March 12, 2003

The Asteroid No. 4 "Honeyspot"

What is a space-rocker to do? After making two or three albums of spaced-out stoner rock, you've gotta be pretty much in love with your sound, lest you get bored. Plenty of bands that were seen as "seminal" in the late 1990s are now nowhere to be seen, simply because they burned out, or their audience moved on. With Honeyspot, Philadelphia's Asteroid No. 4 have performed a major stylistic shift. Gone are the grand post-rock statements; instead of a psyched-out trip into space, Asteroid No. 4 have stumbled upon a magical musical time machine. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they are no longer post-hippies making futuristic stoner-rock, they're now officiallly hippies. It's okay, though, because they pull it off.

Starting off with "The Preacher & The Setting Sun," Asteroid No. 4 start off on a long, strange trip down the dusty road of classic psych rock, but unlike the Beachwood Sparks (and, to a lesser extent, the Ladybug Transistor collective) these guys never sound like a group of hipsters making ironic music. For all of the bands that take the trip back to the groovy Sixties, Asteroid No. 4 have to be the most authentic band of the bunch. If you didn't have the pictures of these younguns, you'd rightfully think that these guys were your dad's college buddies. In fact, Asteroid No. 4 have something that all of these modern-day retro-rockers don't--a magical instrument that sends Honeyspot back in tim--when bands with names like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape roamed the earth.

It's the harmonica.

I don't know where they managed to find it, but somewhere along the line, they picked up Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home harmonica and are milking it for all of its glory. In fact, it's great to hear that it's still being used, because Scott Vitt is a damn master at it. Just listen to "As Soon As Dawn" or "Made Up My Mind" and tell me that his playing isn't as good as Dylan's or Garcia's. The songwriting's just as good, too; with a wonderful combination of banjo, honky-tonk piano, harmonica, guitar, pot and whiskey bottle, you'd probably think they should have called themselves Flying Astronaut Brothers' Burrito Number 4. Honeyspot sounds like the bastard child of a one-night pot-smoking session between Blonde on Blonde and Workingman's Dead. Throw in a little bit of Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Meat Puppets II for good measure, sprinkle little bits of peyote and shrooms, and you'll pretty much have the recipe for Honeyspot. They never venture out past 1969, and they don't need to. They're stuck in a time-warp, and we're all the better for it.

Asteroid No. 4 have succesfully done what's proven to be impossible: they've radically changed their defined musical style AND made an album that is utterly indebted to the past yet never sounds like a novelty. Honeyspot is a wonderfully refreshing album of mind-expanding road-tripping psychedellic country rock that owes everything to its inspiration yet never sounds anything less than completely original. Good show, gentlemen--just make sure to watch out for the pigs when you tour. They don't trust longhairs...

--Joseph Kyle

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