One day, we will all be astronauts. At least, that is what Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp wants us to believe. He is the founder of “Mars One,” which is a non-profit organization that aims to establish a permanent colony on Mars by 2023. While the whole operation is carefully planned, one important detail has remained until now: the soundtrack. This is where GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT’s seventh studio album Origins comes in.
You can see the epic space journey in Origins’ track listing. We start off with The Last March on Earth’s soil, prior to the spacecraft launch in Calistoga, California. We then dive into the world on-board the soaring rocket, a world that’s all about Transmissions, being Weightless, and homesickness Autumn Songs. After the spacecraft was successfully landed in the Red Moon Lagoon, a new ‘home’ has to be made, Light Years From Home.
In a December 2012 interview, while in the middle of recording, GIAA stated that a new album is a “a chance to reinvent oneself.” It’s true that Origins introduces new elements to the band’s oeuvre. The album standouts, the opening and closing tracks (The Last March and Light Years From Home), introduce a more emotional GIAA. Until now, the band’s sound could be described as impersonal, as if the band was looking to the world from a distance. There were no goose bumps, and there wasn’t supposed to be. These two tracks change all that. Right at the beginning of The Last March, the first notes of the drone under- toned beat immediately makes you think of a fresh start.
However, with a new beginning, there is always inevitably a goodbye. The combination of the beautiful guitar chords and vocals ooze hope, as the song ends with a gorgeous piano fade and drum outro. Light Years From Home, the last track, impresses with its striking distorted vocals and unusual MOGWAI-esque arrangements. Layer upon layer are added to the song, building to a typical post-rock crescendo: a wall of sound. Another new element is the band’s songwriting: it seems to have been influenced significantly by the increasing popularity of the more complex post-rock genres. Part of the album, consisting of tracks like Transmissions, Spiral Code and Red Moon Lagoon, is edgier, more dynamic. The sped-up, complex rhythms and heavy metal riffs remind me of math rock bands like MAYBESHEWILL, RUSSIAN CIRCLES or 65DAYSOFSTATIC.
The album is a back to basics, both of the band and of the post-rock genre as a whole. There is a lot of elements from All Is Violent, All Is Bright to be found. Like that album, Origins reflects a general vibe of optimism, an atmosphere of hope, contrasting with the darker image that later recordings like Far From Refuge offered. The origins of the post-rock genre itself are represented via strong hints of the earlier mentioned MOGWAI, next to some BRIAN ENO (on Weightless), and a few carefully injected JEFF BUCKLEY-style prog rock notes (on Strange Steps).
Back to the introduction of this review, the “Mars One” colonization project. The first four carefully selected applicants, two men and two women, will be launched in a Mars-bound spaceflight in 2022. After that, another four people will be given a one-way ticket every two years. The journey itself will take seven to eight months, depending on the relative positions of the Earth and Mars. More than enough time for the space pioneers to absorb the dreamy, ambient space rock that still characterizes the sound of these Wicklow, Ireland based post-rockers. This album, the first to be released under the Rocket Girl label instead of the band-founded Revive Records, feels like what BRIAN ENO’s legendary album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks was for the ’69 moon landing; a reflection of the hope and joy that space exploration brings to the public’s lives and hearts. While ENO’s album was released 14 years after the event itself, Origins is ten years too early. This doesn’t matter though, as “the heart lies where the mind wanders,” and Mars seems to be on everybody’s mind nowadays. Surely, the heart will follow.