album reviews

Harmonies for the Haunted
RCA (2005)
The Back Room
Kitchenware Records/Fader (2005)

Although stellastarr* owes much to the Goth brooding of Joy Division and to the New Wave gloom of the Cure, the quartet manages to bury its bleakness under layers of gleaming guitars and a bouncy, danceable beat. That lushness makes stellastarr* sound more dreamy than desolate, despite the melodrama of Shawn Christensen's voice and the despair of such lyrics as "Together we'll find/We're better apart" ("When I Disappear").

The key to stellastarr*'s airy sound lies in the backing vocals of bassist Amanda Tannen, whose gorgeous counter-melodies on the grooving "Sweet Troubled Soul" add as much texture as the song's densely whirling guitars. Even her simple echoes of Christensen's soaring voice on "Love and Longing" and her faint accents on "Lost in Time" add to the group's serene glossiness.

Editors share many of the same sonic influences, but they wear their desperation more visibly on their sleeves. Over restrained, trancelike guitar chords, singer Tom Smith mourns, "I wanted to see/I wanted to see this for myself" on "Fall," while the rawness of "Lights" captures the despondency of someone with nowhere to turn. But Editors aren't always so dreary: The pulsing beats and growing guitars on "Blood" and the frantic, expansive "Bullets" show that the group's emotions can stretch beyond simple despair.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 24 March 2006, Page WE09
.: Items mentioned above on Harmonies for the Haunted (stellastarr*, 2005); The Back Room (Editors, 2005).