The Chinese Stars were once the most fucked up of dancepunk bands. Their fractured rhythms, sideways riffs and just plain out there sounds set them apart as an alien alternative to more straightforward acts like The Rapture or Radio 4. Much like singer Eric Paul’s former outfit Arab on Radar, the Stars are less about directly danceable material than sexing up something far creepier. However, as the band emerges with their third full length, Listen to Your Left Brain, the accompanying press release indeed uses the word “sexier” when describing its content. And strange as it sounds, it actually is sexier.
More than just sexier, however, Left Brain is by a long shot the most accessible album of the band’s career. The beats, handclaps and catchy melodies that open “Drugs and Sunshine” (part of every warped freak-punk band’s diet) instantly presents a newly dressed up, showered and shaved Chinese Stars. Sort of. It’s still weird, primarily because of Paul’s singing, which is more like moaning or exaggerated speaking than any sort of melodic voicing. That aside, “Drugs and Sunshine” is actually catchy, which is the first time I can honestly say I’ve said that about these SoCal skronksters. Propelled by a throbbing synth bassline, “Cold, Cold, Cold” is a little more like the Stars of old, dissonant and weird, but still quite listenable. “All My Friends Are Getting High” sounds as chemically unbalanced as its title suggests, while “Left Brain” juxtaposes a straightforward dance rhythm with squalls of discordant riffage. And “Bored With This Planet” gets downright funky, even anthemic, but still disturbing, as Paul’s lyrics finely display: “If I had a car, I’d take you to your mother’s house/ you’re out past your curfew, and you’re about to take off your blouse.”
Okay, so the Chinese Stars are still pretty fucked up, but they disguise their hallucinogen with a palatable spoonful of disco punk, one catchier than before, but still a little off. It’s unlikely that fans of Elefant will be getting into this warped realm anytime soon, but the direction that the band takes on Listen To Your Left Brain not only plays to the band’s strengths, it could easily open them up to a new audience.
Brainiac – Bonsai Superstar
Erase Errata – Nightlife
Six Finger Satellite – Paranormalized
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.