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Artist: Starring


Label: Northern Spy

Review date: Sep. 20, 2012

Starring is the Brooklyn-birthed love child of an orgy between Talibam!, Skeleton$, The Fancy and Pterodactyl, apparently when everyone was high on No Doze and Red Bull. The collective goes by “sparkle prog,” which entails dramatic changes in tempo, chaotic organization where bridges takes center stage and choruses are verses, and long drawn-out songs with complicated rhythms and asymmetric time signatures. In ABCDEFG-HIJKLMNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ, the orchestral group have delivered what initially feels like an homage of sorts with a distinctly euro bent. The familiar thrusts of Faust and Neu! — even at times Tubular Bells — slice through the manic swirl on these six tracks.

Multiple listenings suggest other influences (I hear Laddio Bolocko) and accentuates the writhing pulse that underlies the album. An overarching optimism separates the album from a lot of offerings from “post-” bands, a cheery in-your-face rebuttal of the criticisms of elitism and irrelevance that prog often carries. There’s that unrelenting energy, too: a frenzy of whirling sound, loud, unapologetic and leaving marks, fecund with the dark sexuality usually associated with krautrock. Clara Hunter’s cute voice is used to great affect, distilling a licentiousness that can at times be almost disturbing, but offers a clever point of difference from the traditional prog sound. The sleazy sliding vocals of the opening track, “Best” (a cover of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”), is a case in point. The frenetic wash of sound gives way to Hunter’s Ash Ra Temple / Rosi style sensuality.

While the ascending angels of Hunter’s guitar and Amy Cimini’s viola do indeed sparkle, the thumping Notekillers-ish heat of Sam Kulik on bass and Matt Marlin on drums keep us in that flirtatious plunge with the traditional. The music occasionally rises into this century for air, but mostly sticks to 1970s style prog explosions. It’s the manic keyboards of Peachy (no last name) that travel back and forth through time the most; he tickles the keys on the psych-ish “.............oooooooooooooo,” then establishes a post-punk haze on “wo.” (Yes, all the song titles are as irritating as the album title.)

Something must be said of the production by Matt Mehlan (of Skeleton$), because the sound quality saves this album from becoming a bit perverse. He recorded ABCDEFG-HIJKLMNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ in 2011 in Brooklyn’s St. Cecilia’s Church and managed to retain some of those surroundings in the mix, perhaps best heard on the fifth track, entitled “7,” where the strings are free to fly around the room. This cathedral quality lets Starring’s nuances and subtleties shine on six tracks that are anything but subtle.

By Lisa Thatcher

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