Ad Astra Per Aspera

Catapult Calypso

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Kansas quintet Ad Astra Per Aspera are nothing if not all over the place -- and initially it seems like their hyper-eclecticism might do them in, with "Voodoo Economics" veering between neo- post-punk-dance, ska beats, and the kind of wackiness that either suggests a lot of Frank Zappa or a slew of Twinkies. (Having calm female voices set aside high-pitched screaming is, if nothing else, ear-catching.) A bit of gooey sentiment in the song titles aside ("Nothing Else Is the Real Thing, " "Unnamed Acoustic Songs," and "The Romantic One" all suggest section titles in a new Nick Hornby book more than anything else), Catapult Calypso ends up a winner largely because rather than about 95-percent of their American indie rock contemporaries, Ad Astra Per Aspera aren't interested in creating dour or saccharine mock symphonies. It's a bit like Mercury Rev's insanity in its earliest days, if not truly as chaotic and gone, admittedly; alternately the hyped-up screams and often tense, nervous arrangements suggest mid-'90s emo à la Gravity Records, before sops like Dashboard Confessional hijacked the term into sludge. Either way, a band on Sonic Unyon that seems like it almost belongs more on Ipecac while being worthy of both is a rare treat, and at its best Catapult Calypso lives up to its name. If there's a flaw, it's that no one song seems to stand out from the album -- it's almost best heard as a continuing experience, though all the compositions are discrete and it's definitely no concept album (at least on the face of it). But at 40 minutes it definitely doesn't wear out its welcome, and moments like the rising vocal yelps on "A Fish Would Much Rather Swim" and the banjo-tinged back porch kick of "Everybody Lets Me Down" are worth the listen.

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