Stellastarr* | Civilized (Bloated Wife)

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The best part of Stellastarr* is Michael Jurin's guitar work.







I'll say this about Civilized; it's no Harmonies for the Haunted. Following the band's catchy, impressive 2003 self-titled debut was Haunted, a real stinker...dubbed one that has to grow on you by their publicist (and we can all read between those lines, can't we?). Thankfully, the brash NYC quartet has rebounded with Civilized; not quite Stellastarr*, but certainly engaging and entertaining in its own right.

The disc kicks off with the infectious and aptly named "Robot"; there are no real lyrics to speak of, just a racing beat and a few high-pitched words. "Freak Out" is a slight step back in tempo; Shawn Christensen's voice is very distinct and nasally, sometimes shifting into Sparks territory; in other words, a little goes a long way. It's not a problem when he actually sings and doesn't just spit the words; however, here the refrain is pedantic and over-enunciated, making it a tad whiny and annoying. Amanda Tannen's nearly angelic vocals are a nice foil to his; she's best when not relegated merely to the background.

The vocals are a bit better on "Tokyo Sky," a catchy, simmering indie rocker. Up next, "Numbers" is a standout; soaring guitars, rapidfire drums and Christiansen's vocals at their best are the perfect recipe for . "Prom Zombie" is an upbeat, sugary pop offering; you'll find yourself dancing along to the shared male/female vocals and upbeat rhythm. Even the repetitiousness of the lyrics isn't a bother; this song's about feeling good, nothing more and nothing less. "Move On" is an oxymoron: upbeat, yet also a bit shoegaze-y.

Let's face it: The best part of Stellastarr* is Michael Jurin's guitar work (for proof, see: "Moon Girl" from the debut album). On "Tokyo Sky," it's finger-picked followed by fuzzed out and frustrated; "Numbers" has guitar lines both arcing and nosediving. And disc opener "Robot" finds Jurin's instrument crashing and careening, carefully plucked strings soon creating a memorable line.

Oh, sure, there are a few unremarkable tracks, including the "whoa-whoa"-heavy "Graffiti Eyes" and "People." "Sonja Cries" never gets off the ground. But Civilized has proven to be a fun listen...and also hope that a once promising band can still find its way. B | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Editors, Vampire Weekend, Sparks

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