Monday, February 8, 2010

awkward stage

When your uncle fronts The Flaming Lips your band is likely to have certain advantages other bands don't. Like a spot as the opening act on the Lips' tour last fall. Or a stint as co-conspirators with the Lips' on a their collaborative album covering Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And it almost seems like too much of a coincidence that Stardeath and White Dwarfs were signed by The Flaming Lips' record label, Warner Brothers. But Stardeath's greatest advantage might be that Dennis Coyne, Stardeath's front-man, shares something with his wacky Uncle Wayne that few in this world are privy to: that crazy Coyne DNA.

Dennis Coyne is second on the left.

I'll be honest, the my main reason I purchased The Birth -- Stardeath's debut album released last summer -- was because of the band's relation, musically and genetically, to the Flaming Lips.

When I was in a band in high school -- The Manhattan Project -- we had to do things the hard way. We didn't have Myspace or Facebook as a promotion tool for gigs and other band happenings (though I'd argue that our message board could've held its own against said social networking sites). And recording nowadays is so much simpler, any fool with Pro Tools and a few decent mics can make you sound so much better than most of our "professional" studio recordings turned out -- recordings that required hundreds (thousands?) of our (parents') hard earned dollars.

Yes, we were a few years behind the technology curve. It was the band equivalent of walking to school seven miles uphill both ways in the snow with no shoes.

Now, I'm not saying that Stardeath's success is based solely on their relation to the Flaming Lips or that bands today don't go through similar hardships before they "hit the big-time". I just feel like The Birth would be a more successful album had it been recorded and released under the circumstances that The Manhattan Project was subject to. I'll explain: The Birth sounds like an album from a new band that is still defining itself (aptly named album, eh?). A couple songs seem too calculated; sometimes lyrics are forgettable. And these things sound so out of place on an album so polished and pristine. Part of what makes albums like Pinkerton and For Emma, Forever Ago so great is that they're so rough and raw -- it's obvious they were self-produced, obvious that the artists didn't have to answer to a label-appointed producer. I feel like The Birth could have been better as a do-it-yourself album, like the two just mentioned. (It took me all that to say it's over-produced. Ha.)

But don't get me wrong here, The Birth is still a solid record and not every song bears the markings of an embryonic band. (Get it?? That pun works on two levels, actually.) The tracks "New Heat," "Keep Score," and "Those Who Are from the Sun Return to the Sun" are quite cohesive and original. What's more, the album manages to maintain a certain grit, albeit occasionally polished, that I find quite refreshing, especially in the midst of today's subdued, squeaky clean indie-pop trend.

I think most bands go through that musical awkward stage; the lucky ones pass through it before releasing a record. So with that, I look forward to Stardeath's emergence from sonic puberty.

P.S. You can catch a younger Dennis Coyne in the music video for "Fight Test". He's the kid who gets shoved around and eats dirt at the end.

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