Quaker City Night Hawks El Astronauta on LP + Download
"Good evening from Fort Worth, Texas." Those are the first words of out Sam Anderson and David Matsler's mouths on El Astronauta, the Quaker City Night Hawks' electrifying debut album for Lightning Rod Records, and it's the only introduction you'll need. Over a viscid, bluesy slide-guitar, the band transports you to the sweltering Texas heat, a "land of oilfields, iron nightmares, and fevered dreams." That song, "Good Evening," plants the band's flag firmly in the sand, simultaneously celebrating the pride of home and acknowledging the ominous clouds that hang over it, all while perfectly setting the stage for the raucous journey through time and space that follows.
The Night Hawks – Anderson and Matsler on vocals and guitars, Pat Adams on bass, and Aaron Haynes on drums – are a Southern band, to be sure, but it's not the South we've come to expect from our rock and roll. Equally influenced by ZZ Top and science fiction, they write of landscape both familiar and foreign, of a people working to shed their past but still burdened with its repercussions even in the distant future.
Eras collide in every aspect of the record, from the title – which merges Texas' Spanish and Mexican roots with its role at the center of the modern space race – to its pop art cover, depicting a classic hot rod from the 70's that's been modified into a spacecraft hovering over an exotic desert landscape. Songs like "Mockingbird" play out as a classic-rock road warrior's tale souped-up for the 22nd century, while "Liberty Bell 7" re-imagines current-day border issues through the eyes of a "space coyote" smuggling illegal immigrants on and off the planet. The track, which was engineered by Centromatic's Matt Pence, is actually named for a real NASA mission from 1961.
Change, and the need for it, is a central theme on the record, and one that weighs heavily on the bandmembers' minds as they enter a new phase of adulthood. "Beat The Machine" is a protest song of sorts according to Matsler, not against any one particular war but against the military and prison industrial complex that seems to hold a vice grip over modern American politics, while the JFK-inspired "The Last Great Audit" grimly assures that we'll "never walk through the gates of His promised land 'til we shake off our bloody ancestors' blues," and album-closer "Sons and Daughters" is a rollicking dose of secular gospel.