacks kind of way, before letting rip with a volley of guitars and drums.  As far as album openers go, it's catchy, dance-move inducing and a real signal of intent from the Edinburgh five piece that they are out for a good time.  'Seven Vices', as mentioned above, was released as a single late last year.  At the time it represented the band's finest work to date, and it's placing on the album is a smart move.  It's simple, yet infectious, guitar riff and drum beat work their way into the part of your brain that causes subconscious nodding of heads and tapping of feet.

'Intervention' then slides in with synths out in full force, displaying a more electric feel to Cancel The Astronauts.  Again, this track is another single, so fans of the band will probably be familiar with it.  It's as commercial as the album gets, and is a more packaged affair that 'Seven Vices'.  I'll be honest and say the refrain of "over in a heartbeat" isn't my cup of tea, but there's an undoubted infectiousness about the song which is why lots of people will love it.

Whilst I've used the term pop to describe Cancel The Astronauts, 'Intervention' is as close to chart pop as we get.  What may be a more apt term, is indie-pop, as Cancel The Astronauts possess that gift which all good indie-pop bands have; the ability to write clever lyrics about love.  'Love Backwards' is a more refrained affair than the first three tracks, with it's gentle guitar melody and vocals driving the intro.  The rest of the band strikes up joining in to give a fuller sound, yet the finer moments of this track are the softer ones, reminding us in a melancholy way that "love is four letters".

To preview the album, the band are giving away next track 'Making Dynamite' as a free download, which you can grab here.  The track is a more suspicious sounding affair, adopting a drum led percussion intro which is deep, dark and dastardly.  About 30 seconds in, it lightens up and there's more than a hint of fellow indie-popsters French Wives.  If 'Intervention' is CTA at their most pop, then next track 'Lekking' is them at their most alternative.  A drone-y affair, led with a single note played out on the synth, it adds punchy drums to the mix, and layered over the top are vocals that reflect the drone-y nature of the music.  The track also contains the albums first real instrumental, showcasing the fine guitar work which underpins much of the appeal of this album.

'Shapes', the album's mid-point, is an acoustic track with a rich synth backing.  Almost as if recognising this as an intermission between the two halves of the album, the band refrain from the expected punch into gear at the middle section, instead keeping true with the softer, more emotional tact.  A nice touch I feel, and one which showcases that CTA are no one trick ponies.

It's now the turn of the bass to take charge as 'Promise Of Strangers' comes in.  The resulting effect is a darker and deeper sound, which is quite unexpected and a much different journey than one might suspect the album would have taken given the feel from the first three tracks.  'I See, Uh-huh' opens with a fantastic guitar salvo, which retreats when the punchy vocals of "uh-huhs" come in, and dials back up again in between.  'While I Was Sleeping' reminds me of Blondie's 'Rapture' with it's intro, but rather than descending into a 70's style NY punk song, it pans out to be one of the strongest songs on the album.  To keep the NY references going, there's a Strokes song in there chomping to get out.  Anthemic, pounding, and exhilarating.

With the album drawing to a close, penultimate track 'Catch You If I Can' returns to the building intro with which we began the album.  The synth increases in volume, whilst a bassline repeats over it, a thumping drum beat and a piano completes this set up, creating a powerful piece of music.  If 'While I Was Sleeping' is one of the strongest tracks on the album, then 'Catch You If I Can' would be it's rival for that title.  The synth, drums and guitars are cut, leaving the piano like a spot light on the vocals.  The minute outro is as good a piece of electronic-indie I've heard this year.

With a name like a cheesy tourist t-shirt, final track 'I Sold My Soul (And This Is All I Got)' see the album out in fine style.  It's back to the catchy indie-pop love song that CTA are most well known for, the bass, drums and guitar all combining to create a really infectious melody, and a return to the dance floor to see us out.

If good pop music were worth it's wait in gold, then CTA are sitting on a good few carats with this album.  It's infectious and melodic enough to bring the listener with them, and quirky and original enough to keep their interest.  Well written love songs that actually convey real emotions, landscape sounds at times rivalling those of more establish indie acts, and full of awkward dance moves as those oh-so-cool indie kids try not to dance.  With this album, CTA might just win themselves a whole new raft of admirers.

Cancel The Astronauts - 'Animal Love Match' is out on 17th September.  You can pre-order a copy, as well as listen to the full album, right now on their Bandcamp.

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