I put the new Stellastarr* record on after a dinner BBQ in my backyard this weekend as chill out, chat, drink beers music. It was only about the third time I'd listened to it and obviously, it was the first spin for the handful of buddies around. I didn't even realize it at first, but there were points in the record when kids around the table would start singing along with the songs; "Damn This Foolish Heart," "Sweet Troubled Soul," and especially "Born in a Fleamarket," the album's most immediate and first-album Stellastarr*-esque tunes apparently still have the ability to be instantly hummable and head-bobable. Stellastarr* haven't abandoned the reasons why kids love to dance up at the front of the stage at their shows, but on their sophomore effort, Harmonies for the Haunted the band has grown musically and lyrically in all the ways you hoped they might.
Opening track, "Lost in Time," opens with an unexpected piano, but before the one-minute mark hits, guitars and bass kick in with Arthur Kremer anchoring the tune with tom-heavy drumming. It's an interesting choice for a re-introduction to the band, but sets the tone for Harmonies for the Haunted, especially with Amanda Tannen's ethereal back-up vocals floating above the building guitar parts. The next real stand out track on the record is track 3, "The Diver." It's a darker track than what Stellastarr* listeners may be used to, and in fact, that can be said of a majority of the album. Not to say the new album isn't as propulsive, catchy or hit-repeat worthy as Stellastarr*. One can imagine mid-album track "Precious Games" following "In the Walls" during the Stellastarr* live show and the hipsters doing their knee-pump to the chugging drums on "When I Disappear." But the anchor of Harmonies for the Haunted is track 7, "On My Own." This track fully showcases both Shawn Christensen's growth as a songwriter and lead vocalist. On HFTH Shawn's voice has lost much of the yelpey dancey feel of the first record in favor of a more mature sound, which compliments how much the band seems to have grown musically. "On My Own," has Shawn repeating, pleading, explaining, "I'm doing the best that I can," over an ever-building string line while the band is thrashing away at their instruments. The song is fucking epic. Final track, "Island Lost at Sea," wraps up HFTH and works perfectly segueing directly back into "Lost in Time," as all good final songs should. You just have to wait for the secret song to play, oh yeah; they're taking it back to the secret song.