It might not surprise you that the four-piece group that hails from Portland, OR, named Starfucker is not your run-of-the-mill band. With a laughingly obscene name – chosen apparently because they wanted to see how successful they could be “with a stupid name like that” – and a fondness for playing their live shows dressed as women (all 4 members are men), this band is one that does things for themselves and doesn’t care what the public reaction will be. However, this description is one that only applies to their manner of making music as a band, and not to the music itself. Joshua Hodges, the lead singer of the group, describes their music as “dance music that you can actually listen to, that’s good pop songs, but also you can dance to it.” This description, while amusingly redundant, is an apt one. Their songs do all contain a universal appeal in that they are enjoyably “dancey”, but are also clearly not meant just for dancing; as they contain a dynamism, lyrical philosophy, and sonic complexity which decidedly puts this band past the objectionable description of being “pop music”.
‘Reptilians’ is the sophomore full-length release for this band, which formed in 2007. And while their self-titled debut release is a good one, and worth obtaining, there is a clear growth and maturity in ‘Reptilians’ which makes it an overall superior album – which is a great sign of things to come. The album kicks off with the song “Born”; a song with playful and childish melodies, a mix of organic and electric drums which combine for a strong backbone, with chaotic (but still jolly) psychedelic highlights emerging throughout the track. It’s not overly complex, but the results are great, and it’s a wonderful album opener.
The second track “Julius” is one that leans more toward their movement-inspiring side, with a solid (but not aggressive) electro-beat, spacey-vocals, and frolicking synth lines – which are used to present both pleasing melodies but also dream-like sonic effects. This is a tactic they use often on this album, and in a successful manner. In “Millions”, we again find romping & youthful synth lines that jump around solidified dance beats, with cloudy vocal stylings. “Mystery Cloud” is also similar in it’s use of the synth, although with more effected vocals and more organic drumming. It is these types of songs that have understandably made people associated Starfucker with the likes of MGMT’s ‘Oracular Spectacular’, Passion Pit, Empire of the Sun, etc. And it is not as if they are merely copying other’s styles, their music has rightfully earned the right to be associated with those bands. However, what’s great about ‘Reptilians’ is that those aren’t the only types of songs on the album. It becomes clear to the listener at the very end of “Mystery Cloud” (which is in the beginning of the album), when there is a little recording of someone expounding some philosophical thoughts about the value of the contemplation of death for the human experience, that this band is deeper and more complex than one may originally have thought.
That little philosophical recording (of which a couple more are to be found throughout the album), leads right into one of the best tracks on ‘Reptilians’, “Death As A Fetish”. A song which has more of an indie-rock feel, walking the line between a song you can dance to and a song you close your eyes and listen to closely. With it’s nonchalant vocals, acoustic guitar, organic drumming, and fuzzy walking synth lines this could very easily be a Beck song – and one he would be proud of. “Astoria” is a track also like this, with it’s indie-rock drum styles, yet electronic melodies, and vocals that just repeat the phrase “I want a simple life” – it becomes one of the more cherished tracks of the album upon repeated listens. Another instance when their dexterity is shown is on “The White of Noon”, where we find a hip-hop like 808 bass line, catchy and quick snare hits, juxtaposed with subdued and wandering vocals. It’s another example of a song that would equally appeal to club-heads and audiophiles. “Mona Vegas” is another track which follows this mode – with it’s Killer’s-like synth lines, 80’s like beat, and more down-cast vocals, it could remind one of the more mature-sounding electronic stylings of Cut Copy.
The song on ‘Reptilians’ which probably sums up Starfucker as a group the best, and is one of the gems of the album, is the track “Quality Time”. Beginning with softly flittering electronic effects as a recording of someone expounding upon the human relationship with the spectrum of the senses, it then unexpectedly leaps into a gritty and fist-pumping-friendly rhythm section. Soon what sounds like an electronic trumpet melodically emerges in the right channel, before a stuttering & bouncy synth line comes into the left, and slowly the energy builds and builds as the structure of the song slowly falls apart into an electronic jubilee. What’s so interesting about the song is that the whole time you are thinking that there must be some corny vocal line that’s going to come in to compliment the catchy – but initially overtly simple – dance beat. That would be a move that would almost guarantee this song’s success among the high school & top-40-type crowd. But instead it never does, it just crescendos into complex electro-instrumental excitement, and then abruptly ends. It’s a good pop song, that you can actually listen to – just like Joshua said. With the philosophic undertones, and a pleasant simpleness that isn’t exactly intuitive or to-be-expected, it reflects a lot upon what’s great about this album.
With all it’s different flavors of indie-rock & electro-pop, ‘Reptilians’ as a whole is a surprisingly cohesive album that flows excellently from beginning to end. It has songs that the ears (and feet) will dig on the first listen, and others that show their charm upon repeated plays. It’s very contemporary, clearly taking for examples many of the successors of the electro-rock movement, but also leaves it’s own mark and gives positive momentum to that said movement. It will work well being played at a party, or in your headphones during a plane ride. Well done Starfucker, your name may be a joke, but your musical skills are for real and you have created one of the finest LPs of 2011 so far.
By Sean Poynton BrnaSTRFKR – Reptilians by Polyvinyl Records