Sunday, May 9, 2010

Stellarium - Debut Album

I'm always pleased when a band or artist directly asks me to review their music. This is a more personal (and therefore higher level) of request than, say, having a PR company do it for them. If I like the music (and artist), as a general rule this level of request will most always receive first priority attention.

I had already gotten familiar with the band Stellarium after I downloaded their live at Blackhole bootleg this past November (offered for free on their MySpace page - link at the bottom of this review). It was love at first listen as the music they were making paid tribute to the sound I find myself gravitating back to more and more as the days go by - that being the golden age of music - the shoegaze sound of the early 1990's. I was instantly blown away at the sound quality and artistic vision of Stellarium - and the way they built their sound on the foundation laid by The Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.

So, when frontman Az Kadir contacted me about doing a review of their debut album, I was more than happy to do so. When you think of the city of Singapore - you're not likely to at first conjure up thoughts of early 90's shoegaze/stoner/noise/dream-pop. Yet that is in fact where Stellarium hails from. Along with Az on guitar and vocals, the band consists of Mar on bass and vocals, Bach on drums and Fid on additional guitars.

The album opens with "Any Day Is Fine," and you are immediately hit with a barrage of guitars that shriek, wail and churn with controlled chaos. “I don’t like to be this way, don’t wanna lie all the time,” Az sings.

Multiple layers of guitars swirl and feedback against drum machine patterns that take The Sisters of Mercy's "Doctor Avalanche" approach, but move it to a less static level. The chorus is deadpan doom & gloom that goes “I’d kill myself if I were you. I’d hate myself if I were you. I’d die anytime if I were you – and any day is fine.”

The guitars and bass synch together as one in a beautiful synchronicity of hazy sonic squall.

Az wears a t-shirt that shows a keen sense of awareness
Following that is "Chocolate & Strawberry" a straight forward driving piece that redefines the "fuzz bass" sound. A Place To Bury Strangers' Jono Mofo would be proud. The vocals delivered in a smooth and unhurried way. A song about the perils of attempting to get “high” on “cheap thrills” and how “prescriptions fail to satisfy.” A valuable lesson to learn.
“Harbinger” brings a deep echo and reverb to its opening verse, this time enhanced by bright single guitar notes. A cautionary tale about the war-like nature of mankind. “See the chaos, see what the war has done to us,” Az sings. “Deep inside the bars of hate, contemplation brings you down.” Reading those words its understandable how, if not hearing the music, one might mistake this as the work of a death metal band. But the sonic aspects of Stellarium couldn’t be further from that. Cascading and exploding into a gorgeous wash of sound that straddles the lines between heavenly bliss and a hellish nightmare from below. It’s a pure wall of fuzz, voices and emotion. If Phil Spector could be sprung from the can and convinced to produce some new music, I’d like to think he’d be going in this direction. “All the LIES bring you down,” Az continues. Just when you think it can’t get any more intense, another sonic level is added. Additional layers of guitars are lathered over top of that. The drumming is lively and vibrant. An addition of a gorgeous coda highlights what already is an impressive song.

Mar is the picture of the pretty female bassist

“Vertigo” continues this record’s theme with more luscious feedback. A cymbal heavy percussion track powers the forward momentum. The descending chord progression has an almost Bauhaus-like feel to it. There are also the same sonic qualities that made me love The Vandelles debut album. Soft, blurry vocals, reverberated chord progressions, walls of blissfully buzzy guitars.

“Paddle Pop” immediately hits you with a sound-wash that wouldn’t be out of place inside one of Sonic Youth’s extended instrumental breakdowns. Slowly emerging from this buzzing wall of bees comes something of a melody. Male/female vocals in the best My Bloody Valentine mode. Think “When You Sleep.” Heavenly. The endout really pulls out all the Sonic Youth/Lou Reed Metal Machine Music/Kevin Shields “holocaust” bombastics.

Bach delivers the solid rhythmic propulsion
“The Grass Is Greener” brings to mind the slow descending vibe of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Teenage Lust.” There are some quite amusing lyrics to this song – about “the summer of love” and (more about) “getting high.” Of course the only way you could ever know this, is to actually read the lyrics somewhere. Because you’d never be able to make them out by simply listening, as the vocals are buried so low in the mix. Clearly the emphasis is on the SOUND and the textures presented. A lead guitar melody line emerges, and becomes an additional dominant focal point for the listener.

“Tomorrow’s Monday” has less distorted guitar chords and a distant clacking percussion to mark out its progression. The brief beginning of lyrics sketch out the beginnings of a “working class hero” who “goes insane” as the system ultimately fails. Quite cleverly, the artists here then suggest you ‘fill in your own lyrics” as this “song is for you.”. Hey – that’s something I’ve been doing for years now!

Guitarist Fid channels the haze
Moving now to the heavyweight tracks on the album, “Fader” presents some nice, rattle-y drums n’ cymbals that are quite live and organic sounding. The guitars employ a rising sonic effect that gives the sensation of your head “lifting off.” Fellow shoegaze brethren Resplendor used this effect quite masterfully on their most recent album as well. Stellarium shows musical sophistication with their tempo changes within songs. Here one emerges in the center, with some tasty guitar soloing over top of it. This time I’m reminded of the brilliant guitar solo Edgar Froese plays during that extended jam known as “Coldwater Canyon”(from the amazing Encore: Tangerine Dream Live, from that band’s successful 1977 U.S. tour.) Additionally, there are descending guitar passages that at times also echo, say, something The Edge might do (circa “I Will Follow”) – especially on the elongated end-out.

