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Audio Reviews
Lovely Rebel Records (2007)
There is a lot to be said for warmth—for fuzz, buzz, scuzz, skronk, and all of those ingeniously onomatopoetic terms that rock-crits lob in the general direction of lo-fi production values, overdriven guitars, and tube amps. Above all other terms in the rock-crit lexicon, warmth is the one word most-associated with imperfection in music. Think of the overwhelming sonic splang and drone of a VOX or Orange amp mated with a Gibson Les Paul and a Crybaby Wah. Recall the dirty buzz of a Hendrix riff, the underlying snap and crackle of old vinyl, and the watery warble of Jaco Pastorius’s fretless four-string. Warmth is indistinct and ambiguous: it is that grey area occupied by fractions of fractions of decibels that hover above and sink below a perfect D minor chord. It comes from tuning by ear, from acknowledging that perfection is both boring and physically unattainable, and that, more often than not, “close enough” is as good as it gets.

Warmth is the same feeling that I get from STAR’s Devastator, which is itself an album overrun by imperfections. Low-level percussion bleeds into buzzsaw guitar riffs that are themselves drenched in airy, doubled vocals and thrown headlong into rumbling bass lines. Devastator is catastrophic and, for lack of a better word, noisy. But it is filled with honest-to-goodness pre-production noise, the same kind of unfiltered atmospherics that you would encounter at a live show, on AM radio, or while listening to your old LPs. Some may think it a sign of laziness or inexperience with recording. Personally, I find that kind of let-it-be graininess endearing. Such distortion is part and parcel of the divergent sounds that comprise a song, and removing all of the squips, squeaks, and squops is like unnecessary cosmetic surgery—it is a disservice to the inherent beauty of the original article.

Go natural, says I, and STAR’s Chicagoan trio of Theodore Beck, Scott Cortez, and Shannon Roberts do just that. Sure, there is a liberal smattering of effects pedals and synth effects at work in Devastator, what with Beck’s canned beats and lint-encrusted bass riffs, Cortez’s fuzzed-out guitar licks, and Roberts’ echoing lilt. Even so, it does not feel like a forced aesthetic meant to garner street cred with the lo-fi sect (guitar feedback = 20 Scene Points), nor is it a post-production audio filter thrown in by some retro-minded sound tech. Nope—it is all STAR, baby, and it sounds grand.

Cuing up a synthetic drone like a cut from Yo La Tengo or Windsor for the Derby, “Pure Gold Reason” wastes no time in introducing STAR’s two best (or, most prominent) features: Cortez’s sawmill riffs and Roberts’s oft-incomprehensible croons. Coupled with Beck’s straightforward 4/4 stomp of bass and beats, Cortez and Roberts craft weighty gems that are all the more endearing for their uncut roughness. “Exploding Order,” “Switchblade Heart,” “No More Party,” and “Liars in Love” follow suit with the fuzz and buzz licks underneath soft-spoken vox and simple, chorus-centric pop ditties, which is more or less the formula for every track on Devastator (an observation, not a complaint).

Simple, yeah, but the delightful messiness of STAR’s debut album is just what my inner head-bobbing show-shuffler needed to shake off the winter doldrums and get ready to rock out to spring.
Posted by: Tom Körp

Audio Reviews (May 5th, 2007)

Tags: audio, review, star, devastator, lovely rebel records