Major Stars

Mirror/Messenger

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Earlier in 2007, when Major Stars' single "Portable Freak Factory" was released, there were high hopes for the follow-up album. The band, with founding members Wayne Rogers, Kate Biggar, and Tom Leonard, underwent a metamorphosis between albums 4 and number five, Syntoptikon. Leonard is now on third guitar, Dave Dougan (Life Partners) is on bass, and Casey Keenan (Carlisle Sound) is on drums. But the biggest change is singer Sandra Barrett, ex-L.A. Drugs, replaces Rogers as the band's new lead vocalist. (Word has it that in performance, Ms. Barrett spends as much time tossing with the crowd as she does on the stage.) Mirror/Messenger, recorded between 2006 and 2007 at Analog Divide, is missing something, though, despite the dense possibilities of a sextet with a trio of guitars up front. Perhaps it's the lack of punch in the rhythm section. It's not that there isn't any; it's clear there are and they pack a wallop, but the mix job is muddy, leaving their impact blunted considerably. The other thing missing is the lack of distinction and noise a powerful three-guitar lineup can provide. The first couple of tracks feature Barrett's vocals so far up in the mix that they dull the impact of the sonic assault. And let's face it, for the past nine years, Major Stars have been working on a "sound:" crazy guitar-driven hard rock with pop hooks stretched to the breaking point. The songwriting has gotten better and better, the live sound has become more powerful without a concession of form, but the mix on this disc? What a disappointment. "Portable Freak Factory" still has the necessary wallop but largely because the guitars are all on top and the drums are really present. Elsewhere, such as on the nearly nine-minute pop song gone free-form guitar freak-out "My People," and the closing title cut that's nearly ten minutes long, they come much closer, but there is no bass throb, it's muted to a hum, and cymbals sound like afterthoughts when they should be leading the rhythmic charge with the floor tom. "Can End Today" is a killer song, with its rushing head on lyric-into-the-sonic fray balanced with the dynamic of an anthemic psychedelic love song; it careens and pulls back in all the right places. The drums get their single moment to really shine even as the layered guitars roar and shriek and wail into the feedback void. Mirror/Messenger is an almost. The songs are there, better than ever before; the vocal is great though it needs to blend in as part of the ensemble more rather than simply be placed so far above it (if the lyrics are solid -- and they are -- it's OK to make the listener work a bit for them), and at times, the three guitars are even put to their best use (though it's clear the band needs to learn to employ this strength to its best effect). But the bottom end sound isn't there, it's almost M.I.A., and as such it blunts the power of the recording. Here's looking forward to when this difficulty is resolved

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