When most of us think of foreign music, our mind either goes blank or we think of tribal music we were forced to listen to in an anthropology class. While the music video for Chilean band Astro’s “Ciervos” is also reminiscent of anthro with its shirtless, pelt-wearing characters running amok amongst a herd of wild deer, the music they frolic to is anything but primitive.
Astro is one of Chile’s most popular bands and has been heard at Mexico’s acclaimed Vive Latino festival, Lollapalooza Chile and South by Southwest this spring. Their self-titled first full-length album was released this month, and its blend of poppy vocals, hip-swayable synthesizer and plucky guitar are guaranteed to get your shoulders popping — or at least to get you seriously considering it.
Though most critics have compared Astro to MGMT, the aforementioned opening track “Ciervos” is more reminiscent of Beach House. While the lyrics are incomprehensible for the monolingual among us, you find yourself wishing you understood just to be able to sing along. The synthesizer carries the song, but the touches of percussion, light electric guitar and subtle bass chords put the track in a league of its own and make it a standout on the album.
The album’s second track “Coco” again forces you to move and has vocals almost similar to Jet, but third track “Colombo” is more impressive. The 80s synth vibe and drum machine would make the perfect soundtrack to a music video of girls with blown-out bleach blonde hair flirting with boys on a tropical beach while circling their hips to the steel drum sounds — maybe an animated animal or two popping up. It’s definitely a fantastic track with a vacation vibe that demands a second listen.
After the one-and-a-half-minute-long “Druida de las Nubes” comes “Panda,” a song that most resembles M83. The track perfectly executes the introduction of acoustic mandolin-like guitar, but when it ends at 2:48, the realization hits that nearly all of Astros’ songs feel like they could go on at least a tad longer, and that in fact, none felt like they had a clear beginning, middle and end, but were more a repetition of sound. Wonderful, shimmery, dance-inducing sound, but almost unstructured sound nonetheless.
All of the album’s tracks have an indie sense of fantasy, and the language barrier likely adds to that feeling. “Miu-miu” would fit perfectly in a Wes Anderson trailer, “Manglares” sounds like a blend of Mario and flamenco and “Nuences de Bangladesh” transports you to India’s neighbor country in a spaceship. But the most fantastic part is that the music is made by four Chilean guys who bought a synthesizer in a country where the instrument costs at least four times as much as it does in Europe or the United States.
The album does sound a bit like MGMT, a bit like Animal Collective and a little like Beach House, but, at the same time, like nothing else you’ve ever heard. In the U.S. we often feel like we have the musical monopoly, but Astro is proving American bands aren’t the only ones having something to contribute. For a trip outside the States and perhaps even the universe, Astro’s debut album is the perfect soundtrack.
4 out of 5 stars