I greedily snatched up Harmonies for the Haunted, the new album from Stellastarr* to review. I did this because I wanted to savage it mercilessly. About two years ago, I interviewed Shawn Christensen (vocals, guitar), and found him to be a bit of a jerk. Sure, it was only my second interview, and my questions were probably banal. Most likely they were delivered in a vodka-soaked southern accent as well. All I’m saying is that the guy could have loosened up a little bit. He treated talking to me much like the contestants on Fear Factor approach eating live cave crickets; he’d choke it down, but he’d probably throw up later. At this time, the band had managed to stir up some hype around their self-titled first album. It looked as if they might break big, so perhaps this is where his superior attitude came from. Two years later, we are all at about the same place, and I am disappointed to realize that I actually like Harmonies for the Haunted.
In the ensuing years since 2003, other bands like Interpol and The Killers have grabbed huge handfuls of fame, and deservedly so. It’s just that with a similar sound and style, but not yet ready for the big time, Stellastarr* was pushed to the side. However, with their latest release, the band is making a serious attempt at a piece of the action. Harmonies seems as if it were designed to be an album of singles. All the songs are catchy and kept to an appropriate length for radio play as well asnd music videos.
Stellastarr* does not reinvent the wheel and are a direct product of their influences. Without the Eighties New Wave, this foursome would be relying on their art school education for income. In the end, they have made a good album, so who cares?
At first blanch, Christensen’s voice can be a little startling. It comes from the same place in the lower throat as Paul Banks’ (Interpol). Christensen’s reaches more of a howl and is frequently combined with the backing vocals of Amanda Tannen (bass). The vocals manage to maintain a mournful quality even when upbeat, much like The Cure.
The band has clearly been honing their craft since the last album. I was more than a little surprised to find my main complaint with Harmonies was that it is too short. There are ten songs at radio play length, so the album clocks in at less than forty minutes. I am trying to pick some of my favorites, but they are all of about equal quality. Rather than pick songs for dissection, I will say that the album is full of good guitar hooks and compelling lyrics. The up-tempo songs make you want to move your feet, while you want to sing along with the ones that are down-tempo. After listening to this album about thirty times, I’m willing to give Shawn the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just having a bad day.