Starring: ABCDEFG-HIJKLMNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ (Northern Spy Records)
Despite having heard nothing by the band Starring before our man Chris Hearn took it upon himself to give their latest release a listen too. And you know what? He really enjoyed it. Here he tells you why.
I surprised myself with this album. I purposely did not read the band’s bio, and my knowledge of Northern Spy Records was limited to knowing that they put out avant garde, experiemental, prog type stuff. Although I didn’t really know what to expect, I had a hunch, for some reason, that this would be something way out there and completely experimental. My hunch was wrong. This isn’t. These are tight, structured songs.
So, after I listened, I read their bio (They formed in 2008, all students of Oberlin college, who wanted to blow NYC away with some crazy prog rock) and information on the album (It was recorded in 2011 in the Brooklyn’s St. Cecilia’s Church) and apparently they describe their sound as “sparkle prog”Â. Sparkle prog? Okay. Whatever. If by sparkle prog, they mean the prominent use of chaotic, psychedelic keyboards courtesy of wild and fuzzy haired Peachy, then ya, it’s damn sparkly.
Peachy owns those keyboards, bashing them quite intensely at times, and gently loving them at others (Ooo, I like how I described that!). I don’t know my keyboards well, but all I can say is it sounds like some sort of Hammond organ, essential to make something sound psychedelic and trippy. Clara Hunter on vocals, to me, sounds very much like The Deal sisters, from the Breeders; kind of stoned, a lazy, bit raspy, almost folksy voice, and with an added echo effect it almost seems as if someone is singing harmony.
Song one, “best”Â, is partly a cover of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”Â, with far less of an eighties pop feel and far more of a creepy, haunting, atmospheric feel. I have no clue at what point they figured that the lyrics from “Simply the Best”Â fit in with this song but, surprise, surprise, it works.
My favorite track on the album is “aphonia”Â which reminds me of Bush’s “Machine Head”Â, with a car-chase soundtrack thing going on until it hits a vocal break, where Ms. Hunter sounds more Bjork-ish than Deal-ish and the true power of her voice is revealed. It’s a good hard driving song with Sam Kulik on bass and Matt Marlin (who directed and edited the very college art student style video for this song (see below) as well as others) on drums putting in an excellent performance.
The final song on the album “wo”Â starts out with a lovely Celtic fiddle, which I assume is played by Amy Cimini who is credited as playing viola in the band, before drifting back into prog-rock territory. But it is the strongest reference to what are some deep organic, folksy roots which appeals to me as an Americana / Folk / Country fan. If Starring haven’t played Bonnaroo yet, I can’t think of a band better suited.
This really is a well-produced, creative, solid package from beginning to end. I want to put an emphasis on well produced, because it really is; Producer Matt Mehlan (of Skeleton$) is obviously in tune with this band and vice versa and was able to develop an album that sounds powerful, clear and tight, while still keeping some rough edges for a natural, almost live feel.
All in all, it really is a good album (despite the rather dull, bland album cover). Can’t wait to hear more of what Northern Spy Records has to offer and explore some of the many other bands Starring’s members have been in or are still a part of, which according to their bio is quite a large number. I better get listening.
You can order a CD or vinyl copy of ABCDEFG-HIJKLMNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ, or download an MP3 or FLAC version from the Northern Spy Records website.
All words by Chris Hearn. More articles by Chris can be found here.