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Stellastarr*
Stellastarr*
RCA Records
www.stellastarr.com


At last we have come full circle in our awe of the 1980's. Yes, we can now proclaim from such a distance that there was a meaning to the madness, and that that decade did have cool music. And yes, now is the time we can start our own 80's revival. I'm all for it personally, but of course back then I wasn't mired in the hair bands that dominated the latter part of that otherwise unseemly decade. I had taken for granted the quality and style of the music during that part of my life, for the majority of the past decade. Every now and again I would pop in a random one-hit-wonder band, from way back then, and reminisce. It didn't hit me until recently that 80's music had a clear impact on the world around it and, despite its bubble-gum appeal to the masses, was trying to proclaim something at the same time. Whether it was successful or not is a personal question, but it wasn't until my best friend asked his younger, way younger, sister if she knew anything about those bands that I started to feel my age. I realized a lot of our youth of today are missing a vital piece of music evolution as she started pulling out his old cassettes (yes, tapes everyone) and began to listen to them. She kept coming back for more, talking about how we used to listen to cool music, and why hadn't she heard of it before. Well, too new to be on the oldies, too old to be on the other stations... at most, you had to find a deejay that would dedicate an 80's block, but try and find that.

So, I am ready for the revival. Bring it on. Heading up the frontline of bands trying to capture that pervasive sound is Stellastarr*, and they succeed in nailing it without even breaking a sweat. The entire album could be a dedication to that decade, with its whimsical themes, processed sounds and general feel. A lot of that feel can be due to Shawn Christensen's distinctive lead vocals; he has that 80's upbeat wry, throwing nonsense to the wind, sort of air. Backing him in vocals with well-placed female persuasion is Amanda Tannen, their bassist. She helps lend a sort of Pixies-esque vocalization, a la Kim Deal, which is always a favorite technique of mine. "Jenny" is a good example of the latter, and it is a song that deserves more exposure. Michael Jurin on guitar uses the space nicely, filling in empty moments and wisely not adding to the others for emphasis. The drummer, Arthur Kremer, shows some interesting subtle choices for repetitive sections, which help to focus the songs without distracting from the overall structure.

The production of the album is something I can't quite figure out, though. If I had had control of this album, I would have made some different decisions. True, they captured the feel of the 80's remarkably well, but I think they could have kept some purity of sound along the way without losing the feel. All of the instruments could have used more mixing. The guitar effects vary little besides their two extremes (distortion & clean), and I would have differentiated both of these extremes from song to song. The bass and drums don't have the feel they ought to, the bass is barely present and the drums don't achieve the crispness they deserve. The vocals, apart from backing, are over-produced and should be pulled back in favor of the whole.

Overall, I say it is a nice trip down memory lane, but like a lot of bands in the 1980's this band might be relegated to a one-hit-wonder status. "My Coco" is a killer song and deserves to be heard by everyone, but can I say that for the rest of the album? The rest, while maintaining a style, is almost hollow like the aptly titled "Pulp Song". I hope they figure out what works and doesn't for their next album, and I think they could stand a chance.

-bishop

Track Listing:

1. In The Walls
2. Jenny
3. A Million Reasons
4. My Coco
5. No Weather
6. Moongirl
7. Somewhere Across Forever
8. Homeland
9. Untitled
10. Pulp Song


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