Friday, April 23, 2004Stellastarr*
Abstractboy has been a fan of Stellastarr* ever since he saw them support the fairly average Ash as part of last year's T on the Fringe festival in Edinburgh. The immediacy of their dark-pop-pixies-inspired-male-vocals-with-delicious-striking-female-backing-harmonies struck a chord with him instantly. He had read the rave reviews of their performance at Texas' famed industry festival, South-by-South-West and heard the sublime debut single, Somewhere Across Forever. The following week he saw them perform at the Reading Festival, which sadly looks a bit shit this year, and Abstractboy may just have to settle with one day at Southside. Anyway, his love for this band was solidified and in November he dragged some friends along to their Islington Academy gig to see what the fuss was.
Since that date in November, Stellastarr* have been making themselves heard more. There was an almost sold-out Uk tour including a sold-out date at the London Electric Ballroom and then a sold-out date at New York's Irving Plaza, which I am told is a big deal. And this is definitely a good thing. Abstractboy is often precious about his bands and his 'discoveries' moving into the mainstream. This is a nasty selfish trait, but we are all human. However, Stellastarr*, he cannot wish them more success.
There is something so decidedly perfect about the music they make. It is perhaps that it is so 'flawed' in terms of what is often expected of music - lead singer Shawn Christensen's voice is not normal. He recognises this. It is filled with a raw sense of passion. It shakes as he reels off the more close-to-home of lyrics. After their blinding tour closer in Portsmouth in March, Asbtractboy asked Shawn how he does it. How does he make it come across so real on stage in front of 1200 eager punters? And he told me he remembers the meaning of the song, why it was written, the emotions that went through his head when he was writing it. It goes back to the old indie clichée of writing your own songs, truely believing in what you do, BLAH BLAH BLAH. But for Stellastarr* it works wonders. Their music is so brash and honest, like their performances. There is no pretension. They simply walk on stage and check their instruments are all in tune and just start.
It is refreshing to see a band who are knowing of their amazing and inexplicable ability to write and perform excellent music, yet do not let their egos take centre stage. In fact, all of the band play a very equal role in the music and performance. Lead guitarist, Michael Jurin is fascinating to watch. His performance is wild and he is often all over the floor. During the epic 'Moongirl' he can even be found sliding a shotglass or any other implement against his guitar and provides an underlying harmony of whispers. Amanda Tannen, bassist, sings the most gorgeously piercing backing vocals. She is no Celine Dion by any stretch of the imagination, but her vocals compliment those of Shawn's so perfectly. Particularly in the haunting and emotional 'In the Walls'. It is like some moments in The Pixies' 'Where is my Mind?', but a lot better. Which is a bit of a risquée thing to say really. And let us not forget drummer, Arthur Kremer, whose energetic, yet precise, drumming, space-age style sunglasses and naked torso with duck-tape-on-nipples are undeniably essential to the band.
But back to a previous point. What really makes Stellastarr* so good is the perfect pop that they produce. Pop is sadly still a taboo term, but Abstractboy likes to use it to describes music of all persuasions that embodies that something. Blondie made it with 'Heart of Glass', Phil Spector's shimmering wall-of-sound production in the 60s made something magical. And Stellastarr*'s recent almost-hit, 'My Coco' acheived something similar. From the stripped down and half-time opening 40 seconds, to that bit just before the song really starts, to where it really starts, to the chorus, to the verse, to the chorus, to the solo, to the bridge, to the chorus, to that bit where Shawn sings like he has just figured out the point of his existance, and then repeat chorus to fade. It is an orgasmic journey of emotions. And at 5 minutes long still seems 5 minutes too short. Abstractboy listens to a lot of music but only seldomly hears something as perfect as this.
Abstractboy commands you to buy Stellastarr*'s debut album. It really is in your own interests.
Abstractboy also recommends that you look at the Stellastarr* photos on his fantastic website.