Head of Femur

Hysterical Stars

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Head of Femur returns with Hysterical Stars, an album of orchestral, briskly mischievous pop that uses the crazier moments of the band's debut, Ringodom or Proctor, as a launching point and makes them even more, well, hysterical. Boasting bigger, brighter productions and arrangements with keyboards, brass, and strings that bounce around hyperactively yet precisely, the album recalls '60s novelty pop hits like "Yellow Submarine," "Winchester Cathedral," and "MacArthur Park" as much as it does more culturally approved psych-pop artifacts such as Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Head of Femur's wide-eyed, wild-eyed playfulness is both the band's greatest strength (even the ballads "Song for Richard Manuel" and "Sometimes Friends" have Cheshire cat-like smile shadows lurking around their edges) and weakness. When it works, as on the breezy "Do the Cavern" and "Ringodom or Proctor" (which didn't actually appear on Ringodom or Proctor itself), it's irresistible. However, on weaker tracks like "The Sausage Canoe" -- which features a tuba, ukulele, and watery sound effects -- it feels like quirkiness for quirkiness' sake. The way that Head of Femur picks up ideas, bats them around, and then drops them like sugar-buzzing kids left alone in a toy store makes Hysterical Stars a collection of moments rather than a cohesive album. But oh, those moments: the triumphant brass on "Manhattan," the twinkling keyboards on "Percy," and "Easy Street"'s ramshackle chorus all have enough charm to make up for some of Hysterical Stars' more awkward bits. The album's best tracks, such as "The Skirts Are Takin' Over" and "Oh You're Blue," are playful and polished, like a masterfully done finger painting; even though most of Hysterical Stars is more intriguing than satisfying, enough of it works that it can't be dismissed easily.

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