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ISSUE
  Thursday
168
  March 11
2004
c o n t e n t s
 
 

Independent Film Gets ‘Down and Dirty’
 

Depp Pushes, But Can’t Open ‘Secret Window’

Not a Typical ‘Japanese Story’
 
 
 
 

 theBeat
 
RED Reviews
 
by Eryn Green and Brent Sallay
Stellastarr*
Stellastarr*
RCA Records

(out of 5)

My oh my, newcomers and already the critics’ darling.

New York’s Stellastarr* (the asterisk is part of its name— don’t ask, there isn’t really any explanation) has unleashed its self-titled, full-length debut on RCA records to plentiful acclaim— and for good reason. The album is an auspicious blend of ’80s nostalgia and modern-scenester style that’s capable of impressing even the most ostentatious observer.

Fronted by singer/guitarist Shawn Christensen, the band has created a sophisticated artistic look both backward and forward in the pop musical progression. While the record treads a dangerous line of redundancy, it never falters.

Christensen tosses his powerhouse voice around like a tantrum-prone child would a toy that no longer entertains him. He soars on tracks like the Hit Factory-recorded single, “My Coco”— a blistering tune that subtly harkens the guitar work of The Pixies and New Order— and lets out swallowing moans on cuts like “In the Walls.”

Such impressive range is Stellastarr*’s saving grace. Whereas so many bands fall helplessly into the abyss of failed era-sound reincarnations, Stellastarr* takes cues from legendary bands (ingredients and directions: a touch of drama from The Cure, a pinch of Joy Division for compassion, new wave for breakfast and a whole bunch of post-punk for lunch) and blends them together into their own distinctive and disjunctive noise.

The opening track, “In the Walls,” lays down one of the most instantly recognizable guitar riffs in recent memory. Christensen introduces his band with a voice loud as a Talking Head and crackling like a Stooge. His vocal range aside, Christensen’s pitch, though incessantly fluctuating, is spot-on. Wayward chant-like bridges are haunting and the drum beats are persistent.

Bassist Amanda Tanne adds necessary depth to Stellastarr*’s sound. Her backup vocals are both cooperative and contrary. Hers is the voice in the back of the song, in the back of your head, always there. While her instrumentation may not be the most impressive, it’s solid enough and her background lines purr.

The album shifts tones on track six, “Moongirl,” as the band changes gear from riff and vocal-heavy sounds to ones more vaporous and astral. The band shows the breadth of its style and substance with distorted solo lines that last longer than most other bands would dare— the cut opens with three minutes of rhythmic distortion. Guitarist Michael Jurin is a gem in a sea of stones—he’s special and we’re lucky to have him.

“Moongirl” is probably the best cut on the album— as well as the longest. With movements comparable to Interpol, the track is ghostly and gripping. The personality and restraint in Christensen’s lyrics belie a sorrow hinted at by Jurin’s detached and simple chord progressions.

All in all, Stellastarr*’s first album is a resonant and sonic burst of joy and despair that deserves a spot in even the most exclusive listener’s collection. It winks slyly at those in the know and is shiny enough to be embraced by the masses—a quality readily attributable to the superb mixing and production of Tim O’Heir. This is a band worth knowing.
—EG


Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand
Domino

(out of 5)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past six months, chances are you've heard of Franz Ferdinand. Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. You probably don’t live under a rock. You probably rent a nice, moderately furnished apartment in the Avenues. You probably just don’t spend as much time reading obscure sites on the Internet as some do.

So maybe you’re asking, who is this Franz Ferdinand? Well, according to spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk, Franz Ferdinand was the eldest son of Carl Ludwig and the Archduke of Austria, whose skill on the battlefield literally brought women to their knees, but whose inefficiency in the bedroom led directly to the first World War. (It isn’t libel if he’s dead, right?)

Other Web sites differ in opinion. For example, amazon.co.uk calls Franz Ferdinand “the secret weapon that’ll kick-start the British fight against the White Strokes…at the vanguard of the Art Wave scene.” One reviewer on the site even calls the band’s eponymous debut “franz-tastic.”

So who to believe? Granted, you will be hard-pressed to find an album with more hooks that have come out in the past few years. On a purely musical basis, I would give this album a 4.5 rating— near-classic status.

My only beef here is with the lyrics. The “Darts of Pleasure” single promised insightful, interesting lyrics that the full-length song doesn’t quite live up to. Choruses are often reduced to inane, one-line chants: “I cheated on you, yeah,” “She's not special so look what you’ve done boy,” “It's always better on holiday,” “It's better in the matinee.” It’s better than this. It’s better than that. Is this how they talk in Glasgow now? Whatever happened to “bob’s yer uncle”?

While undoubtedly this album will attract a great number of discerning fans (and in many ways deservingly so), the question remains: Can the band do better? RED says, “yes.”
—BS


Your Blues
Destroyer
Merge

(out of 5)

OK, straight off the bat, I love Destroyer’s album, Your Blues. It will probably make my top 10 for the year. (And I listen to about 3,000 or something albums a year, so that’s really saying something.) The only thing keeping me from rating it higher is that its eccentricities—part of what makes it so great—might initially be off-putting to many people. It is to these people that I write this review, so hopefully I can walk you through most of your concerns and we can find some common ground. Game?

First of all, this is primarily a cheesy-synth album. Yeah, the same instrument that has brought mayonnaise ads to life for more than a decade comes to the forefront here. Acoustic guitars and fake orchestra hits are occasionally thrown in for good measure. Maybe this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. But let me ask you something: Who here likes Mercury Rev, or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots? Keep reading.

Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) has a very distinctive voice. Some might even say a little too distinctive. Others of you might recognize that name as the “secret” vocal member of the New Pornographers. (Trust me, that’s not as bad as it sounds.) Now let me ask you: Who doesn’t like the New Pornographers? I am well-aware that most people don’t share all my tastes regarding a lot of things. But NOBODY doesn’t like the New Pornographers.

So if you, like me, can’t get enough of the New Pornographers’ melodic trappings and if you find yourself weeping with joy at the trumpet refrain that closes out “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon,” and you want some captivating, esoteric lyrics to boot, consider this: Instead of calling up your mother and asking her to let you nuzzle in her lap to remember the way things were, take a long lunch, buy Destroyer’s album, stick it in your deck and let it all wash over you. Give it a couple listens. Let it grow on you. You won’t regret it.
—BS
eryn@red-mag.com
brent@red-mag.com

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