The Atari Star

Dispelling the Myth of Accurate Maps

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Indie rock has become so cluttered with bands of so little imagination, it's hard to remember there's so much unexplored territory still for those willing to do something more than emulate a wearying formula. But Atari Star is one of the wished-for exceptions. Too subtle and nice to be emo, too aggressive to be indie pop or slowcore, they are like a louder, sterner, more dangerous Death Cab for Cutie. The crack Chicago quartet mixes the pleasant with the heavy, the thoughtful with the thrilling, the sincere with the uncompromising -- and none of these six songs is like the other. Singer/guitarist Marc Ruvulo has a striking voice, one that stays consistently just south of a falsetto, adding drama. He and other guitarist Thom Dapper squeeze liquid lullabies out of their lingering, ringing arpeggios (or, on the title track, the House of Love's "Love in a Car"-like ghostly feedback), as Rob Vester's bass bobs and weaves and Davey Houle's drums switch from sharp rat-a-tat pounding, past snare to floor tom, to deft touch-tapping. When they turn up the decibels on the instrumental "And What About Ambition," they approach the precipitous post-psychedelic stratospheres of 1980-1982 Echo & the Bunnymen (with the sort of swirling snake guitars Will Sergeant used to love), but with an American grit more akin to Modest Mouse, recent Superchunk, and Sebadoh. (Memo to band: more of this hard stuff, please!) Whereas on the more midtempo numbers, little bits of keyboards and piano add tone, pulling the listener in different directions from the nervous guitars. The songs are unpredictable and strong, Ruvulo's lyrics are as interesting as his Morrissey-esque titles, and Greg Norman's recording is scintillating. Here's betting they're fantastic live, too.

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