Wax Fang – ‘The Astronaut’
Wax Fang is Scott Carney and Jacob Heustis, and their sound is a throwback to the mid-1970s anthemic rock acts that spawned countless imitators while causing many others to spurn “dinosaur rock” altogether. By 1977, the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were being rejected outright by the surfacing wave of punk rock. In […]Grafton Tanner
out of 10
January 28th, 2014
Don't Panic Records
Wax Fang is Scott Carney and Jacob Heustis, and their sound is a throwback to the mid-1970s anthemic rock acts that spawned countless imitators while causing many others to spurn “dinosaur rock” altogether. By 1977, the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were being rejected outright by the surfacing wave of punk rock. In other words, the youth didn’t want to hear eleven-minute rock suites, meandering guitar solos, or weighty concept albums about space or the difficulties of being a rock star. Wax Fang embraces “dinosaur rock” in the era where any former musical trend – mainstream or underground – can be reproduced. It’s about time we had someone revive the concept album.
Right? Or is the term “epic” (with regards to music, especially) outdated – meaningless, even? In the ever-increasing push to up the ante in terms of epicness, can we listen to a three-part psychedelic concept album about space and cosmic transformation and not laugh? A lot of bands reward us with long listens (Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), and a lot of bands dabble in psychedelic and progressive rock (Tame Impala, Foxygen). Wax Fang present both in their enormously conceived rock opera, The Astronaut, and while the musicianship on this album is well executed, the concept behind the album falls totally flat.
If you’ve followed Wax Fang, I imagine you are used to pompously huge anthems from them in the vein of Queen and others of their ilk. The story behind The Astronaut is pretty simple: an astronaut is engulfed by a black hole and is then transformed into a celestial being of pure energy. “The Astronaut Pt. 1” begins fittingly with a swelling overture and then gives way to a cosmic space-out that would fit nicely on Meddle. What is immediately striking and worthwhile is the production. Every instrument sounds natural with very little processing clouding up the arrangements. The drums are warm, and the guitars are never thin.
Things get a bit too bogged down in “The Astronaut Pt. 2,” which tries to fit a few too many musical acrobatics into its already extensive track length. There’s a jungle beat, a funky disco jig, an electronic side note, and, of course, an ending complete with Hollywood-style strings and bombastic accents. It’s all very, well, epic. There aren’t many instances where Carney’s lyrics come through the prog din, but on a concept album, lyrics are the most potent force. Unfortunately, when Carney does sing, his lyrics are unforgivably clichéd and forced. How can you take him seriously when he sings “Time does not exist” or “Science is a lie” in staccato bursts punctuated by the rest of the band? The final act, “The Astronaut Pt. 3,” concludes with an 80s romp that could easily accompany the end credits to Labyrinth. The album’s protagonist realizes he’s “no longer human” and that he’s “coming alive/ With atoms of light,” while also noting, “Across the plane of no escape, forces of gravity have come apart.” The ending is musically very triumphant, but the lyrics stand in the way of Wax Fang attempting to (re)legitimize the classic rock concept album.
Wax Fang has noted that The Astronaut is “not your typical concept album.” If by that they mean it is a lesser derivative of the already bloated, faux-high-concept rock operas that populated the musical airwaves between Atom Heart Mother and 2112, then it is indeed atypical. Maybe Wax Fang should take a look at how Dream Theater fared after Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory or Queensryche after Operation: Mindcrime. The music may have been overwrought, but at least their concepts weren’t entirely dull.
– January 23rd, 2014 – Grafton Tanner