Considering that stellastarr* began as three young artists studying at the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York, it’s no surprise that the quartet’s nearly four-year hiatus found the members occupied by largely non-musical pursuits: Frontman Shawn Christensen painted and wrote screenplays, bassist Amanda Tannen did graphic design work for fashion magazines and drummer Arthur Kremer freelanced as a creative director. Only guitarist Michael Jurin stayed the musical path, scoring indie films and playing live solo and with various bands.
When the members finally reconvened, they brought their creatively recharged batteries to their writing sessions and then tested their newly crafted songs in front of audiences at intermittent shows. Early last year, stellastarr* went into the studio with the songs that generated the best live response and continued to shape and shine the material until the group emerged with its excellent third album, the just-released Civilized.
Like its predecessors, Civilized teems with the energetic New Wave/Britpop clockwork swing of the ’80s (think XTC/Gang of Four/Echo and the Bunnymen) mutated with contemporary, fist-pumping Pop/ Punk anthemics (think the Strokes/Killers). In many ways, Civilized is a brilliant blend of stellastarr*’s jaunty self-titled 2003 debut and the band’s moodily downbeat 2005 sophomore effort, Harmonies for the Haunted. Released on the group’s own Bloated Wife label, Civilized soars with a generally positive vibe occasionally counterpointed by a more subdued atmosphere, resulting in a thrilling hybrid that is both visceral and thoughtful, a range represented by the album’s first single, “Graffiti Eyes,” and its closing track, the swellingly emotional “Sonja Cries.” It’s a safe bet that it’s the visceral side that gets showcased on stellastarr*’s summer tour.
(Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.)