I’ve seen Astral Cloud Ashes compared to bands like Tubelord, Pixies, The Cure, Now Now, Death Cab for Cutie, and Modern Baseball. As a thirty something who’s a bit stuck in the music of his teens and 20s, I must admit that a few of these comparisons were lost on me, but seeing Death Cab, The Cure, and Pixies listed as acts similar to Astral Cloud Ashes immediately piqued my interest. Some of Death Cab’s classic era tunes were on heavy rotation in my college years, while both The Cure and Pixies have been a steady part of my musical diet since my teenage years and continue to get a decent amount of play today – in fact, my kids regularly rock out to “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and several other tracks with me.
If you do the math and you realize the music scene I grew up in, you’d probably guess that I was quite happy to hear the definite 90s emo flavor as soon as the first track of Dear Absentee Creator kicked off. There’s no doubt that Astral Cloud Ashes would have been right at home in the firehall shows I frequented growing up, playing alongside the likes of Thursday, Get Up Kids, Piebald, Promise Ring, and other great local and touring acts of the day. It’s impossible for me to avoid conjuring up comparisons to Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, and At the Drive-In as the album progresses. In fact, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that closing my eyes while listening to this album transports me right back into the middle of one of the many, many shows I promoted or attended in New Jersey’s late 90s scene.
Like many of the best bands of the era, influences and sounds beyond just that standard emo sound are evident. There’s a distinct influence of the Epitaph and Fat skate punk sound in several tunes. An appreciation and nod towards the hardcore sneaks in from time to time. Certain moments harken to the new wave and dance pop bands of the 80s like XTC and New Order. Not to mention, the 90s influences don’t all come from the emo/post-hardcore/post-punk bands, but also great alt-rock like the Eels and indie rock like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. I could go on and on… but that’s a good thing. That means that this is an album that is inspired by a ton of great music that came before it, while finding away to create its own sound and signature.
Five to ten years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised to tell you that Astral Cloud Ashes is one of the few bands I discovered in my post-becoming-a-parent life that is in heavy rotation. I can confirm that after only a few days, this album isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The last band to combine such a variety of influences that appealed to me was Say Anything. Seeing as my first experience with them were well before I had children and easily 12-13 years ago, that’s a pretty remarkable feat. In other words, Astral Cloud Ashes is a band that I really dig and really look forward to diving more into.
With that, I leave you with my pitch… a pitch for us aging scenesters – seeing as I don’t necessarily have the right musical vocabulary to pitch it to those young folks out there:
If you grew up in the 90s indie music scene and enjoyed the alt-rock that dominated much of the musical conversation in those days, this is a band and album for you. If you loved bands who know their roots and albums that find a way to integrate 80s new wave influences, this is a band an album for you. And, if you simply love solid songwriting, good musicianship, and a tune to tap you toe to, this is a band and album for you.
The year may only be half over, but as of now, this is my favorite release of the year… hands down.