Occasionally an unknown record grabs you, even though the ingredients that it consists of sound a bit ridiculous. New York band The Stars That Wouldn't Shine are a perfect example of that phenomenon. First of all, take a look at the cover. Their style is a mishmash of goth, punk, greaser, and Clockwork Orange. Who wouldn't buy this record base on the cover photo alone? Fittingly, their music is a complete conundrum as well - it's a mix of heavily synthed-out gloomy post punk, Madness-style ska, gothic surf rock, jokey deathrock, and completely deadpan, monotone and British-sounding vocals with lyrics about murder, death, Nazis, and mice. This sounds like a completley inconceivable combination, but oh, how wonderfully it works on this 8-track mini LP. If the Addams Family were a band on 4AD Records, they would probably sound like this.
There are no credits on the record aside from a photo credit and the songwriter "SARJ". Mysterious and intriguing! Right off the bat, the band slams into two fast-paced gothic ska-ish songs, full of synths, random cymbal crashes, and polyrhythmic percussion a la Adam and the Ants. The third track, Tchiakovsky, really shows the band hitting their stride. Again, it begins abruptly. No fade-in, no intro, no full measure before the vocals.... just, BAM! you're hit with a wall of heavy synths and repetitive surf guitars. The vocals are perfectly monotone, almost spoken-word, with no attempt to even try rhyming. The final song on the first side, Mister Klaus, is a "live" song that, rather than sounding like a live performance recording, sounds more like a studio recording with crowd noises thrown on top for its entire duration. It also inexplicably contains an entire album's worth of "Oi" chants, all in a row, all stated in a completely monotone voice ("oi. oi. oi. oi. oi. oi."). It is also probably the best gothic party anthem about a Nazi war ciminal (presumably Klaus Barbie) that I've ever heard.
Side 2 starts with their best gothic ska-cum-darkwave track on the album. It's fast paced and reverbed, with two or three repetitive guitar notes that sound more like they are quickly fading in and out rather than being strummed, and refrains with great organ-sounding synths. The next two tracks sound quite similar to each other, except "Four Days" has a bit of a bright feel to it and is probably the only relative dud on the album, and the subsequent "Don't Stop Now" is darker both musically and lyrically, with a break in which the singer matter-of-factly states "And so I kill you". It would be a bit creepy, if it wasn't so charming. The closing song on the album, "The Mouse Song", is on probably my favorte - a complete deathrock gem full of heavy haunted-house synths, tinny, jagged guitars, and lyrics about... um, being a mouse.
I've listened to this album half a dozen times in the past few days, and it continues to grow on me. It somehow achieves the rare mark of simultaneously sounding completely campy and utterly unironic. The ingredients of this album simply should not work anywhere near as well as they do. Maybe I am the only person who loves this record this much, but I have the sneaking suspicion that there will be a few people who'll be adding this to their wantlists and seeking it out.
The Stars That Wouldn't Shine: Selftitled mLP
1983, ADI Records
A1 Lying On The Floor
A2 You Don't Love Me
A4 Mister Klause
B1 Anything #3
B2 Four Days
B3 Don't Stop Now
B4 The Mouse Song