Release Date: 17th August 2018
Inkblot Astronaut are a diverse rock duo based in Portland, Oregon. After initially meeting in high school, members Zak Armstrong and Mike Fowler played in various other bands before eventually joining forces to form Inkblot Astronaut. Whilst they went on to audition a series of additional prospects to handle lead vocals and guitar, Armstrong eventually took the role for himself and the pair recruited mutual friend Ryan Hertia for additional support. Once fully formed, they began writing material for a debut EP. The resulting self-titled product effectively showcases a very talented pair of musicians with a good sonic identity and a real talent for songwriting.
A crunchy, ambient guitar riff slyly kicks off the opening track ‘Boogy Man’, aptly told from the perspective of the Boogy Man himself as he hones in on his prey. The track is primarily rooted in the classic rock n’ roll genre, which effectively supports the more tongue-in-cheek nature of the lyrical content. However, the golden ratio section of the track sees the duo launch into a progressive metal-influenced instrumental section, complete with off-time double bass drumming and accomplished lead guitar work. This instantly displays one of the duo’s biggest selling points; their incredible versatility and ability to change genre midway through a track. Whilst the classic rock n’ roll and progressive metal genres are quite a stark contrast, the duo pull it off effortlessly and it’s certainly a trait that’s unique to them. For this reason, I’d strongly encourage them to place this at the very forefront of their marketing.
‘Sky’ showcases some wonderful influences of dream pop, complete with verses of ambient synth and guitar sounds set to a disco beat. This is effectively contrasted by an explosive pop rock chorus, complete with with searing power chords and a wonderful move to the relative minor for the hook. At this point, my attention turns to Armstrong’s vocal work, which is overall very accomplished. Whilst the opening track saw him deliver his lyrics in a sarcastic and sly manner, this track sees him take a more heartfelt and pop-influenced approach. This shows he’s clearly kept the requirements of each track at the forefront of his mind and appropriately tailored his delivery to best suit each arrangement. His move from chest to head voice is also effortless and very effective, showcasing good technical ability.
‘Id 2’ maintains the pop rock feel, being based around a helplessly catchy main guitar riff. Particular praise on this track goes to the bass line, which is melodically-adventurous and innovative without being overbearing. The ostinato-like pattern in the verses forms a solid foundation for the counterpoint guitar lines and laid-back vocals, leading to a balanced and coherent arrangement. The track also makes great use of backing vocals in the chorus, which add a real sense of presence to the material and truly liven up the arrangement. This is a ball I’d very much encourage the duo to pick up and run with as it works fantastically-well with their sound.
‘Photoshop Princess’ provides a sarcastic account of a Photoshop-reliant girl through a fusion of funk and pop punk. The lead guitar work on this track is excellent, making use of a palm-muted lead riff that effectively counters the more sarcastic lyrical content. Particular praise on this track also goes to the bridge, which is based around a chromatic chord progression presented via a wall of distortion-drenched power chords. This adds a real sense of tension to things and effectively brings the track to a real climax. Additionally, the bridge vocals are accompanied by backing vocals throughout. This not only added a sense of presence, but also drew attention to the lyrical content, which Armstrong uses to bring the theme of the track full circle. This again shows a fantastic sense of musicianship and good attention to detail.
‘Slipping’ interestingly makes use of both hard rock and metal influences, which provide an interesting contrast at this point of the EP. I felt the main hook of ‘keep slipping away’ was one of the strongest on the entire EP and is one that’ll undoubtedly embed itself in the head of any listener for hours after listening to the track. There’s also a great dropout section around two-thirds of the way through the track, which strips things back to just vocals and clean guitar before building back up to the full arrangement. This shows a great sense of dynamic contrast and adds a real punch to the succeeding guitar solo section. At this point, my attention turns to the duo’s sonic identity, which is overall very comprehensive and effective. Whilst they do indeed hop from genre to genre throughout the EP, each genre is close enough to be connected whilst still being different enough to add a real sense of variety. The duo have also carved out a whole host of signature traits for themselves, which include pop rock-influenced vocals, tongue-in-cheek lyrical content, melodically-adventurous lead guitar work and catchy vocal hooks. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how they choose to further refine and channel their sonic identity over their next few releases to craft a sound that’s undoubtedly ‘Inkblot Astronaut’.
