Last Days of April – Ascend to the Stars

Last Days of April
Ascend to the Stars

(Warning: The following review is written in the first person. If that bothers you, get a life.)
It was a few years ago that I was introduced to Last Days of April through the track “Nothing’s Found” from a Deep Elm Records Emo Diaries compilation. The track was pretty standard emo fare, though it was damn good for what it was. Not long thereafter, I began to write for Delusions of Adequacy, and I was fortunate enough to get handed off a copy of LDOA’s Angel Youth to review. The disc was leaps and bounds away from the ‘typical’ emo sound I was expecting (an expectation bolstered by the knowledge that Fireside’s Pelle Gunnerfeldt’s did the disc’s production work), as the band augmented their sound with unexpected instrumentation and surprisingly varied songwriting to create a thoroughly good listen.
Well, the guys in LDOA are back with Ascend to the Stars, Gunnerfeldt’s production work is back with them, and I’ll be damned if the band didn’t pull another about-face and take off into yet another unexpected musical direction – and yeah, go figure, they do it amazingly well AGAIN. On Ascend to the Stars, LDOA’s really gone off the emo track by pooling together a collection of meloncholy, indie garage-pop songs with a clear, glossy production sheen. Gone are the days of loud swells of guitars and sounds that told the listeners when they should be feeling the musical surge of emotion – in their place are majestic melodies and understatedly catchy rhythm guitar hooks that are even more simple than the band’s previous material. The instrumentation is once again as varied as that on Angel Youth (mellotron and various synth/keyboard fares can be picked out of the mix at points, as well as various other unconventional instruments), but don’t let that fact fool you – the songs here are more stripped down than any other LDOA material.
Every song on Ascend to the Stars is so incredibly simple that the beauty of it is almost completely mind-numbing. If someone would’ve told me that I’d be listening to LDOA and tapping my toes and singing along to a chirpy, uppity fully electro backing track with lilting vocals (“Piano”), I’d have fallen over laughing, and I guarantee that I would’ve pledged that the band would suck eggs if it ever got to that point. So yeah, allow me to state for the record that I’d be eating a massive plate of crow right now.
“Playerin” is an insanely infectious two-minute pop song that still hasn’t gotten old, even on this, its seventh consecutive listen during the writing of this review. The echoed, backing rhythm guitar to “Slow Down” could actually be described as cascading, though in all honesty, it’s the driving bassline that draws focus to the song. The bass is deep, yet upbeat and not at all plodding – that coupled with the delicate way that the rhythm guitars interact (as well as the slightly nasal vocals) evoke all sorts of happy rememberences of New Order.
This is close to blasphemy, I know, but I swear that Elvis Costello could have recorded the LDOA song “Angel Youth” and I never would have even thought to check if it was a cover song – I can honestly hear his distinctive voice singing the track and having it sound like his own material. (On an aside, am I the only person who finds it odd that bands will name an album after a song, yet that song doesn’t actually appear on the album it shares a name with?)
Still, though, LDOA hasn’t totally shafted all of its emo tendencies, as they keep a few really nice slower numbers on the track listing. “When I’m Gone, Will You?” sits directly in the middle of the disc, breaking up the pop goodness with a deep, resonating slow song that slightly recalls pre-OK Computer Radiohead (as well as passages of Sigur Ros as well) – the deep bass sound rolls around in the space between the clean guitars and the organ, giving the song a very emotional base before the vocals are even taken into consideration. The clincher, however, is the 7 1/2-minute album closer, “At Your Most Beautiful,” which is delicately layered and explicitly drawn-out to an amazing effect. Every single sound in the sparse track is so deliberate that it literally sends slow, rippling waves through the speakers than can be felt within the body.
Yeah. Just … yeah. I’m mind-blown at how well this band continues to develop musically. If you are any sort of fan of well-crafted guitar pop, you owe it to yourself to at least hear this record. I’m dumb-founded by how good this is, to say the least. At this point here at the end of July, I’ll even go so far as to say Ascend to the Stars is easily my ‘album of the year’ thus far.