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CD Review: stellastarr* – Harmonies For The Haunted

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There is a sense of nostalgia that permeates stellastarr*’s latest album, Harmonies For The Haunted, more so than any album I have heard in the last year. There have been many albums put out by bands intent on sounding like 80’s revivalists. stellastarr* takes it a step further by sounding as though their music was ripped right from Top 40 radio in 1985. There is no derivation of previous acts; it’s simply the perfection of a sound that is often imitated, rarely with this much success.

The marquee song on the album is “Sweet Troubled Soul”, which has received significant airplay on satellite stations like Sirius’ Left of Center due to its irrepressible hook, coupled with singer Shawn Christensen’s commanding vocals. It’s like a hipster version of “Runaround Sue”. “Love and Longing” has a U2 quality to it, mostly due to some Edge-inspired guitar work.

“Damn This Foolish Heart” is another standout track that, despite its somber lyrics, is an upbeat song that wraps up with Christensen lamenting his duped ticker. In fact, the majority of the songs on the album juxtapose depressed lyrics with fun disco beats. There have been comparisons between stellastarr and fellow New Yorkers Interpol, to the extent that stellastarr* have glommed Interpol’s sound. While the guitar work bears some similarities, there is very little evidence that stellastarr* is trying to structure their sound around Interpol’s blueprints. Interpol’s writing is superior to stellastarr*, and they choose sounds that fit in with their lyrics more so than their counterparts.

Does Harmonies For The Haunted break new ground and signal the advent of some musical awakening? No, but the band has managed to craft a 10 song long player that shows enough different looks to keep you interested well past the point that other more critically acclaimed albums leave you bored out of your skull. It’s amazing that a band like stellastarr*, with RCA as their label, is unable to gain a footing on terrestrial radio. Their sound is very accessible, and while the different soundscapes can be appreciate by more discerning audiophiles, Top 40 fans would appreciate the generous hooks that are the staple of the MTV generation.

Harmonies For The Haunted all but assures us that we have not seen or heard the last of stellastarr. They have far too many interesting ways to tell us that they’re tortured about love and loss. Grab your leg warmers and Cabbage Patch Kids, stop complaining about too much “80s music” being made, and get into stellastarr*.

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About Matt Freelove