EvilSponge is not really a professional website.
By this I mean, all of the writers, editors, and web people
have other “real” jobs (not in the music industry). As a result,
we’re always a little shocked and surprised when we get unsolicited
promo CDs by bands and labels of which we’ve never heard. In
fact, when we first began the web site, we had pretty much decided
not to accept promotional copies, if only because we’re not
sure we can give a fair shake to bands that we don’t encounter
in our normal everyday lives.
However, in retrospect that was a particularly dogmatic position.
I mean, how is listening to a completely unknown band different
that encountering something new in concert or buying
a CD on the sole recommendation of a distant friend? Yeah,
sometimes you get crap, but sometimes you find a band or label
that you rather like.
And that’s the case for Syracuse, NY’s Flashing Astonishers.
Having never heard of them, I wasn’t expecting too much from
the first listen. However, I remember popping it into my CD
player and thinking, “Hey I kinda like this.” I began writing
this review, with a critical eye towards their music’s influences
and my somewhat lukewarm reception to it all. Then, as the review
neared completion, unfortunately life intervened, and I was
pretty much incapacitated for several months. In that intervening
time, my enjoyment of the CD has increased tremendously, so
I threw out my old review and began to write this one.
So having gone through all that, what do The Flashing Astonishers
sound like? It’s really quite hard to say. Different songs show
the influence of different bands. For instance, the first song
on the album seems like a straight forward Indie pop rock song.
It shows the influence of some of the smoother Texas alt-country
bands (like Slobberbone or Centromatic), but retains a light
jangle more reminiscent of The dBs, or perhaps Ceiling Fan.
However, the next song, Stress Tank Ten, is much harder, reminding
me of the early '90s Champaign' Illinois scene that produced
bands like Hum or The Poster Children. Yet, at times, during
the slower, more melodic bits of the song, the music seems almost
like what many critics would call “emo” (albeit in a good way).
Then, the next song goes off in still another vein, with guitarwork
that makes me understand why The Flashing Astonishers get compared
to bands like Pavement.
The rest of the album continues along in this same manner.
One song will have a guitar part that pulls from Brassneck
(by The Wedding Present) whereas another song will have the
slightly lilting female and male vocals that remind me of The
Aisler's Set. Similarly, the last untitled song on the album
is a slower piece that seems like slightly spacey BritPop. However
several of the other songs on the album are very reminiscent
of the post punk rock of Atlanta bands like Sharks and Minnows.
In other words, the music reminds me of other musicians, and
yet I can still hear how this band is more than the sum of its
influences. This strength is really demonstrated on my favorite
song, Too Many Cigarettes. This song is pretty much a
straight piece of indie post punk with a sing-along chorus and
a driving, head-bopping beat. In that too short (2 1/2 minutes),
I can hear the influence of any number of bands. However, in
the hands of The Flashing Astonishers it becomes something unique
and different and, ultimately, very catchy.
In the end, I guess I would suggest that this is not a perfect
album by any means. The recording itself seems a bit heavy on
the vocals and cymbals, and musically it seems a bit scattered.
But it’s certainly better and more original than I thought when
I first heard it, and I’d definitely recommend for people who
like any of the bands listed above.