One of the greatest ironies in pop culture is that depictions of the future, no matter how advanced at the time, inevitably will seem dated within a decade or two. Humans probably should have started dressing in shiny unitards, driving flying cars and eating nutrition pellets some time ago, not to mention those colonies on Mars (still in the works, so I hear). Yet, from a musical standpoint, a variety of artists have managed to turn dated ideas into thoroughly modern sounds, from Dan Deacon’s alien 8-bit disco to Beirut’s gypsy-brass folk. Michigan’s Deastro, once the work of Randolph Chalbot Jr. but now expanded to a quartet, has done a similar thing, namely building songs around 8-bit sequences and old school analog electro effects. For Deastro, however, the technology is merely a jumping off point toward something much more grand and powerful.
Unlike artists like Max Tundra or Adventure, who place more emphasis on their chip-tune effects than anything else, Deastro merely use them as a simple, aesthetic effect. Their songs are quite elaborate affairs, with live guitar, drums and vocals, yet by weaving a broad array of synth effects, from antiquated videogame-style harmonies to fatter, new wave patches, the songs become bigger, brighter and altogether unique. Rather than sound like a work of mere nostalgia, Deastro’s debut full-length Moondagger is more comparable to an album like M83’s Saturdays=Youth, steeped in the sonic giants of the ’80s, but ultimately a work that belongs in the present due to its striking blend of modern indie rock, classic new wave and odd robotic extras.
The twinkling Nintendo melodies that open the album on “Biophelia” carry a certain sense of wonder and awe, a quality that remains constant throughout the album. The song, much like those that follow, swells to a mighty chorus with synthesizers and drums creating an overwhelming rush of emotion and sonic bliss. Yet Chalbot’s vocal delivery isn’t as heroic as that of, say, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. Instead, he seems like a humble, human ego that grounds the songs in something more tangible, even when the arrangements become monolithic pyramids of effects and melody. The introduction to “Parallelogram” is such a monolith, towering with melodic majesty and an unforgettable hook. However, that gives way to a sing-songy verse in which Chalbot once again brings the song back down temporarily from its celestial highs.
Chalbot’s lyrics are finely suited to his voice, ruminations on humanity and the earth that display introspection and clever turns of phrase. On “Greens, Greys and Nordics,” for example, he muses, “What would the world look like if God was a woman?/ would there be sickness and violence?/ would every man be an island?” And on “Toxic Crusaders,” he turns a rocker that could have been about Troma’s grotesque superhero into a kind of environmental awareness anthem as he sings, “Are we not made of the roots of the plants and the trees?/ I’m a brother to the fox, I’m a brother to the waters/ I’m a prophet of how things should be.”
It’s the curious balance between Deastro’s immense songs, oddly anachronistic technology and Chalbot’s wittily earnest vocals that make Deastro such a compelling creation, not to mention a consistently thrilling listen While they have the chops and the ambition to be an arena rock sensation, the level of complexity and depth in their songs is something that might be difficult to convey in a stadium setting. Should they ever get to that point, however, they just might find that even the biggest of arenas may not be sufficient to contain their otherworldly sonic constructs.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.