Calling All Astronauts
Last week, we gave a listen to Calling All Astronaut’s single, ‘Welcome to the Black Bloc,’ from their new album, #Resist. This is the review of #Resist. As I noted last week, I came across CAA on Twitter a couple of years back, when they followed me. I followed back and eventually got around to listening to their Influences EP, a four-track collection that saw them honour their, believe it or not, influences. Thus we got covers of Gary Numan, David Bowie, T. Rex, and Deep Purple. It did not see them cover their more obvious influences: Sisters of Mercy, Ministry, NIN, even Depeche Mode.
Since I got my hands on #Resist about 10 days ago, it’s been on heavy play. There is something insanely catchy about this music for the apocalypse. For me, it comes back to David B.’s voice. I have noted he owes a debt to Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy, but he is his own man. His voice is both detached and angry, alienated and deeply embedded in the music. His voice is singular. He does not rely on distortion and other tricks of the trade for industrial singers like Trent Reznor and Al Jourgensen. He goes at it. Musically, CAA are electro-punks, all charged and processed guitars and bass and a drum machine, all sped up to hardcore punk speed.
Calling All Astronauts are heavily politicized, but I find myself these days wondering how it is possible to be anything but. And the title of this album gives away their politics. This is a manifesto for resistance, it is a manifesto for these dark times. But CAA also give us reasons for optimism, because even under all that noise, there is the belief that love will win out.
The boys who make up the band are not rookies, and it shows. The band is comprised of David B. on vocals and programming; Paul McCrudden on bass; and JJ Browning on guitar. They got their start playing together in US:UK, an early ramp metal band. There they cut their teeth opening for the likes of Faith No More, Pop Will Eat Itself, and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, as well as headlining the likes of the London Astoria. When they split, Browning formed a pop punk band called Caffeine, whilst McCrudden joined the goth band, The Marionettes, and David B. managed Caffeine. The Marionettes had some success touring with the likes of The Offspring and the Dickies, Caffeine wandered the world playing, and had themselves a #1 hit with a cover of Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round.’ And then one day back in London, Browning and and David B. just bumped into each other one day and decided that they needed to jam together and thrash something out. Originally, ex-Caffeine drummer Andy and bassist Kristi. But then Andy went off to California, so David B. began to play around with a drum machine, and the distinct CAA sound was born. After their first album, Post Modern Conspiracy, Kristi left to start a family, and McCrudden joined up.
When they were mixing #Resist, it just so happens that Alan Branch, who is a double-Grammy Award-winning producer (NIN, U2, Depeche Mode), who just so happens to be a good friend of McCrudden, heard the album and rang up to offer his help. The results are impressive.
#Resist begins in a haze of synthesizer and drum machine before Browning’s guitars come slashing in, and then the opening track, ‘The Holy Trinity,’ explodes into a sneering, preening track, David’s voice snarling across the track. There is more synth in this track than I have heard on their previous releases, and Browning’s guitar wanders more from the standard crunching riffs of industrial music.
‘Divided States of America’ is a drum machine driven stomper, Browning’s thundering guitar soaring above McCrudden’s bass, as David B. gives us his take on the State of the Union, which he correctly sees as divided and staggering through the Trump era, tackling everything from racial injustice, violence, #BlackLivesMatter, and gun violence. I take exception with his suggestion that Americans didn’t know what they were voting for in 2016, Trump has proved to be exactly what his campaign four years ago showed him to be. The question now, is how do we move forward?
I am particularly taken with ‘Give Them A Leader,’ which sees the synth and drum machine propel the song, with Browning and McCrudden providing the accoutrements, and David B. offers us a dystopic future:
Give them a leader
And they will all follow
Give them a future
That they deserve
Give them a purpose
That look at tomorrow
Give them the life
Of the world in reverse.
‘New World Disorder’ is another standout, beginning with the drum machine and a light synth riff, and then the guitars and bass show up, bouncing between chords, but when David B. steps up to the vocals, it’s back to drum machine and synth. Browning and McCrudden move as one in this track, and it adds depth to the sound.
‘Welcome to the Black Bloc’ the anti-fascist anthem that was previously released as a single, is a call to arms. It is a demand that fascism die. This song gives me a sense of historical déja vu, being an historian by trade, I cannot count how many times I have taught the 1930s and the rise of fascism in Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the satellite fascist movements in the UK, USA, and Canada. I find myself thinking of a sign I keep seeing at protests, dating back to the Women’s March in 2017 and through the #BlackLivesMatters movement, carried by men and women of a certain vintage: ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M STILL PROTESTING THIS SHIT.’ And here we are. Fascism must die.
The album closes with the charged ‘Not in My Name,’ which begins in a haze of guitars, drum machine and synth before it erupts into a the most danceable track they’ve ever cut, guitars and synth, drum machine and bass. And David B calls out populism, racism, xenophobia, and environmental degradation.
Bigotry and hatred (NOT IN MY NAME!)
Xenophobia (NOT IN MY NAME!)
Nationalism (NOT IN MY NAME!).
He goes onto wonder what happens when the racists and fascists run out of minorities to hate. Ugh. Not even something I want to think about.
Taken together, #Resist is an album for our times, it is an album to listen to to energize us, to lift us up, to think about a future, a better tomorrow, and how the fuck we get out of this mess, whether it is Brexit and the absolute mismanagement of everything of the Tories in the UK, or Trump in America, and everything else in between.
Solidarity, mes ami(es)!