NYC-based stellastarr*’s third effort, Civilized, is an intricate fashioning of middle-of-the-road melodic layerings and affected vocals. This is not to say, of course, that the album is terrible, but rather that it seems to consistently find itself suck in motion instead of development. The instruments are all ambitious—vocals included—but never quite break out of fairly predictable patterns.
One of the most distinct and steady attributes of stellastarr* is Amanda Tannen’s thumping basslines. Reminiscent of Pixies’ Kim Deal, Tannen’s focused and present bass takes equal time with melodic tendencies and harmonic grounding. Although it’s hard to find good melodic bass, here it only serves to add to the confusion.
The band is consistently tripping itself up by trying to fill up too much space. All of the instruments seem to be competing with one another rather than working toward unity. This is certainly an aesthetic choice for the band, but in this incarnation, it distracts more than it drives.
Tannen’s bass tends to have most energy in the mid-range, and, since the guitars are heavily melodic as well, the mid-range throughout the album is a bit overblown. Shawn Christensen’s vocals have playful potential, but that eventually wears itself thin. At times, channeling Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino (“Robot”), David Bowie (“Prom Zombie”), with hints of Frank Black scattered here and there, the vocals seem to carry a wide range of ambitions and influences.
The alt-rock and Britpop plays itself out early, and by the middle of the album, there’s a noticeable lull in energy. And that’s precisely because the songs are hesitant to stray from similar patterns of growth and dynamic. It’s not energy loss, it’s the abundance of consistency.
The album as a whole alludes to a lot of possible—and even interesting—directions, but never carries one to fruition. Overall, Civilized occupies a comfortable middle ground too often.
Source: Under the Radar Magazine, Issue 27