September 23, 2004

astral 'orchids'

Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover. From the band name to the album title to the blurry orange pictures that adorn the booklet, I could tell before I even put the CD in my computer that I was about to listen to some serious shoe-gazing music. Sure enough, within the first 30 seconds of opener “Barreling” San Franciscan trio Astral greeted me with all of the standard signifiers: a competent but unassertive rhythm section, guitars playing four-note riffs through a blanket of delay and chorus, and throaty Interpol-style singing. The rest of the songs on the album follow a similar template, but with only minor differences. On “Blinder,” guitarist Dave Han sings in a clearer, almost girlish voice. “Turn Me Around” speeds up the tempo a bit. “Raining Down” is played in waltz time. You can probably tell that I’m grasping for straws here, which is precisely my point. Astral does little, if anything, to differentiate themselves from thousands of other bands around the world paying tribute to the Cure. While nothing on Orchids is particularly bad or irritating, nothing on it is distinct enough to register even after multiple listens. If I fall asleep every time I listen to an album, it’s either because it’s relaxing or it’s boring. You already know on which side of the divide Astral falls.

--Sean Padilla

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