Astrid and the Killer Penguin, the debut EP by Chicago’s Boolean Knife, is, despite the whimsical title, a fairly serious collection of three postmodern rock tunes. The band, led by veteran Chicago songwriter and vocalist William Steffey, plays smart, guitar-driven music heavily indebted to college radio playlists from the late 1980s/early 90s.
The EP kicks off with some shimmering guitar (highly reminiscent of the band Lush) and Steffey’s tangled wordplay on the track ‘Antarctica’ and moves confidently forward with the song ‘Fifty North,’ which has definite shades of The The and Bowie’s under-appreciated (late) 80s and 90s output (including a stint leading the fairly straightforward hard rock outfit Tin Machine).
Astrid and the Killer Penguin’s final track, ‘The Visitor,’ is by far the strongest cut on this all-too-short EP. Steffey’s vocals are more vulnerable and higher in the mix. The guitars, electronics and percussion are warm and propulsive. The lyrics smartly reference the ‘Astrid’ of the EP title as well as the band’s name (‘Boolean’ (which is a digital data type) is a nice contrast to the word ‘Knife’ and the notion of drawing analog blood).