Growing old with rock and roll review: 'sharp divide' lp

ASTRONOMIQUE - 'SHARP DIVIDE' ALBUM REVIEW

Pop, synth pop, whatever label you want to assign to Astronomique, it still rates as some of the most across-the-board compelling music released on the indie scene today. Their artistic vision slants towards the substantive end of the creative spectrum, driven by the creative partnership of lead singer, Logan Andra Fongemie, and guitarist/vocalist, Sean Hogan, and coupling a psychedelic flavor with popular culture imagery and a penchant for artsy, top shelf synth pop from the 1980’s. The music for Sharp Divide, the band’s longest collection yet, is a physical release whose music involves listeners from the first. The songwriting engages listeners intellectually as well, and appeals to the imagination in satisfyingly individualistic ways. The band’s influences are apparent, but they slip free of imitation or pastiche with an approach and style recognizable, but all their own. 

The intense bass pulse thudding in the heart of 'Forefathers,' the album’s opener, tethers the song’s foundation to earth and allows Astronomique’s synthesizer lines to flash like quicksilver over the fat backbeat. There’s some tasty dynamic shifts recurring throughout the song, and the atmospheric interplay between Fongemie’s keyboard playing and guitarist, Sean Hogan’s, echo laden guitar near the song’s conclusion are worth hearing alone. 'Side of Your Mind' has a more overt pop attack than the opener, and the sprightly rhythm shifts the listener’s attention away from the opener’s pace. There are some imaginative twists scattered throughout the arrangement, elevating this above your standard synth pop fare. Fongemie’s vocal performance, treated by some light post production effects, comes across every bit as commanding as 'Forefathers,' albeit manifested in a very different way. 

The digitized beginning to 'Losing Our Control' establishes the initial outlines of a simmering groove, soon filled out by another potent rhythm section performance from bassist, Preston Saari, and drummer, Mitch Billings. Sean Hogan’s taut, nervy guitar playing drops some funky, often shimmering fills throughout the track, and the band contributes some tasteful backing vocals to enhance another fine Fongemie performance. The title song, 'Sharp Divide's,' moody march has an almost spectral quality, thanks to a ghostly Fongemie vocal and more spartan, but effective, Hogan guitar. Guitar players often possess a tendency to flash their skills in brief displays of pride, sometimes longer than brief, but Hogan’s playing throughout Sharp Divide as an orchestral bent – he’s an important part of the tapestry, but ultimately a key thread in a larger mosaic. 

Fongemie’s synth once again opens a song with the track, 'Smoke,' and the rhythm section distinguishes themselves again with a chest rattling performance. The album’s overall production wisely highlights this strength from the first. 'Smoke' has some of Sharp Divide’s strongest melodic ideas and fine lyrical content. There’s more of a hard charging quality at the heart of 'Bleed Me' than we hear with a lot of the material on Sharp Divide, but the band retains their capacity for nuance despite the music’s insistent push. The nice gallop in the rhythm section’s performance, never pronounced, gives the song an added sense of urgency. The cheerfully entitled, 'Heading Nowhere,' has a much more deliberate pace and a strong focus on guitars and synthesizers instead of the rhythm section. It has some of the album’s best atmospheric touches, particularly thanks to Hogan’s six string contributions, and it is a satisfying final curtain for Astronomique’s Sharp Divide. This is synth pop with an artistic agenda and they accomplish everything they set out to do with sophistication, sincerity, and polish.

- Jason Hillenburg, Growing Old With Rock and Roll