If there's a term that a band probably doesn't want applied to their new album, it's "long-awaited." It's been four years since Charlotte's Junior Astronomers released Dead Nostalgia, a 12-song slab of passionate, angular indie-rock that never seemed to let its guard up. Singer Terrence Richard absolutely tortured his voice on every track, howling with emotion over a rolling storm of thrashing guitars and shifting tempos. There was only one way the Astronomers seemed to know how to play: With every ounce of their collective being, every second.
It was a startling debut, and it generated enough buzz to keep the band on the road for several years, playing with All Get Out, the Weeks, and Modest Mouse, among many others. They released a couple of seven-inch EPs over the intervening years, but a new full-length didn't appear until Body Language was released earlier this year.
"It didn't really feel like that long," Richard says of the four-year gap, "but we live in an age where everything is happening so fast, all the time. Four years probably seems like a long time to work on something when a rapper puts out something every six months, and I get that. People asked, if there was something wrong, was something going on, but it was just that we were all in transitional periods in life after that last record, and we just wanted to take some time."
It's not like the Astronomers weren't writing songs; they just weren't the right songs for the next full-length, hence the EPs. For their full-length follow-up to Dead Nostalgia, Richard says the band (Richard, Philip Wheeler, Colin Watts, and Elias Pittman) wanted to make a cohesive work.
"The first album was just sort of a collection of songs," Richard says. "We were trying to build a vibe with this one. We were trying to make something that all flowed together, and I think that's what we got with this record."
Body Language does have a theme that might initially seem like a story about a relationship between two people that grows and changes over time. Over 11 tracks that range from their familiar twisting, thrashing indie guitar rock to airier, more atmospheric tunes, Richard sings about wanting more time, of being torn between leaving and staying, and wondering why things are changing so quickly.
But as it happens, the album isn't about a changing relationship with a person as much as it is about a relationship with a city.
"It's about Charlotte," Richard says. "We had this idealistic view of it while we were growing up, especially the music scene, which seemed to just grow and grow the older we got. But now, it's changed with these condos coming up and places like Tremont Music Hall and all these places we played our first shows at being torn down. Body Language is about the idea that the city doesn't hold the way it used to, and we don't know what to do now because we kind of based ourselves around this, just like a lot of people do in relationships."
That's where a lot of the fear and uncertainty and anger that Richard sings about come in. "Stuff changes and people get scared," he says. "You have people who are from Charlotte who left five years ago because it wasn't cool enough or not enough stuff was happening here. All the cool people leave, and then complain about Charlotte losing its cool. You left us here to fend for ourselves!"
Despite that extended theme that runs throughout Body Language, Richard is reluctant to call it a concept album. "There are confines when you call something a concept album," he says. "It puts the album in a box."
But he almost immediately hedges his bets, conceding that the album has a conceptual aspect, simply because of what it's about and how the songs flow together. And he even uses a relationship metaphor (again) to explain his thinking.
"It might be one of those things where people don't want to put labels on anything, like 'We're dating but we're not really boyfriend and girlfriend,'" he says. "I don't want to put a label on that because it might speak something else to other people."
The songs for Body Language were all written at once, which was a first for the band, and Richard says the Junior Astronomers learned a lot about themselves as they created and sequenced the album.
"We kind of figured out who we are," he says, "especially writing that many songs at the same time, which we've never done. We kind of constructed the album like a really good setlist. It's hard to play aggressive, in your face songs all the time. This record has some chill songs, some wild songs, some songs we've never really done before."