Bad Astronaut – Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem

Bad Astronaut
Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem

Joey Cape has been a busy guy. Besides fronting Lagwagon, arguably one of the best poppy-punk bands around, he also divides his time between running My Records, joking around with the always entertaining Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and taking the helm for Bad Astronaut, a band that has grown to be less of a side project and more of a well-established band, thanks in part to Lagwagon’s lengthy sabbatical since their last recorded effort. Perhaps in an effort to tide fans over until the supposedly forthcoming Lagwagon record, Cape has offered up Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem via Bad Astronaut. What was once a three-piece has morphed into a small gang, with Cape accompanied by Marko 72 (Nerf Herder, Swingin’ Utters, Sugarcult), Derrick Plourde (Lagwagon), Angus Cooke, Todd Capps, Thom Flowers, and Jonathon Cox.
Bad Astronaut could be described as a combination of three unique parts, with the first being the obvious punk background. Many moments do resemble previous Lagwagon work, partly thanks to Cape’s unmistakable vocals, but this rarely lasts for an entire song. The second part would be a gentler singer-songwriter side, which is shown through scattered moments that consist of nothing more than Cape’s vocals and an acoustic guitar. This hints at the downtrodden folk-rock of Elliott Smith at times, and that influence was made obvious when the band covered Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” back on their debut, Acrophobe. Finally, the third piece of this puzzle is a textured and spacey one, hinting at a crush on David Bowie or Radiohead, most evident on the lush closer “The Passenger.” Drum machines and sequencers show up from time to time, as well as other toys like analog synthesizers, keyboards, and cello, adding some depth to the standard drums, bass, guitar, and vocals.
These three unique elements are blended perfectly, often within the framework of the same song, making for a moody and intriguing rock record. More than once, a track opens with acoustic strums and vocals, breaks out with peppy rhythms and punchy guitar work, and then sprawls out with some more trance-inducing layers. The musicianship is impressive, and perhaps that should be expected when the band lineup includes seven people and a small handful of guests. Hell, Blues Traveler’s John Popper even stops by to add harmonica to “Our Greatest Year.” The studio gloss is nicely perfected as well, shown most during more atmospheric moments.
From the goofy title of the album to the sound of the band’s previous work, one may expect another excellent dose of punky power-pop, but what you end up with is something much more durable. The range of the songs is incredibly ambitious, and at first glance one may not expect a bunch of guys with snotty punk backgrounds to be able to pull it off. But such a person would be proven terribly wrong and would instead be treated to one of the catchiest and most thoughtful batches of songs they had heard in some time.