Tuesday, 16 February 2021

God is an Astronaut - Ghost Tapes #10 (2021)

Country: Ireland
Style: Post-Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Feb 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I came to God is an Astronaut, a name taken from a quote in Nightbreed, from a suggestion that their particular brand of Irish post-rock is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream. Well, maybe on earlier albums, as this is their ninth, but not here, because this is driven by guitars not keyboards and it often has an abrasive texture to it. I haven't heard the band before, but I did check out some of what they've done in the past on YouTube and this is angrier stuff. Given that they've said that each of their albums is a "photograph or snapshot of who we are in that moment of time", maybe 2020 was a tough year. It was for the rest of us.

Texture seems to be the goal here, rather than soundscape. I don't see much when I listen to this, just a predominant colour of grey. Maybe there are colours way over there somewhere in the dim distance but they're certainly not particularly close. I don't see places or people or even much of anything that might give an indication of what's happening, just swirling. Maybe I'm in a thick bank of clouds and I can't see the world at all except in momentary glimpses.

This certainly fits with some of the song titles. Adrift feels exactly that, especially in the midsection. I don't know where we are but we're not supposed to be here and we'd like to find our way back, if that's OK with everyone. There can be peace here but it doesn't last and that's telling. The guitars are chaos, but the bass has a dark deliberation to it, as if chaos was the goal all along. Other titles here speak to being lost as well, like In Flux, Fade and even Burial, if we assume we aren't dead.

There's certainly some peace in Burial before that angry guitar kicks in and spoils our escape. I do feel that these swirling guitars represent the absence of something rather than a presence of one. They're not telling us what's going on; they're hiding what's going on from us. If anything, the drums serve as a guide, their tempo our sense of urgency and their complexity a reflection of how much we ought to pay attention.

Somehow, like life, we have to pay attention and we're rewarded for that. As chaotic as this feels, it's a rich sound and one that never got boring for me. It's also a very current sound, as if this is all of us at this moment in time rather than just the band. We're struggling, but we're still going and we'll see it through, whatever "it" is for each of us, whether COVID-19, politics, debt or whatever. Gradually, over repeat listens, I came to think of the bass as us, a vibrant life force that's carrying on whatever else is happening. It perseveres and we will too. This is chaotic but it's not pessimistic in the end. We emerge from that in Luminous Waves.

I'm still learning about what post rock is, but each time I think I have a grasp on it, the next post-rock album tells me that I haven't got it yet. I'd come to the thinking that post-rock has musicians playing traditional rock instruments in a way that takes us to new places in the way that Tangerine Dream and thers did entirely with synthesisers and electronic gadgetry. God is an Astronaut mostly do that but I hear synths and some of the more peaceful moments benefit from piano. Doesn't that disqualify this from post-rock?

Who sets the rules? Well, maybe God is an Astronaut do. They've been doing this for two decades now, nearly, and they've remained prominent throughout. Who better to listen to on this?

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