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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.”
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
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