A four note, staccato bass opening can’t help but throw you head first into Pixies territory. That niche was so intricately carved that even gesturing towards its opens up the floodgates to a whole host of connotations and comparisons that the majority of bands who do so buckle under. But Dead Stars opt to do so on the inaugural track of their second LP, Bright Colors, and you can see why. It’s a fitting place to begin, the group’s sound is entirely indebted to Frank Black as well as Evan Dando, Rivers Cuomo and Fountains of Wayne. There are shifting dynamics aplenty and a genuine sense of angst on the majority of the songs. While it very seldom touches the same magic as its influences, it is a fun thirty-five minutes of fuzzed out pop rock with some real shining cuts.
Bright Colors, like so many albums it’s ilk, is a record that should have been reduced to a handful of singles, though. The nature of their songwriting works best in small, isolated doses. ‘Calm Punk’, the aforementioned opener, is fantastic; four fuzzy chords, Bob Mould and J. Robbins vocals and enough loud-quiet-loud to satisfy any lover of mid-1990s alternative rock. It’s a wonderful treasure that does everything it sets out to do in a sharp and effective manner. The same can be said of ‘In My Mind’, which has the kind of unmistakable and instantly charming chorus you could imagine being on heavy rotation on MTV’s “120 Minutes”, and of the album closer ‘Oh Well’. That track, which has this slightly spaced out sensibility that gives it this almost Dandy Warhols aura when they thought they could be pop stars. They’re all excellent songs and, when experienced separately, they shine brighter and embed themselves into you with such ease. The issue is that they’re not independent pieces, they’re part of a collective whole.
Unless there is a willingness to implement synthesizers or other instrumentation à la Weezer or Fountains of Wayne, then this style of music gets bland at an alarming speed, particularly in the album format. There are ten tracks here and within the half hour runtime, you struggle to identify more than half of them. They’re not bad, they’re all a perfectly acceptable example of what Dead Stars want to achieve, but they’re only that. Acceptable. There is a formula at play here that is followed with a such a rigidity that it begins to drain the fun on each listen. When you first enter the record, there is a genuine excitement; what these guys are doing is fun and it’s a nice throwback to some halcyon days. But upon revisiting, the dividends of fun steadily diminish to the point where the initial spark of joy slides into an apathy and the music follow suit, skulking away into the background. For a band who can write songs as good as ‘Calm Punk’ and ‘In My Mind’, it’s disheartening to see them stumble on this kind of issue.
If you want something like a Teenage Fanclub, Guided By Voices or even Green Album Weezer, then this record, while it won’t change your life, will satiate that desire. It’s a solid effort marred by a lack of variance and willingness to explore the full scope of what this genre can achieve. There’s fun here, but it’s best enjoyed in small nuggets. Will Murphy