Review: Deastro — Moondagger
From the scant information I could find regarding Detroit-based act Deastro (mostly the work of 22-year-old Randolph Chabot Jr., now joined by a full band), it all seems kind of mysterious, yet not mysterious at all. On the one hand, we have the fact that Chabot doesn’t appear to have a widespread following, which is a shame considering that he’s made one of the most pleasurable records released so far this year. He also has one of those almost-too-good-to-be-true background stories: making bedroom recordings since the age of 12, he finally whittled his prolific catalogue down to the ten best songs for debut internet-released “album” Keepers a few years back. By all accounts, he is an energetic young man with a zest for life (his band blogspot is littered with overuse of the exclamation point) and a quest to spread joy through his work. It has all the makings of a starry-eyed mess, but, fortunately, the manic dodge and whirl of Moondagger never gets cloying.
Each song on the album is a lavishly textured work of techno-pop, like an ornate and tightly-woven tapestry full of color and painstaking detail. Chabot has an interesting and versatile singing voice that is usually buried low in the mix, driving home the point that vocals are just another thread in the tapestry and not to be treated as an instrument of confession (Deastro is human, but not necessarily personal). Chabot is still young, so it can be forgiven if the record sometimes evokes a too-familiar melody or a strong hint of New Wave swagger, but unlike a lot of electro-pop acts that dutifully rehash old trends, this collection feels fresh and alive. His obvious enthusiasm makes the synthesized blips and sputters feel warm and full-blooded, instead of falling into the glacial trap of some electronic song-crafting. These are the kinds of songs that force reviewers to use words like “shimmering,” “effervescent,” etc.
The album’s sense of wide-eyed naivete is best captured in the whimsically titled “Daniel Johnston Was Stabbed in the Heart with the Moondagger by the King of Darkness and His Ghost Is Writing This Song as a Warning to All of Us,” with its infectious, sock-hop-inspired melody charging through the song at breakneck speed. The stellar single “Vermillion Plaza” creates a mesmerizing whirlpool of notes that cascade down the scales, which is exhilarating — until the jarring bridge kicks in and becomes more of a vortex. “Plaza” is the best part of a sagging home stretch that doesn’t quite live up to the album’s first two-thirds. The first eight tracks make a solid run, from the echoing arpeggios and pulsing chorus of opening track “Biophelia,” to the previously mentioned “Daniel Johnston…” and some of the songs in between are pretty sweet, too, like the tense-sounding “Tone Adventure #3” and instrumental track “Pyramid Builders.”
My only (small) complaint is that Moondagger rarely switches gears or changes pace from song to song — the tempo and level of density is consistent throughout, only a few brief moments creating some open space in the landscape. “Pyramid Builders,” (one of those rare successful instrumentals on an otherwise song-driven collection) lets in a little air at the record’s halfway point, and “Greens, Grays, and Nordics” has a few sparse fake-outs before getting back to frantic business. Although each song is full of hooks, it never comes across as a gimmick, engineered to churn out potential singles — Chabot’s just constantly in search of the perfect piece of pop bliss. Because of this, it might be recommended to take the album in four-song increments lest you get overloaded. After awhile, all those little details and melodic shifts become just so much noise. For the most part, though, Deastro has succeeded in making an album that is listenable from start to finish, and that’s no small feat in a time when attention spans (read: mine) are shrinking.
Purchase the CD at Insound