This Will Help You On Your Way
Planting Seeds Records, 2002
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/14/2002
Ambient alternative rock - three words which can sometimes strike fear in my heart. It's not that I don't like this particular genre of music. Maybe it's because the first taste I ever had of it came in the form of a Cocteau Twins cassette which was tossed at me during my two-year stint in college radio. That music both confused me and scared the crap out of me.
Over the years, I've found some ambient rock which I've enjoyed very much - absinthe blind immediately comes to mind. I'd like to classify the Texas quartet Astroblast in this category as well, since their sophomore effort This Will Help You On Your Way does have some moments which are quite pleasing. Yet part of me gets the feeling from these ten songs that the group is still very much learning about the genre and themselves as musicians, and they have yet to come into their own. That's not necessarily a knock, but it does give the music a tentative feel.
Vocalist/keyboardist Jenn Kellough is the unquestioned front-person of Astroblast, which does seem to be a good move. Not that the other three musicians who share the vocal chores - bassist/guitarist Chris Bowers, guitarist/keyboardist Bob Kellough and drummer Jacob Cuthbertson - are any slouches, but sometimes their efforts feel a bit understated, though this could be a result of the final mix of the disc. Sounding like what Juliana Hatfield or Tanya Donnelly might if they were to front Swervedriver, Jenn Kellough often seems to bring a little more pop sensibility to the music, especially on the track "North Georgia Experiment". This particular track sounded almost like something off of Tori Amos's Strange Little Girls, especially with the keyboard work which drives this song home. Likewise, "Lives And Lies," despite having Jenn Kellough's vocals mixed a little too far back, captures the attention of the listener.
The formal praise for This Will Help You On Your Way stops here, but that doesn't mean I'm going to crucify the rest of the disc, so put the hammer and nails away. The bulk of this disc does seem to find Astroblast fighting with the concept of producing music for art's sake (meaning the chords don't always have to go together neatly, as evidenced by "Conversation Hearts") or daring to embrace a pop nucleus around which their alternative music can be wrapped. Sometimes, that's the feeling I get when I hear tracks like "Unsettled," "The Lows" and "Maladjusted" - and it's not always the most orderly of musical marriages. But there is a gleam of hope in what I hear, and Astroblast could still pull this combination off, with a little more work and time together.
It would be too easy to write This Will Help You On Your Way off - and it would be incorrect to do so. While the disc has some flaws, it does hold out the promise of better things to come. That's what I'd rather take away from this disc - as well as guarded anticipation of what Astroblast will give us on their next outing.