I find myself being more and more disappointed by the melodic punk rock I hear these days. That's not to say I don't like punk rock that is melodic, more a case of the "market" seems to have become overrun with slick, AutoTuned music that lacks originality and fails to pack any kind of punch that would make an impact on a wet paper bag.
Saying that, Safety recently managed to get past my rather harsh filter, which I've placed up to spare me having to listen to anymore uninspiring drivel, with the album Night Lights, and it seems that Austria's Astpai have also produced an album that has enough spark about it to pique my interest sufficiently to let the band through my self-imposed barrier.
Coming across like a cross between NOFX and Strike Anywhere, Astpai manage to sound fresh enough to maintain my interest throughout most of Efforts and Means and I think one of the key elements for this is that despite those musical comparisons, the band doesn't sound overtly American and has been able to retain its European roots, which is a credit to them. The opening track, "Suburbian Prelude," is very much a statement of many things including how, despite our best efforts, individuality is missing or misunderstood these days. Additionally it goes on to describe the feeling of being able to do anything one pleases regardless of the result (presumably this means without hurting any other person). The music chimes in, under and around the statement until almost the end when it rushes in for a brief and frenzied finale making this track quite a grand beginning.
Tracks like "Biting Dogs Don't Chew" and "Stalactites of Heart" provide some of the more high tempo songs that keep the blood pumping whilst "Becoming Strangers" and "Spelling Friendship" show that Astpai can handle a change in pace with the foot being eased off the pedal a touch. The latter song, the final one on the album, clocks in at just short of seven minutes and gives the release a quality finish.
The wonderfully titled "Give Us Today Our Daily Bread, Cars And Flatscreens" sounds a lot like Astapi managed to coax Jason Shevchuk (Kid Dynamite/None More Black/LaGrecia) into singing for them, and given my love of his voice that is no bad thing. This track does have similarities to one found on LaGrecia's On Parallels, namely "You Like Baseball, I Like Ghosts" and actually it wouldn't sound too out of place on that record, although Astpai has a better production to my ears.
Zock's vocals generally have a raspy quality to them and that adds to the enjoyment of this release, as it far from a clean performance. Musically this contains a lot of technical guitar work and, in conjunction with a rhythm section that can ensure that the varied song structures do not come across as trying to be overly clever, I find this recording to be a breath of fresh air and a relatively easy to listen.
OK, it's not the perfect album as it loses my interest briefly at times but overall this is a solid release with some interesting arrangements and is easily the second best album from this genre that I've heard this year.