Sunny Side Records, 2016
Review by Kent Manthie
Pete Astor, a man, who, besides being a veteran of indie music, in bands such as Lost and Weather Prophets, has, of late, been dipping into academia by way of his post as “Senior Lecturer” at the University of Westminster, has come back (or not) to reclaim his title of indie-pop icon to, for one thing, follow-up on the fantastic solo album he did back in 2002, Submarine.
Astor a great songsmith, who writes from the heart and doesn’t get too fancified or highfalutin in his lyrics, but nonetheless really hits you there, has a new album, ready for release this month: Spilt Milk. For collaboration, he got his one-time student, James Hoare (Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls) to help out on this new effort which some are saying is the highlight of Pete’s career, or at least one of his best. Rounding out the album is Robin Christian of Male Bonding, playing drums.
Spilt Milk is the work of a life-long musician, singer/songwriter, all-around interesting and nice guy, Pete Astor. This is a soothing, very tuneful album, chock full of nuggets; so many, in fact, that it’s hard to pick out the 2 or 3 best, without thinking that there was something you should have mentioned instead. In that vein, one almost wants to give a little write-up for each tune, just to make sure everything is covered!
For those to whom Pete Astor is already a household name, all the more power to ya! He can’t have been around lo, these many years and not touched anyone. I mean, why bother continuing making albums? I know of the idea of writing poetry or prose or recording/playing music for one’s own pleasure, but, obviously, that’s not what Pete’s doing. Anyway, for those long-time Astor fans, I hope Spilt Milk lives up to your expectations, if not surpasses them. Also, for you neophytes out there, here’s some pleasant, suave, hip, groovin’ grace that will surely get your attention, if not after the first listen, hopefully by the second or third.
One other thing, for you old hands, familiar with the music of Pete Astor, i.e., his work in Weather Prophets or Lost or his critically acclaimed solo album, Submarine, you guys may or may not get into Astor’s newer works, being so much more used to his older stuff, but then again, maybe this new album will get you re-stoked, and light a new kind of fire in your belly. Whatever, it is, I would definitely not call it a “comeback”, even though it’s been a good 13 years since Submarine came out. As mentioned above, Astor’s been biding his time in the past years by lurking about in academia as a “senior lecturer” at Westminster University in London.
For those who are fascinated by the recording process, Spilt Milk was recorded in Hoare’s home studio, which adds a certain indie resonance. The studio that one uses can sometimes, itself, become a factor in the final analysis of a particular album; say, if it was recorded in a bedroom, a shed, a church, or the typical studio that most bands use. There’s just some sort of je ne sais quois air to it, something that may not be real or that others could understand after using the palaces that a “real” studio have to offer. Indeed, but a lot of home studios, vs. a “pro-studio” often put the artists/bands into a more comfortable position. They’re not pushed and pulled or stressed out by time factors and are in a relaxed environment, not amidst a business, office type setting, which may not be what your typical recording studio seems like, but nonetheless, whatever it is, it’s not home, a place where you can, if you want/need to, get out of the studio space to get away, go to the upstairs/downstairs, whatever, to, say, the kitchen to rummage through the fridge, or maybe just lie down on the sofa for an hour, getting your head together, etc. And, you don’t have the gigantic rates that a working studio charges!!
On “Really Something”, Astor starts out the album with a nice jangly-sounding poppish number. There’s a cool groove running throughout the tune. Next, “Mr. Music” sounds like an ode to one’s musical hero, or maybe one of those childhood figures, kind of hard to remember that much about, nevertheless, he had a big influence on the way you saw things, the way you interpreted certain aspects of everyday life; things that were, well, musical, in themselves, which earned him his moniker, “Mr. Music” in the first place and now that you’ve grown up, all these cool lyrics you come up with and the great hooks that flash before your eyes are remnants of the hold that old Mr. Music had over you; not a Svengali hold, but a subtle, barely consciously remembered influence and something you happened to be going through, something to do with childhood artifacts, made you think of this Mr. Music, which was the genesis of the song. Of course, that’s all just one reviewer’s imaginative musings.
I could keep going on and on, picking apart each and every tune on Spilt Milk. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not going to deconstruct each song on the album. I just want to share a few of what I think are the highlights of the highlights, since it’s hard to really pick out one and say “this is the best”, because five minutes later, you’ll be saying to yourself, “no, this other one – that’s definitely my favorite” and so on. Also, I want to ensure those out there whose interest have been piqued so far that there are some surprisingly fabulous songs on this album that are going to stand up on their own – with or without my building them up or trying to pick them apart to see what they’re made of. So, go now, and get a hold of Spilt Milk. It’ll be one of those “feel-good” moments you, well, since childhood, experience fewer and fewer of. In conclusion, Spilt Milk is a nice “be-here-now” kind of album, made in a certain mood that is not permanent, by any means (are any?) But it’s can be there for you, to give you that ineffable lift when you need it most. -KM.