‘Flying Colours’ rounds off on a somber pop rock note, which I felt served as a nice conclusion to an extremely varied and accomplished debut EP. My attention lastly turns to the EP’s production, which is very good. All instruments are well-recorded and it’s clear the duo have taken the time to obtain appropriate tones and takes at the source. The mixing and mastering work is also excellent, with all levels and frequencies being well-balanced and the production having a consistent feel from track to track. Ultimately, Inkblot Astronaut’s debut release showcases a wonderful mix of genres and an excellent sense of musicianship from two friends who truly deserve to be proud of what they’ve created. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where they take the project in the coming months and am confident they’ll continue to grow at a rapid pace. Highly recommended for any fans of pop-rock, rock n’ roll and funk.
You initially met in high school, but didn’t form until several years later. Can you tell us a bit more about how Inkblot Astronaut came to be?
We were merely acquaintances in high school – but randomly jammed a time or two, mostly because of a mutual friend… or Zak just showing up at Mike’s birthday (where there happened to be a drum set). We both recognized “the funk” in each other’s playing, but with almost opposite backgrounds and different friend circles.. we just rarely hung out. Mike sought out bandmates for a project when he came home from college in 2013 through a period of casual jamming with various people.. we just ended up being the most committed to building something more structured. Both being multi-instrumentalists and later roping in our friend Ryan – we settled on Zak singing and playing guitar – even though drums are his primary instrument. We can all contribute differently in the studio but have been working out who will fill each role live, as we are starting to ramp up promoting our EP as well as upcoming material that we’re excited to share!
Your debut EP features a wonderful range of influences, from pop rock to blues. Who are you primarily influenced by?
Mike is a product of the 90s and early 2000s alternative rock era – bands like Third Eye Blind, The Smashing Pumpkins and Incubus to name some you’ve probably heard of. The slick high-quality production and virtuosic playing crammed into a pop-friendly box was very appealing and satisfying to learn on any instrument.
Zak brings a range from grittier bluesy style on guitar to full on prog-metal thumping on the drums. Also Inspired by the 90s and 2000s era- Sublime and Nirvana then dabbling with other genres later with music from Alexisonfire and Anberlin (yeah I went a little emo…..) Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, and any project involving Dan Auerbach or Jack White. Mainly being drawn in by great song writing and the feeling of the music being genuine. We both appreciate some good funk and really it’s made it’s way into so many other styles that it’s hard to draw a line – but there is a rhythmic basis to most of our ideas and then we find colorful notes to go against it in a fun way.
Being a duo of multi-instrumentalists, I’m keen to hear how you compose music together. Does one of you do the majority of the writing or do you tend to bounce ideas off of each other?
Mike came home with a lot song ideas but lacked the band to play them and Zak really filled out the roles of a solid drummer and vocalist. We rotated through different people but remained the primary writers. We both go through periods of creativity on our own, but seem to have a very easy time mashing ideas together on the spot and some of our favorite moments are just accidents that we later refine. We both appreciate a privacy to our process but the chemistry when bringing a song to completion really helps fill out all the missing ingredients.
Tell us a little bit about the local music scene in Portland; is there a dominant genre? Are there any other bands you’d recommend?
The Portland scene can broadly fall under the general ‘indie’ genre – lots of start-up and free flowing groups. You can find smooth jazzy hip hop at a pizza restaurant and thrash-metal at a seedy bar – or a surprising mass of tribute bands selling out bigger venues than the originals.
What’s next for Inkblot Astronaut?
We are getting ready to play the album live and added in some of our older songs. Once we have that up and running, we are excited to finish old material and move on to making anything new that comes up along the way. We will be plenty busy with what we have so far!