By Brad Bordyn
For the better part of two decades, Man or Astro-Man? have been known for their unique brand of sci-fi themed surf-punk. Spanning from their inception in 1992 until 2001, the band churned out eight full-length albums and countless EPs before going on an extended hiatus. While they have resurfaced a few times since then, Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 is their first new release in years—and it shows that the unfailingly unique surf-punk stalwarts haven’t missed a beat.
Defcon is a mostly instrumental album—in fact, one of the prominent features of this album is how it’s structured. Five completely instrumental tracks (appropriately named “DEFCON 5” through “DEFCON 1”) are spread out through the album and act as interludes between the other songs.
Check out the album’s first single, “Disintegrate”.
Even without lyrics, Defcon is really effective at creating an atmosphere. It is noticeably darker than their previous work. While Man or Astro-Man? have always been good at using strange, 1950s sci-fi-esque sound effects (many of which were taken from films featured in Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which also inspired a spin-off band, Servotron), it sounds like now they’re taking advantage of the advances in noise-making technology since the last time they released an album. Tracks like “DEFCON 4” and “DEFCON 2”, for example, feature granular textures and other synthesized sounds that would not be out of place in the current EDM (Electronic Dance Music) wave which has proved to be widely influential. These textures are very effective at establishing an almost sinister feel to the album.
The lyrical content matches this dark atmosphere There’s a distinctly dystopian, apocalyptic feel to the lyrics—alien abduction, science experiments on humans, mind control, post-humanism and other themes abound. While previous Man or Astro-Man? albums offered clear moments of levity that emphasized the innate, unavoidable campiness of sci-fi themed surf rock, Defcon seems less deliberate in doing so. It consistently maintains its dark atmosphere, reminiscent of bands like The Paper Chase or Black Heart Procession.
The interesting thing about Defcon as an album is that it avoids the pitfalls most albums—especially ones with a deliberate concept—fall into. Instead of growing tired and trailing off as the album goes on, Defcon actually gets stronger in its second half. Songs like “Arc” in particular pulse forward with a persistent beat and the deep groove of grainy synth waves, accompanied by an undeniably catchy hook. Man or Astro-Man? have always excelled at balancing chaotic, aggressive, sometimes dissonant songs with their striking pop sensibilities. “Cocoon” captures this juxtaposition perfectly, and helps bring the album to its climax.
Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 shows that Man or Astro-Man? have grown since their long hiatus began in 2001. Their music has always been unique, but it’s refreshing to see their ability to pick it back up and be as relevant and interesting as ever by maturing their sound and bringing fresh ideas and new methods to the table. Even a decade after their last release, they’re staying true to what made them so original in the first place.