They Came from the Stars I Saw Them

What Are We Doing Here?

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A truly unusual album in a time when so much electronic, rock, and experimental pop music sounds watered down, They Came from the Stars I Saw Them's What Are We Doing Here? mixes these styles of music to unique effect. Following in the footsteps of bands like Soft Cell, Super Furry Animals, and the early Mercury Rev, the group is fearlessly playful over the course of its debut album's nine tracks, spanning the Cheshire Cat-like beat poetry of "They Came from the Stars I Saw Them" to the gorgeous pop of "Starburst," which, with its relentlessly cheerful chorus of "It's good to see you" and its relentlessly catchy but off-kilter melody, sounds more like a subverted jingle or TV show theme than a conventional pop song. Occasionally, the group's experimental tendencies become a bit grating, as on the sound collage "Sunshine Coach Episode 1," although the track is somewhat redeemed by "Sunshine Coach Episode 2," a reworking of the previous song's elements in a more obviously musical fashion. Not surprisingly, They Came from the Stars' less overtly wacky songs are among their best. The percolating "I Am Not Afraid" and "The World Turned Upside Down" nearly rival their influences' most elated, expansive moments; the scratchy, interstellar jam "Beer of the Gods" and the 24-minute finale "The Holy Mountain" are complex and childlike at the same time. It's possible that What Are We Doing Here? might be too kooky and inaccessible for some, and it's true that the band's music is willfully self-indulgent and rife with in-jokes, but the sense of fun that runs through the album makes it inclusive and intoxicating instead of elitist.

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