Although they would shift their sound a bit in the future, in both good ways and bad, towards ambient, electronic, and shoegaze sounds, All Is Violent, All Is Bright remains the definitive God is an Astronaut album, in terms of their skills at condensing post-rock into memorable, tight, and melodically dressed four-to-six minute jams. The ambient and the electronic parts are here (not really any shoegaze until later), but they take a back seat to the sounds of streamlined, ultra-melodic third wave post-rock. And even then, I regularly feel the ambience and electronics are some of the weaker elements here, “Forever Lost”, despite its wonderfully uplifting melody line, utilises way too many casio synthesisers to make its ambience, sounding straight out of a 14-year-old’s “ambient” bedroom project. Later on in their career, the electronic elements would become a positive side to their music, but on this album, let’s just say they’re pretty poor. I’m particularly not a fan of when the drums come in and completely ruin the mood of “When Everything Dies”
But basically, when you throw out the fact that this has none of the raw emotion of Godspeed or the innovative sounds of early post-rock, you can really start to appreciate it as one of the most memorable and accessible takes on instrumental rock music to date, without relying heavily on intense crescendos. Similar to many pop artists, these songs are short, have distinct repetitions, and focus heavily on memorable melodies, usually played on guitar, although piano features regularly, and the opening track even has some Sigur Rós-esque distant vocals carrying its lead hook.
And then there are the crescendocore tracks. If you can give points to God is an Astronaut for anything else on this record, it’s that they didn’t go full-on explosion in every single track, like some of their imitators do. “Suicide by Star” has an absolutely gripping piece of explosion-core, bringing in the tremolo guitars in mounds and ramping up the intensity to true post-rock levels, although its brief length does make it a bit of an anti-climax.
But what this album, and this band in general, is missing from its formula is the vastness of post-rock. Without huge tracks and monolithic soundscapes, these guys sound a bit too weak underneath their cousins, because even though they interject ambient passages into the structures, and many of the songs have a slower and more laid-back mood, with their formula of short and cheery, God is an Astronaut miss out on so much depth in songwriting. It’s not as if they need 20-minute tracks to be good, but oftentimes this album feels like a stack of songs, one after another, that are just the same thing played in a different key with varying degrees of loudness. I wouldn’t go as far to call it derivative - these guys certainly have their own sound, it’s just that it’s not a sound that lasts all too long, even within an album. This could have been cut to a 5-song EP (doesn’t matter which ones, just pick a few) and it would have the same effect.
Repeat listens don’t do this good either, I’m afraid. I liked every song on this when i first heard it, and now several absolutely drive me up the wall, mostly because of how simple the melodies are, again in a similar way to vapid pop music. The melody in “Fire Flies and Empty Skies”, it just feels so lazy and basic, and obviously without the crescendocore of Explosions in the Sky, they haven’t even got the “emotion” to back it up. And in its follow-up, “A Deafening Distance", we get one melody repeating ad nauseam, with an equally dull drum beat underneath, but that song fortunately saves itself by giving it a bit of punch with the final few rounds. Many of these songs feel so incredibly underdeveloped, and I don’t mean that they are too short, I mean that some songs are entirely based around a very simple idea, and four minutes of one melody does wear thin after a few listens.
This is a good album. It’s good background music, I feel - not emotional enough to be distracting, but captivating enough to not feel bored. They certainly have a knack for memorable melodies without the need of a vocalist, which is something that is vital in an instrumental band, but without the enormity and emotional power that a band like Godspeed has, the music becomes a bit nondescript, a bit pedestrian. And in combination with many of the songs being a bit lazily written An enjoyable record, I feel. Certainly far from a classic, and it certainly deserves a lot of the flack it takes for being a bit dull and song-centric, but I do enjoy it a little bit. Just don’t play it more than a couple of times, or it will start to dig into you.