Poor Rolo Tomassi. Few bands have ridden the backlash rollercoaster as hard or as far as they. Originally they were feted for their clash of musical styles and ideas (and perhaps for the perceived novelty of possessing an attractive young female singer with a voice like Jacob Bannon fighting an angry bear). However the indie kid who one day blogged so enthusiastically about Rolo Tomassi woke up the next morning with a sore head and remembered that he didn’t really like that horrible crashy mathcore sound after all, summarily dismissed them and fled back to his Animal Collective records.
One of Astraea’s early highlights: ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ works because Eva Spence moves seamlessly from the aforementioned angry bear vocals to the beautiful clean singing that she started showcasing more confidently on 2010’s Cosmology. Just as with legendary post-hardcore heroes Circle Takes the Square, having male and female vocals and the ability to switch from singing to screaming and back again immediately creates a rich and textured sonic world if it’s done well, as it certainly is here.
Having recruited two new members to replace their recently departed guitarist and bassist it makes sense that, for the most part, Astraea is the sound of a band consolidating their sound and firmly establishing their place in the musical universe. Rolo Tomassi probably pushed their mainstream appeal as far as they logically could on the Diplo-produced Cosmology. Particularly towards the end of that record there was a move towards the cleaner and poppier end of the spectrum (relatively speaking). On Astraea, however, there is a definite shift back towards the heavier end. Rolo Tomassi have toured in support of both Biffy Clyro and The Dillinger Escape Plan and have clearly decided that they are much closer kindred spirits with the latter.
With the exception of the sparse piano chords that open both ‘Empiresk’ and ‘Prelude II’ and the occasional quiet-in-the-centre-of-the-storm interlude this record is very much a direct assault on the senses. The ten songs rush by, occasionally merging together and taking a few spins to unpick and appreciate individually.
At least one major American website's review of Cosmology expressed a hand-wringing maiden aunt’s desire for Eva to just sing nicely more often, rather than shrieking and screaming so much. Whether intentionally or not, Astraea is a definite ‘Fuck You’ to all those who might have expressed similar desires for her to just coo properly like a good girl and for the band in general to tone down the sonic mayhem a bit.
If there is a flaw with Astraea it is that there is not much here that you won’t have heard the band do before. Having said that, one thing that certainly comes across is the band showing off how confidently and competently they channel that sense of taught aggression. A good example would be the superb ‘Gloam’ where the last half is dominated by the battle between melodic keyboard and screamed vocals with a real sense of urgency and threat. Astraea feels like a statement: we have integrated our new members, we are confident with our sound, this is us, take us or leave us. This is not their most immediate record, it does take multiple listens for the individual lines and layers that charge past so quickly to worm their way under your skin. But if you don’t just take the rough with the smooth, you actively enjoy the rough (especially when there’s a bit of smooth to contrast it with) then this is a record that you need to hear.
8Pieter J Macmillan's Score