The Ataris - So Long, Astoria Demos (Cover Artwork)

The Ataris

So Long, Astoria Demos (2019)

Kung Fu records

The Ataris packaged a release of leftovers from their 2003 album So Long, Astoria, compiling demos, alternate versions, and other extras, and the result is a time capsule of a band once on top of the world.

In the early summer of 2002, singer/guitarist Kris Roe's pop punk outfit was swimming in momentum, the band had just completed their last contractual release with Kung Fu Records, signed with Columbia Records, and had troops of die hard fans ready to follow them anywhere. Roe delicately addressed their signing to a major over and the band's official website, promising that the Ataris would stay true to their roots, but explained, "We wanted to go somewhere where we knew that even if our record didn't do well, that we would have a career still as a band." The major label debut was tentatively titled Don't Ever Compromise What You Believe and was promised by the four-piece to honor the musical style of their second (and quite possibly best) album Blue Skies, Broken Hearts... Next 12 Exits.

As you can guess, the release of So Long, Astoria, while decent, failed to meet expectations of long term fans, and the track listing was mostly overshadowed by the popularity of the group's cover of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer." Fortunately, the band vigorously recorded demos in preparation for the session, and were hell bent on live-in-the-studio recordings with limited overdubs, so the release of So Long, Astoria Demos is a sparkling Easter egg for any retired Ataris fan.

The demo mix of the self-titled opener speaks volumes, as you not only hear the bare bones of the (later overproduced) song, but you can actually connect the dots on how the band intended to pay subtle respects to Blue Skies throughout the entire LP. "Takeoffs and Landings," "In This Diary," or "Unopened Letter to the World," when stripped of all of their polish, would have fit perfectly in the band's Kung Fu discography. The demos for "My Reply," "The Saddest Song," or "The Hero Dies in This One" indicate the obvious growth that the band was taking on in order to leap to the next level as artists, but the simple mixes resonate with much more honesty and character than the ultimate wall of sound that hit shelves.

Other notables from the collection include a rough but gnarly take of "Eight of Nine," and the demo for "Radio #2" that Roe gave away on at the time to assure fans that they weren't changing their sound (the moog stuff is much cornier and takes the song in a totally different directions.) I also have to mention that my personal favorite from the official release of Astoria, "All You Can Ever Learn Is What You Already Know" is completely simplified on it's demo, to levels that would have fit the song into their 1997 debut Anywhere but Here.

The album closes with very rough "song ideas," and even four instrumental demos that were never completed. Kris Roe was even quoted in 2002 stating that this collection "captured a certain honesty" and hinted at the tracks seeing the light of day at some point of time, so I give thanks. The punk world has been missing Chris Knapp's hyper-particular drum style since he quit music for good shortly after the release, Kris Roe has yet to succeed in keeping the band afloat, and threw a kick drum at some shitty touring drummer once, and sure former bassist Mike Davenport turned out to be a felony telemarketing real estate scam artist, but So Long, Astoria Demos captures the precise moment that the Ataris transitioned from independent punk rock underdogs into gold record rock stars. It is a refreshing listen for any fan of the Atari's unique legacy.