Do you like Stereolab? Do you like their girl + guy harmonies and lovely melodies, but are you sometimes annoyed by the wacky computerey sounds that seem like they're in the mix just for the "techno" aspect of it all? No offense to Stereolab, but there have been more than a few moments when I've wondered whether they focus too much on the "lab" and not enough on the "stereo."
If you share this concern, let me present the solution: Stars of Stage and Screen. They are a Brooklyn-based duo who sound like a much bigger band but I guess that's what Ye Olde Miracle of Modern Technology is about. Their new album, American Oddity is a gem. Full of good singalongs for the new century that are fun without being cloying, atmospheric but not pretentious, and technically impressive without showing it off. Lead singer Daughtry Carstarphen has a voice that soars gracefully over the band's (amazingly, it's pretty much just Carstarphen and partner Timothy Roven) grooving, multilayered instrumentation. It's a voice that is pleasing but not overly sweet, much like the sound of the album as a whole.
That's a very good aesthetic, especially when attempting to cover one of the Eighties' biggest, fluffiest ballads: George Michael's "Careless Whisper." Hard to believe that 22 years have gone by since we first heard perhaps the most absurd couplet in pop history: "I'm never gonna dance again / Guilty feet have got no rhythm..." It took George Michael to teach us that a clean conscience was the first step toward funkiness on the dance floor. Thanks, George. Anyway, the Stars of Stage and Screen's version of "Careless Whisper" owes more to another success story of 1985 -- The Jesus and Mary Chain -- than to George Michael, much less Andrew Ridgeley. There's just enough of that Jesus and Mary fuzztone to create a nice contrast with the exquisite sappiness of the original lyrics and oh-so-tender melody. Don't get me wrong: I'm no Wham-hater and I'm certainly not down on George Michael. As far as I can tell, the guy just gets better looking and smarter with age. And he gave a free concert for 2,000 National Health Service nurses in London last year to thank them for the good care they gave his dying mother. What's not to love?
But this is a Stars of Stage and Screen review, so let's get back to that (although they kind of asked for it by covering "Careless Whisper," didn't they?). I'm sure they would give a free concert for nurses if the opportunity presented itself.
So here's the bottom line: the album is beautiful. If I had to speculate, I'd say that the perfect activity to accompany listening to American Oddity would be taking a long walk through a city at any time of day or night. The music is dreamy and atmospheric enough to make any town seem mysterious and full of possibility. Fans of the aforementioned Stereolab, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, and Mates of State will love Stars of Stage and Screen. Run along now: pop it in the iPod and into the city you go.