On their debut self titled album Russian quartet The Grand Astoria set the bar pretty high for themselves by creating an incredibly diverse and full on assault of psychedelic tinged stoner rock that centered around a shitload of heavy, dual guitar riffing and a plenty of turn on a dime tempo changes. So what's changed on their sophomoric disc II you ask? Well not that much actually because for the most part the band has pretty much stuck to the same formula that worked so well on that first record.
Save for bassist Mike Lopakov being ousted for new member Farid Azizov the core lineup of guitarist /vocalist Kamille Sharapodinov, guitarist Igor Suvorov and drummer Nick Kunavin is back once again to pummel the listener into oblivion with their unique brand of atmospheric stoner rock. While the debut album was pretty much an even split between vocal and instrumental tracks the group has opted to pursue more of an instrumental direction on this record as only one track "The Inner Galactic Experience Of Emily Dickinson And Sylvia Plath" is graced with Sharapodinov's snotty sounding, nasal delivery. The other change that is immediately apparent on the opening fifteen minute instrumental track "Enjoy The View" is that the group is also going for a more complex approach as far as their arrangements are concerned. Drummer Nick Kunavin who proved he was more than capable of holding the rhythm section together on that first record is an absolute monster on this disc as he displays some first rate drum chops on this opening cut and on the scorching "Wikipedia Surfer". The brief, eastern tinged "Visit Sri Lanka" finds the band exploring some new sounds, while the slow and gradual, atmospheric swells employed by both Sharapodinov and Suvorov on the aforementioned "Wikipedia Surfer" and closing track "Radio Friendly Fire" I think clearly demonstrates how they've matured as songwriters and arrangers.
Overall II doesn't come off as raw and primal as their debut disc although there are definitely examples of that on display here. However, don't think that The Grand Astoria have polished up their sound or suddenly gone soft on you because nothing could be further from the truth. What they have done is removed some the unbridled aggression and allowed the more complex arrangements to step to the forefront which in the end sure makes for a pretty potent follow up. As for which of the two albums is the best, it's almost too close to call because you really can't go wrong with either their debut or this stellar follow up, but if I had to choose I'd have to give the slight edge to II.
1) Enjoy The View
2) The Inner Galactic Experience Of Emily Dickinson And Sylvia Plath
3) Visit Sri Lanka
4) Wikipedia Surfer
5) Radio Friendly Fire