I kept putting off reviewing the fabulous new album from Pete Astor, Spilt Milk, mainly 'cause the "official" release date is February 12, 2016, and I didn't want to rave about this one too early, you know? But then I keep seeing people post pics of the "vinyl" on "social media", and I knew that Slumberland Records indicated that they were going to ship pre-orders early, so I thought: why not just go ahead and join in with the growing chorus of people telling you how good this one is?
In case you need a refresher, Pete Astor was the leader of The Loft and The Weather Prophets, and he's also done stuff under the Wisdom of Harry banner as well. This time out, he's tried a relatively direct approach and paired up with James Hoare of Ultimate Painting and Veronica Falls to offer up Spilt Milk. The album is so good and so effervescent and charming that it seems somewhat silly to cast a critical eye at the music contained herein, not that I even need to be at all critical.
Stuff like "Very Good Lock" recalls the third album from the Velvet Underground, or early Lou solo stuff, and it doesn't hurt that James from Ultimate Painting -- inveterate VU fans -- is on board here as sorta album co-pilot. "My Right Hand", blogged about me earlier here, charms on the back of a supple melding of influences -- a hint of Dylan on this one, maybe? Better still, it could be a trace of Tom Verlaine that I'm hearing in the rhythms of this cut.
Elsewhere, Astor seems to be able to channel both halves of that wonderful Go-Betweens formula with some cuts ("Good Enough") nodding in the direction of the work of the late Grant McLennan and some others ("Mr. Music") venturing into Robert Forster territory.
What's remarkable about Spilt Milk is how unlike Astor's earlier stuff it sounds. It's not that he's entirely shunning his Loft past -- (be sure to read my interview with some of the members of The Loft from last year when the Cherry Red Records Creation Records box set came out) -- it's that he's expanded his sound significantly and the range of absorbed influences seems broader here. Still, there would be nothing wrong with Spilt Milk sounding like a Weather Prophets album but it doesn't, and that's a great thing when the results are cuts like "Sleeping Tiger", all buoyant wistfulness and yearning.
Spilt Milk closes on "Oh You", a cut whose instrumentation broadly recalls some of the tracks on those 2 wonderful Ultimate Painting records. Working with James Hoare has loosened up Astor and things feel natural here, on this album closer and the rest of the record. Credit must also be given to some of the other players on this release: Pam Berry (Black Tambourine, Glo-Worm) on vocals, Jack Hayter (Hefner) on pedal steel guitar, Alison Cotton (The Left Outsides) on viola, and Robin Christian (Male Bonding) and Susan Milanovic (Feathers) on drums. But, yeah, a lot of this sounds like Astor sitting down with Hoare to make something very similar to those Ultimate Painting records. And saying that is my way of giving this LP a huge compliment.
Pete Astor's Spilt Milk is a remarkably warm record and that counts for a lot in 2016. If the album is not showy in any obvious way, that's something to be admired. Astor, like that rare breed of songwriter in today's world, can pull off this sort of thing and make it look effortless. The music here, on gentle, ruminative numbers like "Perfect Life", for example, is not going to set the world on fire but it is going to light a little spark in the hearts of long-time fans of this man, his many bands, and the associates he's assembled on this very nearly-career-defining turn. Spilt Milk is yet another example of the rich new strain of music being mined by artists on Slumberland Records. Like the folk-indie on that Withered Hand album -- also on Slumberland Records and also featuring Pam Berry of label boss Mike Schulman's legendary Black Tambourine -- the tune-age on Pete Astor's new record blends a few genres with ease to produce something better than the majority of what passes as indie-pop these days.
Spilt Milk by Pete Astor is out on Friday via Slumberland Records in the USA.
Follow Pete Aster on his official website.