Harmonies For The Haunted
REVIEW BY: Josh Allen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/05/2011
The post-punk revival of the last decade and a half has produced no shortage of popular and under-the-radar bands alike. While The Strokes and Interpol have dominated the airwaves, other bands with quirkily formatted names like stellastarr* continue to achieve moderate success, too. Following their self-titled debut, stellastarr* released Harmonies For The Haunted, a tribute to the misery of broken love.
Shawn Christensen’s flamboyant vocal style, in the vein of fellow post-punker Brandon Flowers of The Killers, is unique enough to command your attention throughout. For the majority of the album, his antics fit the context, but other times it feels forced and does nothing but annoy the listener. Bassist Amanda Tannen, meanwhile, positively shines as a backing vocalist for most of the album, save a hiccup or two, as in the flatly executed “Damn This Foolish Heart.”
Clearly, the strength of the album lies at the front of the album: a delicate piano introduction crescendos into an ethereal, reverberating guitar and faintly tragic lyrics in opener “Lost In Time.” Harmonies’ true highlights, however, come with tracks three and four. “The Diver” ebbs and flows back and forth between reserved verses and an energetic chorus amidst a ghostly demeanor befitting the album’s title. The song’s climax over the final minute is something to behold, when all of the band’s characteristics simultaneously seem to peak.
Single “Sweet Troubled Soul” follows, immediately luring the listener with the catchiest of repeating hooks on guitar, a prominent and coercive bassline, lots and lots of wailing, and the occasional sensual, hopelessly desperate lyric (“I want to suffer in your arms” and “I want to see your face / In the reflection of my bedroom stereo”). True, much of the song is so very cliché, but stellastarr* executes it so deliciously well that you have no choice but to love it.
Alas, the momentum established thus far does not sustain itself, as the album descends into repetitiveness and predictability. You certainly can’t quibble with the polish and technical soundness of the band, but when half of the song continually repeats themes and lyrics (especially “Born In A Fleamarket” and “Stay Entertained”), you can’t help but roll your eyes. The album begins to close strongly with slow-burning “Island Lost At Sea,” but any ground made up at this point is lost, when hidden track “Bloated Wife” (apparently stellastarr*’s first ever composition) makes an appearance. The instrumentals are intriguing enough, but I think it was here that Christensen’s trembling vocals irritated me beyond my breaking point.
Harmonies For The Haunted had potential. It really did. After putting their best foot forward in the first 15 minutes of the album, stellastarr* in large part could not conjure enough fresh and consistently entertaining material to make Harmonies little more than a two-hit wonder with creepily awesome album art.