If synth punk no longer sounds like so strange a term, given how bands like the Screamers and other, more obscure fellow travelers have since been lionized, there's still the matter of making aggressive, keyboard-led or informed rock music that works beyond an instant thrill factor. Given their roots in Arab on Radar, it's little surprise that the Chinese Stars have proven their abilities over a series of releases. But six albums into their career, they seem to have reached a spot between inspiration and treading water. Heaven on Speed Dial is ultimately too locked into a single approach to maintain full interest throughout the album, yet at its best, it provides an immediate, thrilling buzz. A song like "Body" has the full sense of "we are wired and on the edge and about to go insane" impact to a T, helped as well by a fantastic drum sound, while "House Is Burning" rides the impact of its gripping introduction, not new in its sound, but given extra heft in its immediate, anthemic delivery. They can take it at a slow pace as well, as "No Car No Job" shows, especially with the huge bass groan on the break. The weak spot is, perhaps surprisingly, Eric Paul's singing, he sometimes delivers lyrics that seem little more than shrug-worthy clichés, and other times seemingly holds himself back when the rest of the music is full to the fore. "Kill Me with Your Conversation," though, demonstrates all too easily why it's probably for the best that he quiets down once in a while. Little question, though, that they'll be back with a new album soon enough, and that there's a good chance everything will connect all the more strongly next time out.
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