In 2003, Stellastarr’s marriage of post-punk and alt-pop had a tough time standing out among similarly stylized peers (see: Interpol, The Raveonettes) who were arresting the airwaves. So in 2005, the New York band differentiated its sophomore album, Harmonies for the Haunted, by veering atmospheric, which proved a critical and commercial letdown.
On Civilized, Stellastarr returns to its upbeat refrains, albeit on uneven footing. Opener “Robot” might reel in fans looking for familiarity, but such soulless sustain likely won’t appeal to most. Lead singer Shawn Christensen’s famous staccato (“Freak Out”) breaks up some monotony, but the front of the album remains expected and uninspired. Things start looking up, however, with single “Graffiti Eyes.” Though the punchy “hey”s and “whoa-oh”s are obviously pandering to pop culture, there’s no denying their hooky, happy-feet appeal. Similarly, “Prom Zombie” sounds like a Ting Tings-tinged “Blitzkrieg Bop” that will send even the staunchest shoegazer’s steel toes tapping.
- Beyond the Weekly
While there are moments of Eddie Money (“Move On”) and moments “Just Like Honey” (“Sonja Cries”), the stand-out song “Warchild” signals Stellastarr’s progression into its own. In darker tones, the band steps out of the ’80s into aching full-on modern rock. When Christensen slides down his register and sings, “I want to show you some signs of life,” you finally feel as though Stellastarr is living up to its promise.