For quite literally years, I’ve been meaning to look into more music by the band Stellastarr*. 2006’s Harmonies for the Haunted completely captivated my young self, with the explosive single ‘Sweet Troubled Soul’ that was backed up by other solid tracks like ‘Damn this Foolish Heart’ and ‘Born in a Flea Market’. It was a great album that I still get a good deal of enjoyment from, almost four years later. Since it made such an impression, I have always meant to look up the group’s self-titled debut, but that just never happened.
When I noticed that they were set to release a new record this summer, still feeling the fool for not looking into the older material (legacy post, anyone?), I made it a priority to log some time on their new attempt. I must say, by-and-large, I was not disappointed. Though it lacks the grandiosity of Harmonies, the new record, Civilized is a solid set of tracks that smacks of the group’s signature style. One thing I’d read about, and was a little disappointed to find was true was that the vocalist Shawn Christensen was forced to change is style so that his throat didn’t fall apart. His throaty “oh-oh-oh-ohhhhhhhhhhhhh”s will be missed, but the adjustment is a minor one, and by no means a deal-breaker.
One of my favorite things about the group is the bass, and I really must stress that I don’t say this on account of my desire to father Amanda Tannen’s children (the offer does stand, however). An easy example of what I mean is heard in the opening track ‘Robot‘. The layering of the sounds is done nicely, but that bass line holds it together, something I’ve come to expect from Stellastarr. Another notable include the change-of-pace ‘Prom Zombie‘ with its almost whimsical guitar melody and vaguely punk influenced chorus, not to mention the ridiculous subject matter.
Finally, a personal favorite, ‘Warchild‘ gets at that anthematic-feel of Harmonies that is the reason I came to love the group. It’s bigger than any of the other songs (even the fast-and-frenetic ‘Numbers’ track, which it refences in the opening line), with the lyrics professing to the object of the song a desire to “show you some signs of life,” which I felt resonated well for a band that’s waited four years to put out another album. It’s also one of the more complex tracks, and thus is one of the most interesting to listen to.
Civilized is quite balanced. Most records have highs and lows, excitement and filler, but this one is pretty level. That’s not to say it’s boring, but only that if you liked what you heard here, I can pretty much guarantee that the rest of the songs are a lock for you. I’ve listened through it 7-8 times in only a week or so, and I’m still not bored. Stellastarr is back, and the intervening four years was time well spent if it went into making this fine collection of tracks.