As tempting as it is to indulge my wee-lad love of all things dream pop and compare Star’s fresh take on shoegaze to early-90s wombadelic practitioners (I’m not making up the term “wombadelia,” though it never really caught on), the band prefer the more open-ended tag “noise pop.” That said, the catchy three-minute nuggets on the local trio’s second album, Violence Against Star, sound like they could've charted in the UK alongside Ride and Lush if they’d been released in, say, 1992. Opening cut “Angel School Anthem” is basically a mission statement for their wall of sound, combining Shannon Roberts’s dark, cooing vocals bathed in oodles of delay, Theodore Beck’s subterranean bass and huge, four-on-the-floor programmed beats, and Scott Cortez’s scuzzy ripples of guitar. Cortez definitely has dreamy string-god credentials: he’s spent time in 90s Michigan goth-gaze duo Lovesliescrushing and long-running My Bloody Valentine-indebted Chicago band Astrobrite. His buzzing, high-end axe frequencies and speaker-blowing low end fuel “Noise Parade,” which recalls the DIY spirit of ye olde indie-fuzz bands such as Black Tambourine. Roberts scornfully calls out some surely evil soul, her airy voice revealing a tinge of malevolence: “With your dirty silence / With a nasty violent stare . . . You've gotta lotta nerve to crash my noise parade.” She sounds even more pissed off on “Artificial Planes”: as Star reach full-on punk velocity, Roberts sounds like she’s intoning from a far-off mountaintop as Cortez’s roaring guitar pitches landslides down its flanks. “Last Star” backs away from this aggro approach, with dreamy atmospherics a la the Cocteau Twins or Purple Ivy Shadows (the nine-teez references keep flying, folks), a slow drum-machine pulse, and Frippertronics-style drones; Roberts gently delivers the line “I’m trapped in a bloody hell” (goths, please take note). When I pressed Roberts about the inspiration behind these songs, she replied “cult movies/politics/love, anger, redemption, and revenge.” Fair enough.
The first side of the album closes with the stripped-down “First Grade Still,” which starts like a Morricone soundtrack, with just guitar and wordless vocals, and then tumbles to the bottom of a deep, reverberating well. Side two, which starts with fuzz-ball popper “Cruel 15,” is just as epic. With its triumphant multitracked vocal choruses, “White Fear” reminds me of the second wave of lo-fi shoegaze bands (Velocity Girl, Swirlies, Eric’s Trip) before they chucked their pedals and got boring, while the massive title track ends the album with thick Jesus and Mary Chain-style six-string scree and a cavernous bass rumble. When Roberts exclaims “Blast the music up,” it’s already there—Star have entered the canon of angsty noise-pop greats. Tragically, this will be the band's last album, at least with this lineup—Beck died of cancer last week. He was also Roberts's husband, so for her it is a double blow. Deepest condolences to everyone touched by this loss. v