The over 8 minute “final” track on the album – “Dead Nebula” begins with a foreboding, snare drum driven progression that might slot nicely next to early Sisters of Mercy (when Andrew Eldrich & Wayne Hussey first started the band). The vocals here are breathy and ethereal. Again, an impressive tempo change, with tom tom’s now marking out the time. The guitars being to swirl as the tension builds. Suddenly it all bursts open and the dual guitar attack (panned left-to-right in the speakers) begins to shred. From the four and a half minute mark to the end of the 8 minutes, it’s nothing but this.

I may love this band more than I realize. They combine two of my very fave things – shoegaze textures (and attitude) and shredding, bombastic, noise assault guitars. See The Raveonettes on songs like “Aly, Walk With Me” and “Breakup Girls” – and just about everything A Place To Bury Strangers does.

The album gives you a bonus (secret) track at the end. “Summer Bloodbath” doesn’t get started till a minute and a half into it (and I’ve never been a big fan of the extended silence intro) but when it does finally get going, there’s initial flanged guitars and a shuffling mechanical percussive track that’s reminiscent of Airiel’s “Sugar Crystals” (a track I completely love). Bathed over top of that are cascading waves of honey-soaked fuzzy guitars and ghostly vocals. There’s a distant melody there too – Lovely – romantic. The kind of romantic melody that a band like Ringo Deathstarr does so well. Just as suddenly – the track – and the album – is over.

Stellarium makes it very easy for fans to sample their wares. They have recently made available for free dowload - a recent live performance.

Download here:

You can also get the live at Blackhole bootleg, here:

But be sure to grab a copy of their magnificent full-length studio album release, here:

You can also find out more about the band here:


Mr Smork said...

so the word about DC has been spread.... and it's cool. wasn't very deep in to descriptions or interpretations, but it was a nice and neat review, i think.
the band sounds really psychedelic to me... :) and the girl that plays the bass girl look pretty.... i think... :P

deadmandeadman said...

You have piqued my interest here, that's for certain

DaveCromwell said...

Well I hope I am getting the word out (about all these bands I've been writing about).

Girls with guitars - pretty much always look good to me, Mr. Smork. Dudes with scraggly beards and ill-fitting clothing? Not so much ;-)

But of course, it's how it sounds that matters the most.

x said...

I truly enjoyed reading this entry, more than I enjoyed reading any of your previous writings, Dave.

First- the band's music. I've downloaded both live albums and listened to the tracks on their MySpace. They're the best shoegaze band since The Raveonettes to me. First- their songs actually have lenght and the compositions are build in the most creative and professional way.
Second- most of the bands out there can kick ass OR play atmospheric tunes. Stellarium does both.
Third- they are truly professional in writing the music, their sound is powerful and hypnotizing. They will be great.

Second- I've noticed a few interesting thoughts and concepts you tried to put a light on in this entry. You write about how this band combines the best qualities of many other bands. It's a great example of one of the fundamental elements of real art- that there is no "top" to be reached, there is no end for art, there is always unlimited space for growth, new ideas and better execution of these. Whatever is achieved in any form of art- it's just the beginning. It's just touching the surface of infinite depth. Writing about music and using this kind of thinking is absolutely unique, needed and powerful in many ways. What's even better is that you're able to combine two things in your writings, two things that rarely go together in any kind of music journalism- extreme and "romantic" enthusiasm for this form of art as well as very clear and cool, informative style which allows you to write in a totally professional way.

Both. Thumbs. Up.

DaveCromwell said...

I'm glad you like them, Radek (I had a feeling that you would). You are spot on correct with your assessment of their music. The "kick ass" playing and "atmospheric" combination is a killer one.

It's great to hear new bands out there are doing this.

Anonymous said...

Great review. Im dont like the music that much though. Might have a better listen some time later :)

DaveCromwell said...

Ah, ok Anouk. Well, at least you gave the music a listen. Yeah, give it another listen in a bit - and see if you don't change your mind about it (somewhat).

Here is a great comment from one of my Facebook friends that really needs to be here too:

From Jaguar Bytes

May 10, 2010 at 7:19pm

See, that's what makes the difference between a good review and just another fill in the blanks sort. Sometimes I'm convinced that the reviewer doesn't have a clue what he's talking about and wasn't interested enough to do his (or her) homework. Only following up on some assignment as though it's a high school book report for a book they've chosen to only skim through the Cliff Notes for.

The other type that drive me crazy are the ones that are all flowered up with fancy words but once you stop to think about what the music sounds like, you still haven't the slightest clue because they never really ever got down to discussing that. You realize that you've spent the entire time dodging a bunch of weeds only to find there's nothing there to give you much at all of what the music actually sounds like.

Anonymous said...

Well how could I resist whne you put it like this "shoegaze textures (and attitude) and shredding, bombastic, noise assault guitars. See The Raveonettes on songs like “Aly, Walk With Me” and “Breakup Girls” – and just about everything A Place To Bury Strangers does."

DaveCromwell said...

Ah, VP.

We know each other so well, don't we!

And surely the things we like.

Elvís Bræburn Orchard said...

PlEASE reupload.