Bad Astronaut - Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment
Record Label: Fat Wreck Chords
Release Date: November 14, 2006
In the world of rock and roll, there are few men as busy as Joey Cape. In the past decade, he’s played in Lagwagon, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Afterburner, The Playing Favorites and a solo project under his own name. His most under-appreciated project, however, was a seven-piece band called Bad Astronaut that blended punk with elements of indie rock. While most of Cape's projects stick to the realm of punk rock with introspective lyrics, Bad Astronaut added an experimental element to the mix that allowed Cape's phenomenal songwriting to become even more beautiful than before, reaching a new plateau. The band’s final album, Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment is the ultimate embodiment of this approach. Fans of one of the most under-appreciated men in music should take note: this album may be the best thing that Joey Cape has ever done.
The texturing and layering present on Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment creates an atmosphere that is untouched among many other works in the punk community. The production is simply stunning; the band manages to use all sorts of electronic drums and effects without it seeming gimmicky in the least, and rather than taking away from the intimacy of songs such as "Violet," it enhances them. On “Beat,” track after track of guitar is inserted into the mix until eventually they immerse the listener. The album also sparingly uses extremely lo-fidelity recordings, such as on the intro and outro to "The 'F' Word," using seamless transitions to connect them to more heavily-produced segments of the song.
The lyrics on the album show tremendous growth in Cape's songwriting skills. Songs such as "San Francisco Serenade" and "The 'F' Word" make the listener forget that he ever wrote songs about beer goggles in the early days of Lagwagon and instead focus on the images that these songs create. The subject matter helps; "The 'F' Word" is about alienation from a former companion, and "San Francisco Serenade" touches on addiction to an unhealthy lifestyle, with Cape singing, "Excessive city, we can’t afford to stay / But home to the same, somehow safe now / We can’t afford to leave." "Stillwater, California" touches on the monotony of going on tour and seeing the same towns over and over, with lyrics such as "And we’re off this week to Johannesburng / Via Wien, Austria / Then on to Italy / Sometimes it feels like we’ve seen everything / And all of it means nothing / The rooms are all the same.” An element of devastation is also apparent in the lyrics, due to the suicide of drummer Derrick Ploude in 2005. "The Thirteenth Step" addresses this event head-on, with Cape coming to grips with the death of a friend and bandmate, singing "Here’s a problem you won’t soon escape / Your identity forever changed" in a strained voice that brings his personal pain to the forefront.
Following Ploude’s death and the release of Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment, Joey Cape announced the break-up of Bad Astronaut. The circumstances are obviously tragic, but this could not have been a better note to go out on. The fact that such an amazing album went unnoticed by not only the mainstream media but also much of the underground music scene is baffling. If Cape has any more gems like this up his sleeve, music lovers everywhere should keep their eyes on him.
I've been trying to show bad astronaut and this album to friends for years (well the band at least). A lot of my friends really loved Houtston... and some even ventured to purchase. These are people who listen to radio mostly. It just shows these albums have something for everyone and they do that something extremely well.