We cover a lot of music at Monster Riff. Usually, we reserve our album reviews for Stoner Rock and related genres, but sometimes we receive word of an album that is so bizarre, so strangely intoxicating, we have to break protocol.
Fair warning: This isn’t our typical review.
Ghost Frog’s Astral Arcade is Space Rock, to be sure, but it’s a much different brand than acts like King Buffalo or Astroqueen. Instead, Ghost Frog takes Psychedelia, Stoner Rock, Grunge, and a tinge of Doom, and mixes it together with heaping scoops of Punk. From there, they combine hefty layers of otherworldly melodies and clever lyrics often inspired by science fiction films and literature.
The band refers to it as “paranormal stoner punk,” and their EPK describes it as a “retrofuturistic brand of nebulous noise rock that sounds like it was made by angry aliens on acid.” At Monster Riff, our working description has been “a Stoner-Punk hybrid during an alien abduction.”
However you want to describe it, it’s something you really can’t appreciate until you hear it for yourself.
Although the band’s earlier work (2015’s Laser Tag and 2017’s Cosmic Bowling) featured similar Stoner-Punk-Space vibes, they’ve definitely cracked the formula in Astral Arcade.
Cracking that formula was thanks in part to the album’s name. In making Astral Arcade, the band came up with the title first, then worked backward in writing songs that fit. After some deep research on video games and technology, an album was born.
About Ghost Frog
Ghost Frog is a Portland-based four-piece founded in 2013. The band members are:
Quinn Schwartz – Rhythm guitar, Vocals
Karl Beheim – Lead guitar, Synth
Archie Heald – Bass
Evan Leikam – Drums
Don’t let Karl Beheim’s synth credit fool you. While Astral Arcade is brimming with strange space sounds, the vast majority of these noises were created through literally dozens of effects pedals. There is synth on the album, including for “Bio Break” and “Computer Lab” (which features synth performances from Wolfgang Warneke and Derrin Brice), but almost all of the cosmic Rock is generated with a six-string.
Astral Arcade Review
Track 1: Data Slave
“Data Slave” begins with shimmering, swirling guitars that seem to bend and bounce through the atmosphere. Quinn Schwartz’s vocals here, as through the rest of the album, are intentionally flat and rhythmic—a perfect complement to the song’s melody. As the song builds, fans of Seattle’s ‘90s Alt scene might remember Love Battery (especially albums Between the Eyes and Dayglo).
Track 2: Kill Screen
“Kill Screen” is one of Astral Arcade’s singles, and rightfully so. While just as ethereal and cosmic as “Data Slave,” “Kill Screen” is composed a little tighter, embuing the catchy Skater/Surf Punk vibes of bands like FIDLAR.
Track 3: Cheat Code
Although “Cheat Code” opens light and fun, it eventually grows darker than the other songs on the album, descending into massive, swirling waves of distortion and beeping guitars. Perhaps that stems from the subject matter on this one: comparing the horrors of online dating to boring, annoying video game levels.
Track 4: City Snatchers
On paper, “City Snatchers” reads like your typical Space/Stoner Rock song (think “Escape From the Prison Planet” (Clutch)):
Escape our home world
Musically, however, “City Snatchers” couldn’t be further from “Escape From the Prison Planet” or similar tracks. Again, we’re treated to a complex swirl of massive riffs, mixed with some of the best lyrics and instrumentation on Astral Arcade.
Track 5: Bio Break
“Bio Break” is an instrumental break in the middle of the album marked by its own mysterious textures. With its ethereal, resonating synth, “Bio Break” would make good interlude music on a science fiction movie soundtrack.
Track 6: Agent Provocateur
“Agent Provocateur” is the most “normal” song on the album, as it features the least amount of pedal-created space effects. This one’s especially catchy, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing, “Take a tour through the sewer / agent provocateur” later in the day.
Track 7: Straight Jacket
Here’s another strong track. Although the ethereal guitars are sprinkled over the top of the song, “Straight Jacket” features some of the album’s best riffing.
Track 8: Computer Lab
Unlike the rest of Astral Arcade, “Computer Lab” is a deliberately slow burn saved by walls of screeching guitar work, massive bass, and layered vocals. It’s a diversion in the same way “Bio Break” was, but it also showcases some of the band’s more interesting songwriting capabilities.
Track 9: Permanent Hermit
At only one minute and 37 seconds, “Permanent Hermit” is a quick, catchy, Punk-inspired single.
Track 10: Space Junkie
“Space Junkie” shows the band’s clearest Stoner/Doom ties in the intro, taking its time to explore a few slow riffs before jumping into the song. The track picks up around 2:20 with a burning bass and shimmering guitar work. Interestingly, “Space Junkie” is a bit of an experimental track, with the band exploring new sonic territory in the song’s second half.
This was a new twist for Monster Riff, and we had to alter the way we approached this album compared to typical Stoner Rock fare.
Pros: Endlessly catchy, Astral Arcade is a vast improvement over Ghost Frog’s previous efforts. It’s more focused, for one. Plus, as we’ve said in the past, we’re suckers for a good concept album.
That said, Astral Arcade feels a bit like a novelty. The band leans heavily into old school video games and space themes for Astral Arcade, and it may feel like a gimmick if you don’t have that background and the rest of the band’s catalog before going in for your first listen.
The good news: The songwriting is tight (thanks in part to the band’s Punk side), and each song can stand on its own merits. This is definitely a fun album worthy of mixing into your regular rotation.
Cons: The melody in Astral Arcade rests entirely on its space-oriented guitar work. While gorgeous, these tones are occasionally washed out by huge walls of fuzz and bass, losing some of the band’s charm along the way.