Philadelphia's trio Stellarscope have actually, for more than a decade, been recording music. Over that time they've built up an impressive number of releases -from albums and EPs to compilations and tributes. It's a substantial list, and one that inflated my anticipation to hear their eponymous record tenfold! Unfortunately however the group just don't deliver for me. An eleven track effort, there isn't enough substance behind them to hold my interest and a plethora of reasons besides. The vocals from Tom Lugo aren't terrible at all, but the aesthetic of the album is one of throwback sounds, circa 80s and 90s indie pop. A lo-fi sensibility is almost expected from such an ethos, but most of the time Stellarscope move away from charming low-fidelity and into the realm of a noisy and unrefined lack of quality. Muffled lyricism does nothing to elevate the band's obvious writing ability either, and by the time you've reached the second half your attention has begun to wander. That's not to say some tracks aren't great, because they are, but as a shift in sound from Stellarscope I must admit it is a path I don't wish to follow. My expectations were somewhat downtrodden!
'Stellaracope' opens with 'You Always Know' and immediately the vocals become lost in a strange space-age throb. The chorus doesn't help, as voice upon voice accumulates in an almighty confusion. There are a few effects thrown in, from epic mechanical whirrs to a senseless, tension-fuelled drum beat, but they work surprisingly well. The next track 'What Happened Here' follows in the same manner, introduced by fantastically stark electronic phrases, but again it turns into incomprehensible noise. I know noise-pop is a hard genre to understand, but this just feels accidental, as though the noise was simply rushed and in a way just allowed to grow out of control. 'Fight Another Day' in its aggression falls short of the desired effect, but 'Beauty Awaits' goes some way in redeeming my lost attention. A six minute monster, the vocals have finally gained a subtly and understated presence that I was looking for. It takes two minutes of refined instrumental before they're injected into the music, and it's indeed a respite from the previous numbers in every sense of the word.
'Tangled Web You Weave' seems to work off the back of 'Beauty Awaits' and once again you can appreciate the track both lyrcially and vocally. The intricacy of the drums and nostalgic nature of the guitar shine through the lo-fi hum that for the most part is kept to a minimum. 'Feel the Pain' was the point at which I sat up, eager to see whether or not this three-track streak could continue. Prolonged notes work with the noise to amplify their passion and vocal exertion, and alien samples dapple its listen. 'I Am So Alone' sounds a lot like Joy Division singing-wise and 'Is It So Sad To Say's tempo changes make for a nice variation between verses. 'She is No Angel' follows 'This We Know's shoegaze sensibility. It's a stunning penultimate number, its gritty guitars throbbing and pop-punk vocals apt in their anger. The final number hones back to the group's space-rock roots and closes the album on a positive vibe, which is startling in its contrast to the beginning of 'Stellarscope'!
This is an album of two halfs. The first and arguably the more important doesn't live up to expectations. The second works a lot better, but still lacks the noticable refinement and polish that I was holding out for. It's an uncertain effort, wobbling on legs obviously unused to the genre the trio have chosen to explore. As you know I like to listen to an album all the way through, as the artists intend, without skipping or missing out tracks. As it is these songs therefore don't work. You shouldn't have to listen through ten minutes of noise in order to reach the tracks that do away with such. In the end this record was an effort, and even those final tracks couldn't dispell this rain-cloud of sighs and groans. Stream 'Beauty Awaits' down below, as its the best number here, and then find the full-length album here!