stellastarr*’s self-titled debut offers a bit of a conundrum. When faced with a such a band, many questions arise, not the least of which is: Is it wrong to hate a band for sounding like its record collection? Or perhaps, it’s more appropriate to take a slightly Platonic view of art and commend the band for refining the practices and structures of artists that have boldly gone before.
Ultimately, the eternal debate between forward-thinking creative drive and form-adhering artistic expression should be taken on a case by case basis. In the case of stellastarr*, it seems that following in the footsteps of your heroes might not be so undesirable.
Like most bands of their just-short-of-great caliber, stellastar* is a dish best served with rock. “Jenny” is a classic song of proper-name longing and wantonness, told to the beat of simple and fast paced guitar hooks, with a lovely boy-girl call back hook. The band also makes good use of this co-ed vocal style on “Somewhere Across Forever.” While not thematically stunning, “Somewhere Across Forever” is a solid rocker about not being able to, or having to live without someone.
stellastarr*’s troubles start when the tempo slows. “A Million Reasons” reveals more than just inner feelings. It makes no bones about who stellastarr* wants to sound like. The peppy songs distract the listener with a sort of winking cheerfulness, but the more subdued songs only leave influences on the mind of the listener.
While it is impossible to discuss stellastar* without mentioning how much of its sound is based on the work of other bands, there is another point that should be made. Yes, stellastar* sounds like a million other bands, but only some of those bands are better.
-Robert James Algeo
Out of the remains of alternative old-metal bands comes alternative nu-metal band Lo-Pro. From beginning to end, Lo-Pro’s goal of creating a simple record is achieved. Lo-Pro is a very compelling record, and there is a great deal of conflict in both the music and the lyrics. This is no surprise, since Lo-Pro is a band formed from conflict. Lo-Pro is a super group of sorts, featuring ex-members from bands such as Ultraspank, Snot, and Godsmack.
The album does not contain any intricate guitar solos or drastic tempo changes, but this is far from a bad thing. Guitar riffs seem intentionally slow, steady, and boring, but they are met with powerful, well-timed drum hits and cymbal crashes. This combination of lethargy and timing works very well. Lo-Pro has an empty, yet satisfying sound.
All of the lyrics, written by Lo-Pro front man Pete Murray, scream to the listener, “I really just need a hug…Bad!” Extremely downtrodden, Murray asks, “Why can’t I explain the way I feel again? /Why can’t I just stand?” and answers himself, “Instead I crawl to you again,” in the single “Sunday”. In “Thread” Murray sings, “I weathered another storm but it’s not the last one.” No matter how angst-ridden the words are, they still have a hopeful feel. The vocal harmonies provide a beam of white light over the driving, underlying darkness of the instruments.
The exercise in conflict does wear a bit over time, though. In the midst of an alternative-metal tempest, Lo-Pro attempts to create a monsoon of sound. Unfortunately, the result seems more like a thunderstorm that will soon pass over. Lo-Pro boasts a strong sound, but the album lacks hook.
– Joe Gettler
The Beautiful Letdown
Few may have heard of San Diego-based band Switchfoot, but with a growing fan base and a major radio push, that may not be the case for long. Earning its reputation through word of mouth, the band has gained popularity at a slow but steady pace.
Switchfoot’s newest release, The Beautiful Letdown, is an album worthy of its widening public recognition. From the dreamy, slow motion “Dare You to Move,” to the alt-rock inspired single, “Meant to Live,” Switchfoot has managed to create a solid piece of work.
Often labeled a Christian band, the subjects and sounds on the album prove that the band is more than its beliefs. Switchfoot’s religious beliefs are evident in many songs such as the aptly titled “Redemption,” but it is not the Christian message that’s important. Rather, it’s the honesty with which front man Jonathan Foreman sings and writes the songs. It’s the inspiration he tries to conjure up in listeners with his words.
The album is highly spiritual, but it’s not preachy. Christian rock trends tend to flare up every few years, but The Beautiful Letdown is an album that moves above the genre’s traps to become something more.
Switchfoot mixes a bit of rock in with religion, and the formula works well.
The Awful Truth
Andi Camp’s latest album, The Awful Truth, sounds like the work of a mediocre coffeehouse performer. On this self-composed, self-produced, self-packaged and self-released album, Camp plays the piano and sings, accompanied by drums and an upright bass. The instruments fit together well, producing straightforward and mellow music. However, Camp has a unique vocal quality: she cannot sing on key. Her vocal lines are breathy and at a slight dissonance to the accompanying music, producing an effect that can be grating.
The songs on The Awful Truth are like a sigh: sad and ordinary, sometimes intense, always longing and lonely. Camp sings about the inability to hold onto love and about a life that is melancholy and unpolished. Some of her songs are enjoyable and her talents peak during darker songs like “Tall Drink of Water.” Unfortunately, her songwriting abilities surpass her vocal abilities. Some artists can use their unconventional voices or lack of vocal talent to enhance their music, but Camp has yet to reach that level.
The Awful Truth comes wrapped in a ribbon, and Camp has even gone through the trouble of hand-numbering each copy. This warm gesture makes her music a little more enjoyable, but not by much.