Stellarscope – s/t

Stellarscope - s/t

Stellarscope - s/t

This review makes for the third occasion on which I’ve written about the music of Stellarscope, and their new self titled album marks even more of a departure from what I had thought 2009’s This Is Who We Are album had defined as the band’s sound. Merging and colliding elements of Dreampop, old-school Indie and Metal, Stellarscope showed themselves as experimentalists whose wilful disregard for the constraints of genre produced innovative and sometimes breathtaking soundscapes. In 2010, the Call Me Destroyer EP had Stellarscope delving into Space Rock, slowing down the tempos and upping distortion levels to near mesmeric frequencies, and my only real criticism was that it wasn’t a full album. Now, Stellarscope shows that the group are continuing to develop their musicality, and their refusal to repeat themselves, their rejection of formulaic approaches to music making, has produced an album that, while it doesn’t quite defy classification, owes little to what has preceded it.

Essentially, Stellarscope is a pop record and not a rock one although exactly what that can mean is open to interpretation. If there’s one set of influences that provide a thematic backdrop to the eleven songs on the album, it’s that of early 80s electropop, although this is only a very loose guideline. Stellarscope started making music in the mid 1990s and don’t expect technically accurate, overly reverential recreations of the music of OMD, Depeche Mode, Ultravox or any other band whose influence has lasted over three decades. Lightening the dense and abrasive textures of the Destroyer EP with keyboard and electro percussion, upping the BPMs and developing a sharper tone than I’ve yet heard them display, Stellarscope reconfigure their sound several stages beyond what I expected to hear. And demolishing preconceptions is what actually defines innovative musicality.

Opening track “You Always Know”, with its competing guitar and synths is an immediate indicator of Stellarscope’s altered direction. There are the harmonic discordancies in the songs melody that provide a link with the bands earlier songwriting, but the song itself is a nervy power pop number, interspersed with keyboard glissandos that in less experienced hands would collide against the songs tune. Here, they complement each other spectacularly. “Fight Another Day” is a blast of full-on Garage Punk that verges on chaotic atonality, breaking into electronica right where you might expect to hear amp-shredding levels of guitar feedback. “Beauty Awaits” takes a relatively simplistic synth part and develops it into a swirling madrigal that leads into the song proper, a sequenced jigsaw falling in and out of place. It’s simultaneously reminiscent of several 70s and 80s bands and also entirely Stellarscopes own creation. “Tangled Web You Weave” is as complicated as its title suggests, resembling several songs phasing into a cohesive totality, based around a noir-ish keyboard motif. “I Am So Alone” and “Is It So Sad To Say” are synth-led, the first of these a coldly repetitive ballad that contains some of the albums least restrained guitar work (Stellarscope are masters of paradox in their song arrangements) while the second is more definitely upbeat, verging on summery tune, underscored by the vehemence of its lyrical sentiments. Lastly, “This Is Only Fair” is a densely structured spiral of atmospherics and powerchords, ending the album on as fractalised a note as it began.

With this eponymous release, Stellarscope combine their multifaceted influences, unleash some verging upon apocalyptic energies and, while continuing to develop their overall sound, perhaps define themselves as actual originals. It’s both a demanding and accessible listen, with Stellarscope themselves revealing a skilfully realised balance of contrasting and occasionally conflicting elements in their songwriting and musicianship. Perhaps it’s their most fully realised release to date: I quite expect Stellarscope to reveal even greater depths to their abilities with their next album, and I’m already anticipating that.