I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful day in late September 2003, when I was browsing in my local independent music store and I heard these well-crafted and semi-dark post punk inspired songs with intricate harmonies coming from the record store stereo. I asked the girl behind the counter what it was that we were listening to and she told me it was the debut release from Stellastarr*. After that first sweet listen, I was head over heels, and I asked her if I could buy a copy. The girl said it was an advanced copy and that it was not for sale, but after working some of my Pacifico charm I had convinced her to sell it to me, and she had made an easy eight bucks. I took it home and had it on heavy rotation for a long ass while, each of its songs quickly growing on me. What a perfect debut release it was. Now here I am two years later right smack dab in the middle of September of 05 as I have now given a listen to Stellastarr*’s sophomore release, Harmonies for the Haunted and it appears my mood this time around has taken a 180 degree turn on an album that is so-so at best. However, there is more emotional depth to Harmonies for the Haunted as the sugar sweet backing harmonies of bassist Amanda Tannen shine much more brightly than on the group’s previous works.
Opener “Lost in Time” is tantamount to a mixture of the Cure’s and Nick Cave’s early days but in a setting of epic proportions. Some tracks, most notably “Damn This Foolish Heart,” remind one of New Order’s 1981 debut album Movement, as the band was struggling to escape the shadows of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Stellastarr* wanders into the melancholy side of the tracks on “The Driver,” a number that sounds like Interpol and Echo and the Bunnymen battling on the same stage, only to make up by embracing the long forgotten New Romantic movement.
Stellastar* has always been known to provide a smorgasbord of varieties from the long list of New Wave sub-styles into their sounds and it sure shows with the gloomy yet youthful sounds of “Born in a Flea Market.” Dreamy space rock synergy is in full swing in “On My Own” as well as some desolate disco on “When I Disappear.” Where I have mentioned the silver lining of all the songs so far on the album, it must go on record that Harmonies for the Haunted lacks the profoundness of the bands previous effort, which in and of itself may quell the vehemence that that the most avid of Stellastarr* fans have had while awaiting this album’s release.
“Love and Longing” I might add starts to get the album moving into mushiness that becomes sappier than a teenage moment of clarity scene from an after school special. It too can seem as if there are black clouds above lead singer Shawn Christensen’s voice on “Island Lost at Sea.” The only proper and simple way to wrap things up would be to say that whereas Stellastarr*’s first album was stellar, Harmonies for the Haunted seems to come not close enough, in the end little more than a simply “mixed” offering.