The Asteroid No.4 – ‘Northern Songs’ (2020)
The Asteroid No. 4 have always worn their influences on their collective sleeves and the tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. A heady collective of musicologists, their albums range from Cosmic Country Americana to Rubbles-styled beat, hallucinatory psychedelia, and many other flavours of the musical rainbow in between.
Trainspotters have noted that each donning of a new musical hat was cloaked in a subtle name change, from their haze-headed debut Introducing… (The Asteroid #4) to the British garage psych of King Richard’s Collectibles (The Asteroid No.4), the country psychedelia of Honeyspot (Asteroid No. 4), and their early pop psych EP “Apple Street: A Classic Tale Of Love And Hate…” (The Asteroid Number Four). They’ve also dabbled with Asteroid #4, Asteroid Four, The Asteroid Four, you get the picture. They even refer to themselves throughout their website as The A4, although they’ve yet to release anything under that variation. Of late, they’ve limited the revolving door nomenclature to their current moniker, although I did enjoy the chutzpah of unleashing their brilliant mind-melting semi-eponymous 2013 psychedelic masterpiece as The Asteroid No. 4 using the name The Asteroid #4!
The point of the foregoing exercise in naming conventions is to illustrate the breadth of not only what they call themselves, but of their varied influences and masterful mastering of various genres of music such that each album is bound to please anyone who has even the slightest interest in the great swathes of music that the world has to offer. And one look at some of their titles confirms they haven’t lost their wink-wink, nudge-nudge sense of musical humour, with thinly-veiled references The Cars (‘All Mixed Up’), the Stones (‘Paint It Green’), the Beatles via the title track, the glittery world of Bowie (‘Stardust’), Donovan ‘(Juniper’), and Mod masters the Faces (‘The After Glow’)!
Kicking off with the aforementioned ‘All Mixed Up’, the A4 sound as if they’ve been revisiting their Roy Orbison records – a ‘50s pastiche of bravura choruses, swelling strings, and strident testosterone-drenched vocal pyrotechnics to do the Big O proud. But then it’s back to their Spacemen 3 forebears with the otherworldly vibrating, tingling electronic buzz of ‘Hand Grenade’ with amps and guitars set to “Stun”! ‘Paint It Green’ changes horses again, toe-dipping into Bowie territory, ca. ‘Heroes’.
Speaking of Donovan, ‘No One Weeps’ is a groovy rewrite of ‘Sunshine Superman’ as interpreted by Brian Jonestown Massacre, and ‘I Don’t Care’ if one of those BIG ANTHEMIC FIST-PUMPERS that were all the Britpop rage when bands like Oasis, Pulp, Charlatans, Blur, Ride, and Jesus and Mary Chain ruled the airwaves. If anyone released singles anymore, this would be a sure chart-topper.
Other unforgettable earwigs include the paint-peeling wall of guitars shoegazey elegance that rages throughout ‘Juniper’, guitars that change to glistening waterfalls of crystalline sunshine on the title track. Closing out with the spacey freefalling ‘The After Glow’, the band live up to their name(!) with an expansive journey to the stars that may extend a top of the dome to M83, but keeps their feet firmly planted in Anglaterra firma. One of the best releases we’ve heard this year.