By Noel Oxford
Having previously pontificated at length about the close relationship between Asteroid and the 1970s, it seems lazy to backtrack to the same well for a review of their new record, II. But it’s completely appropriate, so bollocks to integrity, I’m doing it anyway.
Here is a band, ladies and gents, that just got through with the fondue party and is now joining every other guest in gamely chucking its car keys into a floral patterned mixing bowl made of… I dunno, beige formica, I guess. What I am saying is this album swings. With a capital S.
Whereas Asteroid’s full-length debut was an adroit collection of reasonably straightforward but expertly compelling stoner hooks, so fuzzy they might have been excavated from under the bed, II is a far more ambitious piece of work, and it might be the best thing I’ve yet heard in this futuristic space utopia of twenty ten anno domini.
There’s a small fantasy I nurse deep in my shrivelled, blackened heart, that one day a band will come along and fuse both prog and ambient with stoner and doom in a way that really strikes at the ethereal, ineffable cosmic potentialities implied by that fusion. That record would, of necessity, be mind-blowing. Asteroid aren’t quite there (more swirly synths, please), but II might be the closest I’m likely to get.
It’s SOP with rock in general, but stoner particularly, to front-load your albums with all your best and loudest riffs, in the hope of catching the unsuspecting listener with a giant barbed fish-hook through the earlobe and dragging them yelping to the end of the work. Here, instead, we have a mellow, moody and gently lilting opener in Garden. Which isn’t to say that the hook’s not set by the time it wraps up, it’s just that II has got something more subtle, more smarter going on than your typical stoner fare.
The lilt continues into Disappear, which gives us the killer riff we’ve been anticipating, on top of a ruffled, swinging drum lick that’s heavy on the toms. And the high/low vocal mix of Johannes Nilsson and Robin Hirse, fast becoming a trademark of Asteroid’s work, remains in full effect throughout. At the two minute mark, the tune suddenly drops away, down the gravity well, giving way to an atmospheric middle eight of clean, ringing notes, accelerating steadily. Karma is more brooding, a gentle builder that grows out of a refrain touched with the barest hint of fuzz. It remains instrumental for most of its five and a half minutes, and is pretty much amazing. We’re a quarter of an hour into the record, and I’m having, literally, the time of my life. Yes.
Later on, we find a three-track song suite, in the tradition of all the best 70s bands. River is a sparse, desolate affair, awash in cymbal rolls and chiming guitar chords, echoing with reverb. Flowing into Lady, which is a segue that sounds a bit rude, the speedo’s needle abruptly jumps to ‘canter’, and the song spends its first two minutes breaking for the hills, swinging all the way. Two minutes in, apparently seized by crushing ennui, the brakes go back on, and in comes the theme that will ultimately bring this record home; namely an existential, soul-deep dread at the vastness of time and space, and our inconsequential place within it. Towers takes that theme and runs with it. This is what I meant when I was going on about cosmic ineffability, lads. It’s apposite matter for this kind of music, and it works pretty much perfectly.
I could go on and on about this record, but I won’t, out of something like consideration for y’all, you absolute sods. To sum up: II is heavy and light, sweet and sour, straightforward and progressive, all at the same time. It is a blueprint for what stoner rock could, and should be. It’s a psychedelic step beyond anything Asteroid have done previously, and it will grow on you like hairs on an old lady’s nipples.