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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The Aliens
Astronomy for Dogs
Astralwerks

Rating: 9/10 ?


August 29, 2007
Critical darlings, commercial laggards. That's the succinct sentence no band really wants to hear, and after nearly a decade of living it, and struggling with finances, Scotland's superb Beta Band decided to hang it up. A strong debut, a breezy eighty-minute collection of their first three stellar EPs, two more remarkable albums, hell, even an opening slot on Radiohead's 2001 US tour couldn't bring this eclectic group the fan following they deserved. It's a shame, really, because in their absence there really has not been anyone else picking up the Beta Band's flag. Until now.

Rising from the Scottish outfit's very ashes comes the Aliens, reuniting three of the founding members of the Beta Band: Gordon Anderson, John Maclean, and Robin Jones. Stephen Mason, who was integral as the Beta frontman and vocalist, is holed up in rural Scotland working on solo projects, his website post back in 2006 pretty much summing up his sentiments: "Peace to you all, I'm out of here. It's been amazing but I've had enough. Over and out. Steve xxxx." Although it would be nice to have everyone back, the Aliens have more than enough talent amongst themselves to make a go of it, as is evident by their virtuoso debut, Astronomy for Dogs.

I myself am a huge Beta Band fan, and still cringe that I missed them play a small club in Phoenix several years ago (I heard about the show the day after, aye). One listen to Astronomy for Dogs feels so welcome to these ears, to know that the spirit of such a luminous group will continue, for the Beta DNA is intact with the Aliens. But like all reincarnations, though the past life is vaguely recognizable, this is clearly a different lifeform. The Beta Band were masters of mashing genres into their own unique blend; at any given moment they could sound like trip-hop, electronica, acid folk, dream pop, or any combination of the above. the Aliens are a tad more straightforward, sounding simply like a fervently creative and artistic rock and roll band.

Astronomy for Dogs opens with "Setting Sun," a psychedelic rocker that would've played well during the Summer of Love. The springy organ, classic electric guitar solo, and hazy backing vocals feel kitschy without being cheesy, and to borrow a thought from Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins, there is a fine line between the two. "Robot Man" is another throwback, this time to the party days of disco, when electronics meant synthesizers instead of samplers. "I Am the Unknown" continues the retro flavor that drips over this album, the expansive arrangements and minor key modulations clearly recall Abbey Road-era Beatles. "Tomorrow" actually goes back even further, its simple lyrics, drum rolls and bass line would have made it a hit for Sun Studio.

Lest the clock keeps ticking backwards, the Aliens hit us with "Rox," which beams in from outer space, and is perhaps the most Beta-esque song on the album, its infectious groove powering its singular message, "not going back now/ never falling on the rocks/ and I'm not going to wake up/ in the morning/ with my head in the clouds/ feeling like a nobody." There are many more highlights on this long-playing album - it clocks in at nearly seventy minutes, but going long is nothing new for these Scots. The lyrically freewheeling "Only Waiting," the utterly gorgeous ballads "She Don't Love Me No More" and "Honest Again," and the closing 16-minute space out "Caravan."

Will Astronomy for Dogs earn the ex-Betas the commercial success they warrant? I suppose the answer lies in how one analyzes what went wrong the first time around. My theory is that the Beta Band were simply too ambitious, too soon (even Radiohead was a rock band playing "Creep" before dropping Kid A), and with too-hideous album art. Although determination paired with experimentation is generally adored by critics, the listening community sometimes misses the whole point, or simply doesn't have the patience for the mélange. There are always exceptions, which just proves the mystery of the whole game. Here's hoping that the Aliens don't fall through the fickle cracks of an increasingly splintered music scene. The general public needs bands like this in their earbuds, even if they don't know it quite yet.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro

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