Harmonies for the Haunted

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Almost two years to the day have passed since stellastarr*'s eponymous debut won over the hearts of hipsters and nostalgia addicts with their audio smoothie of everything '80s and '90s. During this time Interpol released Antics, and there was no doubt that stellastarr* was quietly lurking in the background, scribbling notes about song arrangements and dynamics. The homework and study paid off, and the bandmembers took what they learned and applied it to their own sound for Harmonies for the Haunted. And while they've done a good job, the same problem that plagued their first album has swollen immensely. Harmonies for the Haunted is an interesting paradox: they have presented something new without it really being new. A game of "name that influence" runs rampant from the album's start to its closing seconds. The album shows promise thematically with its opener, "Lost in Time," which sounds a bit like Coldplay covering the Cure's "Pictures of You," but only after Chris Martin sucked on lemons for an hour. From the first song onward, the group wanes and retreats into one predictable musical exercise after another. Shawn Christensen flexes his vocal muscles to reveal a hybrid between the booming vocal delivery of Interpol's Paul Banks, the Cure's Robert Smith, and the Chameleons UK's Mark Burgess, with a little bit of a whiny Danzig thrown in the stew for good measure, and the band sounds good from a technical standpoint. The production is heavy and dense, but very well polished -- crafted with the finest post-punk dynamics in mind for maximum hipster enjoyment. But strip away the gloss and the group is really, in the words of James Brown, "talkin' loud and sayin' nothin'."

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