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Stellastarr*: Harmonies for the Haunted

Zoe Brown Vent Manager
Published 10-21-05
Graphic By: Jen Hight
Stellastarr** hasn't been in the music scene long (their first complete album, the self-titled Stellastarr*, debut in 2003) but they've already made an impact to the indie rock genre, walking hand-in-hand with those like Interpol and The Bravery. I eagerly awaited the arrival of Stellastarr*'s second album, Harmonies for the Haunted, after being enamored with their first album. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. The album was not a bad album, by any means, it just simply did not stand out. Many songs seemed to blend into each other. To be fair, the more I listened to the album the more I enjoyed it and embraced songs that sounded average on first listen.

Harmonies for the Haunted is not an album that blows you away during the first listen, but rather grows on you every time you do. It embraces an almost teenage view of love and angst, evident both in the longing sustain of lead singer Shawn Christensen's unusual vocal stylings and in the lyrics and titles of certain songs (some such titles being "On my Own" and "Damn this Foolish Heart").

The overall music was explorative and detailed in several songs, influences like The Cure and The Pixies being easily evident. I would almost go so far as to say that the music outdid the vocals (Christensen's usually wonderful and unique voice sounded off-key and almost strained in several of the songs).

"Lost in Time" starts the album off on a soothing note, very reminiscent of The Cure. I felt relaxed the minute Christensen's voice came on. The song did not have much variation, but it was beautiful and relaxing. ***1/2 (this and all of the following songs will be rated out of a possible 5 stars)

"Damn this Foolish Heart" was probably my least favorite song on the album, being overly sing-songy with nothing else to redeem it. *

"The Diver" really made use of the guitar on this song and happens to be one of my two favorites on this album. It pulled me in and had me nodding my head along with the music. It is also had the most re-play-ability on the album. ****

"Sweet Troubled Soul" was a good song, though nothing really stood out about it. I did enjoy the guitar again on this one, as well as the chorus. ***

"Born in a Fleamarket" possessed an interesting title...but very little else. The guitar and the background female vocals highlighted the song, but the overall impression was very average. **1/2

"On my Own" had wonderful music, but poor vocals. Christensen's voice was painfully off at times during the song and sounded awkward and strained at points. **

"When I Disappear" also had vocal problems, which did not seem to match the music and seemed awkward. The intro and overall music was solid; if the song was free of vocals it would have been much improved. *1/2

"Love and Longing" sounded like it should have been the theme song to an early 90s teen-centered tv show. It was sweet and innocently sappy and I couldn't help but get drawn into it. The voice inflections were very interesting and full of feeling. ***1/2

"Stay Entertained" was probably the most fun and upbeat on the album. The chorus may have been my favorite part, even though it only consisted of two words: "stay entertained."***

"Island Lost at Sea" by far had the most depth of all of the songs. It was, in essence, two songs in one. The song seems to end after three minutes or so...but don't turn it off! Silence turns into background noise which turns into one of my favorite parts of the entire album. The following music is probably the hardest and most interesting we have experienced on the entire album, yet. The grungy sustained rock and Christensen's strangely seductive vocals are very reminiscent of The Pixies and Spacehog. They finally did what I had wanted them to during the whole album! Unfortunately, it was at the very end and only lasted about three or four minutes. ****

In summary, this album is a must-have for all Stellastarr* fans, even if it failed to surpass or live up to the previous album. Overall, it is neither great nor terrible, but sits at a comfortable average; a fun listen with several very pleasant qualities.

Overall Rating: ***

Zoe is planning the first male exploitation film...when she's not fighting for the oppressed.

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