Two Inch Astronaut is a Maryland based avant rock and indie pop-punk trio who have been making waves on the rock-from-finer-days label Exploding in Sound for the past 18 months. Their newest release Bad Brother (June 18, 2013) showcases their nuanced and energetic songwriting with a visceral rock edge displaying strong resemblance to indie juggernauts Dismemberment Plan, rock experimentalists At The Drive In, and the youthful pop sensibilities of early Radiohead and the entire Warped Tour catalog. Given how many bands perform in this vein, Two Inch Astronaut distinguishes themselves with interesting songwriting, well-executed vocals, and entertaining momentum topology within tracks to keep the listener engaged. In a tired genre, they keep the energy up for most of the record which is worth a full listen for any fan of the aforementioned influences.
The songwriting is concise and sharply delineated between movements, typically linear, melodically sharp, and with moderate overdrive on each track that doesn’t vary much. At its best, the record engages the listener with strong rhythms propelling the vocalist’s solid tenor and snappy hops from tempo to tempo with guitar work all over the fretboard to expand the band’s spectral range. When the tracks are lacking a sense of spontaneity, the tracks sound over-wrought and typical for the genre, not really bad but with too much noise that falls flat without a sense of purpose.
The instrumentation is very strong here, each instrument clearly worked out either in multiple jams or cerebrally considered between sessions and eventually put into action to provide an air of sophistication against the visceral punk pomp. Album standout “Spank Jail” is their most exemplary track in this regard with two meter shifts in the first 40 seconds and multiple riffs juxtaposed underneath shouted vocals to give a rigorous disorientation that’s held together just enough by the percussive tightness. The tremolo picking and moments of upstroke guitar strikes against the driving 4/4 bassline is exact and well-placed without being egregious. Mid-album “Check the Yard” utilizes unexpected chord changes with interspersed guitar licks which feel a bit math-ish and moves unilaterally into an explosive sustained yell which garners the biggest node of momentum on the record before the track decompresses with a well-designed decrescendo.
Vocally the album employs a variety of rock motifs. As usual with underground rock groups, the singing is immature and likely coming from the throat rather than the gut, causing an insubstantial delivery which can put some listeners off in the face of many rock groups that have more gripping singers. Also as to be expected, the vocals are commonly difficult to understand and can lead to gaps in the track narratives. But where the vocals are thin and indecipherable, they are still intoned properly and do serve the function of swelling energy with strong interplay between singing, yelling, sustained notes, etc. Simply put, the vocals do their job for a band looking to impress with instrumental acumen rather than more radio-friendly crooning.
Weaker moments on the record consist of forgettable songwriting, monotone vocal melodies, and predictable chordal structures. Initial single “Blood From a Loyal Hound” is too easily accessible with a straight-ahead structure and generally forgettable vocal line like a filler track from a Jimmy Eat World album or something. Compared to a track like “Tree Ate My House” off their first album, this song seems a bit safe, frankly. Penultimate track “Zones” is filler, one of the only standard verse-chord-verse structured song on the album and without any muscle to grip your attention.
Two Inch Astronaut have released a lot of music in the past 16 months, and with idiosyncratic melodies and songwriting to boot. They’re definitely up-and-coming and will be touring the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in support of this new release. If the live show matches with their meticulous songwriting, and they properly execute those sharp transitions, they’ll likely be gathering quite a following along the way.
Case Newsom | Senior Writer