The Asteroid No. 4 – s/t

The Asteroid No. 4 - s/t

The Asteroid No. 4 – s/t

This, as far as I can make out, is the Asteroid No. 4’s eighth album. Since their formation in 1998 the now San Francisco based band has made it their mission to reconfigure and reinterpret for a contemporary audience music and ideas that now belong to a world of five decades previously, the full blown lysergic commandments of the first wave of actual rock bands of the 1960s. There’s nothing like setting your sights beyond the horizon and sixteen years after their formation, with a wealth of experience and an occasional rivalry with the Brian Jonestown Massacre very firmly in their own history, the Asteroid No. 4 are now actual elder statesmen of psych rock, the equals of those whom they began their careers emulating. Where the BJMs display a sardonic experimentalism, the Asteroid are reverent interpreters of the harder edged end of the psychedelic spectrum, of the less accessible and sometimes obscure music of Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers, while managing to not sound entirely like a late 60s tribute band. One thing I noticed when I first heard “An Amazing Dream” in 2006 was their studied seriousness, draping their songs in swathes of reverb in a way that few other bands could have made to work while avoiding any notions of irony that could undermine their visions. And while those visions haven’t faltered, their eighth album is both spectacularly impressive and noticeably flawed.

After sixteen years you could expect a band such as the Asteroid to mellow out a bit, go into electronica or something approaching modern composition. A listen to The Asteroid No. 4 reveals that they’ve taken none of these options, instead opting to perfect their recreation of early 1970s heavy rock with the added touches that present day studio technologies are able to bring and the results of this is both clarity and bombast. If “An Amazing Dream” possessed an ethereal quality and “These Flowers Of Ours” was a country rock with a noir-ish twist, their eighth album goes very committedly down the route marked Space Rock, from it’s op art sleeve design to the dissonant fade out of end track “Yuba”. Beginning with the tribal drumming that leads into album opener “The River”, a song that could work just as well with less backward guitar soloing and that suddenly takes a turn into the country rock sound that the Asteroid aren’t prepared to give up on, the songs on the album get a production that takes every opportunity it can to go off at a phased tangent, which suggests that the band see their trademark sound as one that comes from the mixing desk rather than from their songwriting. It works alright, only that it can also sound overdone and sometimes contrived. Second track “Rukma Vimana” borrows from Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” and also with a midsection that’s a nod to Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd at their most indulgent. When the production gives the song’s tune some room it’s possible to hear a number that would work quite well without the pyrotechnics although that would probably defeat the entire idea of the how the song is presented and of what the Asteroid want to say to us through their music.

Exactly what that is isn’t very obvious. “Ghosts Of Dos Erres” has the shade of Ian McCulloch about its echoing guitar riff, and a flavour of the Teardrop Explodes in its shifting keyboards. “The Windmill Of The Autumn” has the measured pace of mid period BJMs and sounds very laid back next to what has preceded it. “Mount Meru” brings a sitar and some subtly tapped percussion into play in what sounds like a studio improvisation, and a mantra-esque backing to a spoken word vocal that speaks of celestial profundity. It’s a track that really is a complete recreation of what a lot of people think the most mind opening music of the late 1960s sounded like, and next track “Back Of Your Mind” is probably the least complicated song on the album, a less effusively produced counterpart of “Rukma Vimana”.  And as the rest of the album unfolds the Asteroid vary between laid back acoustic vibes (“Ropeless Free Climber”) and virulent Space Rock (“Revolution Prevail”) until finally, instrumental track “Yuba” closes the album with a practised skill that, some listeners will agree, we would have liked to hear some more of, perhaps at the expense of some of the album’s more complicated moments.

The Asteroid No. 4’s eighth album reveals a band with something of an identity crisis. Alternately heavy rock, mind altering psychedelia and crafted musicianship, it actually sounds like the music of several different bands played at random and doesn’t completely hang together as a work in its own right, or perhaps it was conceived as an imaginary ‘best of’ drawn from their other seven albums. Self titling it says that the Asteroid consider it a statement and also an introduction to their music for new listeners. It’s nearly their finest moments, combined.