stellastarr*: Harmonies for the Haunted (RCA)

Sadly, the reckless, energetic moments from lead vocalist Shawn Christensen are absent on the sophomore release.

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After seeing stellastarr* debut their new songs at a preview show at Bowery Ballroom, I found Harmonies for the Haunted surprisingly different than expected. Comparatively, it sounds more polished and formulaic than their 2003 self-titled debut. Sadly, the reckless, energetic moments from lead vocalist Shawn Christensen—highlights with tracks like “Jenny” on the first record—are absent on the sophomore release. That’s unfortunate to abandon, as this colder, more calculated recording fails to capture the intensity of their live performances and in turn loses a little heart.

stellastarr* continue to wear their synth-heavy influences on their sleeves, but some of the best moments this time around happen when guitarist Michael Jurin rides along with Arthur Kremer’s drums and adds an organic touch. Bassist Amanda Tannen’s breathy, nearly ethereal vocals mixed with Christensen’s range of howls and whimpers create one of the most intriguing male/female vocal pairing since Frank & Kim.

The layers and arrangements in songs like the brooding “On My Own” pack a punch, and the album as a whole is much more cohesive, yet avoids monotony (partially by being so short). “Sweet Troubled Soul” is a black lipstick dance party in and of itself, and was recently remixed by ex–Smashing Pumpkin guitarist and frequent club DJ James Iha.

Harmonies is a little too controlled, but good enough to skip the in-flight feature film Roll Bounce to listen again.

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