A chameleonic indie rock explosion
Music is often built around build-ups, climaxes and come downs. This structure can be incredibly rewarding—just take the stereotypical pop song, for example. A great bridge and thunderous final chorus can make or break a song. That climax can either make it all feel incredibly fulfilling and absolutely worth listening to in its entirety, or utterly disappointing. Detroit-based indie rock outfit Alluvial Fans, made up of vocalist/guitarist Drew Bartosik, bassist Gilad Granot and drummer Ollie Elkus, have a different take on this format. On Earth to Astronaut, they basically just throw any sort of tradition (pop or otherwise) out the window, and build incendiary and climactic moments wherever they see fit. In the vast majority of cases, this makes for some very entertaining rock music.
The first track, “Cult of Paradise,” is Alluvial Fans’ way of welcoming the world into their jovial and impressively varied universe. At a time in which “indie rock” has became all too stagnant and homogenous, it’s refreshing to hear a band quickly volley between sounding like Built to Spill and Third Eye Blind across the course of a track. Next is “Blowout / Future Games,” an impressive two-parter that exudes frustration and anxiety at one moment, and curiosity in the next. Bartosik’s guitar and vocal ability is readily apparent, especially with the shrieks he peppered into the heaviest guitar work on the back half of this track.
After a softer intro, “Droves” ups the ante with a similarly heavy combo. Once again, grinding guitar matches the intense vocal pressure that Bartosik applies throughout the track. In between the more high intensity moments lies an adventure into Bartosik’s upper register over more relaxed strumming. “Say it’s So” is a decidedly more tender cut (aside from a select few particularly explosive moments). Bartosik ruminates on what it takes to make a relationship last over plodding drums and beautiful melodies.
“Choices” is one of just a few tracks on Earth to Astronaut that fall short. The unstable nature is still here, but in a less entertaining way. Most of this cut just feels closer to a Grizzly Bear B-side than an Alluvial Fans track. Fortunately, “Catharsis Now!” and “Falafel” immediately revive the project with their insanely fast-paced and feverish instrumentation (with particularly impressive guitar/bass interplay).
“Test the Waters” and “Unnoticed” are interesting at moments, but ultimately don’t meet the high standard set by the rest of these tracks. The desperate and fearful lyrics/vocal performance on “Test the Waters” present an intriguing bass, but the instrumentation is underwhelming, and the emphasis on the band’s softer side on “Unnoticed” is an interesting choice (there’s are also some amazing guitar licks), but the track is needlessly long. The album concludes with “Something Happened to You,” another mostly low-key track, comparatively speaking, that ends abruptly in a fiery final minute. Alluvial Fans have been wreaking havoc for almost an hour at this point, so it makes sense for a project like this to end without much gentleness.
Alluvial Fans thrives on constantly pushing and pulling; their music writhes, relaxes and then writhes once again, often substantially more aggressively than just seconds earlier. Bartosik, Granot and Elkus never seem to tire of catching the listener with their guard down, and pouncing on that moment with their grindiest guitar licks. Whereas most other bands would probably struggle to make this push and pull anything other than jarring, it becomes the hallmark of this band’s incredibly entertaining style. The band’s unapologetic and unwavering commitment to this style is made even more impressive by the fact that this album is a genuinely smooth and satisfying front-to-back listen. Alluvial Fans has successfully harnessed their volatile energy in such a way that Earth to Astronaut is never too much or too little, but it’s always just right; a truly admirable feat.