, November 5th, 2012 07:18
If we lived in a world with any fairness to it the T’Pau of the 00s Florence And The Machine and progressive hardcore band Rolo Tomassi would swap places. Honking Florence would be consigned to playing toilet venues with the few journalists bothering to write about her restricting themselves to only commenting on her age, size and gender while Rolo Tomassi would appear on the front cover of NME every single week not already given over to Oasis or the Stone Roses. And if we lived in a world with any justice in it – i.e. a world where wrong doing went punished and the victims of crime received reparation – then Rolo Tomassi would be carried at head height through the streets of the UK with a team of devotional nubiles painted bright gold, casting rose petals before them while Flo and her session musicians would be sealed into a rocket capsule with a hive of wasps, an angry warhorse and 36 attack monkeys then fired through the rings of Saturn.
Astraea is Rolo Tomassi’s third full length studio LP and clearly their best to date. After a successful experiment with Diplo producing on 2010’s Cosmology the band have opted to take on these duties themselves with help from Jason Sanderson (who produced their 2008 debut Hysterics). But anyone thinking that they have backed away from pop, ambient, shoegaze, black metal, prog and techno textures should be reassured that they have actually ventured further out into those realms - pop/ambient especially. The contrasts between the extremes of Eva Spence’s vocal range are even more marked. But when in full necrotic rage, the grain of her voice becomes another textural agent and doesn’t contain the crappy bedroom tidying fat-boy angst of most modern hardcore vocalists and as such has more in common with the progressive Black Metal vocals of Wolves In The Throne Room.
Oppositionally she can also scale newer, even more ethereal heights. 'Empiresk' is the best example of how she, and the rest of the band, straddle this divide with aplomb, creating Pop Justice Hardcore or Xenomania Deathcore. Elsewhere 'Illuminaire' is reminiscent of classic Jesu with its combination of abrasive industrial guitars and heavenly shoe gaze.
Astraea may well have been one of the daughters of Zeus in Greek mythology and may well be the figure the album is named after but ASTRAEA is also an acronym which stands for Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment. This brand new technological system has been proposed to allow unmanned aerial vehicles (more commonly known as drones) - to take to the skies, not just in combat situations or along specially designated flight paths, but in busy commercial airspace as well. As this review was being written, the first test flights of a pilotless Jetstream 31 were being carried out over the Irish Sea to see how it would react when an unexpected and unidentified object - in this case a Piper Seneca - crossed its path. This £62 million joint government and aviation industry project is a rare example of the UK actually being ahead of the rest of the world. The Aeropsace Insight Blog of the Royal Aeronautical Society makes the reasonable point that the dangers of mixing manned and unmanned flights have so far made progress for the scheme drag but once breakthroughs are made ASTRAEA will be a 'disruptive' technology like the mobile phone "whose killer app or must have service hasn't even been thought of yet".
Progress for progress' sake in music is not the be all and end all. It's highly likely that both Black Breath's Sentenced To Life and Rolo Tomassi's Astraea will both feature strongly in the Quietus' end of year lists - and both are very enjoyable for very different reasons. However, without wanting to labour the point, Rolo Tomassi are miles ahead of the game not just because they are constantly trying to break new ground but also because they have entered a nuclear arms race of progressiveness with their own back catalogue. Most outliers in any given musical field - whether that's been Brian Eno, Anaal Nathrakh or Lee Perry - realise the importance of treating their back catalogue as if it belongs to the enemy, especially if other people aren't trying as hard as they are.
And yet... are Rolo Tomassi even hardcore? Like Fucked Up, it's really only some of the vocals, that would currently suggest that they are. They're more like a polished chrome King Crimson for the 21st Century: maybe they should record a song called '22nd Century Schizoid Man'.
Whatever. Astraea is a triumph.