A lost psych masterpiece from 2009.
Stardeath And White Dwarfs: The Birth
The Birth is a veritable lost psych masterpiece that is possibly on the same level as Easter Everywhere by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators or Forever Changes by Love. If it came out in the seventies, it would rank right up there as a lost classic, though probably never gaining the cache that those two records have achieved in hipster circles. Once Lenny Kaye released the first Nuggets comp, the garage rock genre was redefined, and lesser-known psych and garage bands, mostly famous in their local scenes, gained national recognition. Some of these even became radio staples in the newer “oldies” radio format, even when they didn't break into the charts nationally. If “The Sea is on Fire” found its way on to that classic compilation, it would have found its place in this pantheon. Startled genre fans would have played the tracks over and over again raving about it like it was “I Had Too Much Too Dream Last Night.” Then it would have been relegated to that small audience, who continue to claim “classic” status for singles that were raunchier than the Stones or more psychedelic than the Floyd.
Lucky for us, Stardeath and White Dwarfs came of age long after the era of the single. They needed to create a great album with little filler, and couldn't rely on writing a bunch of catchy singles to fill up their first long-player. And they were smart enough to create an album that plays like a concept album even though it isn't. With their rock lessons well in hand, they set out to write an album of the first order. One that reached back to classic touchstones, while providing a blueprint for the future of the form. Much has been made about their connection to the Flaming Lips (Frontman Dennis Coyne is the nephew of the Lips' frontman Wayne Coyne), but this lip service is unfair to both bands. While both are mired in a sort of psychedelic and experimental rock, Stardeath and White Dwarfs have a healthy appreciation for Sabbathy sludge and a stronger connection to catchy pop. They are actually closer to Tripping Daisy in their deconstruction of pop music, writing songs that fall into various genres, yet mesh into a cohesive album continuously building momentum.
From the first notes of the album, SDAWD build an original sound out of the building blocks of the past. With “The Sea is on Fire,” we are transported into a Sci-fi universe that evokes Sabbath musically, while providing bizarre and compelling lyrical imagery, all with a tunefulness that Sabbath and their followers could never have imagined. “New Heat” pulls the album in a direction more akin to the Flaming Lips, but continues the concrete imagery that speaks of the narrator's new girl with the “razor hair.” Shimmering effects and a catchy chorus recall the Lips, but Dennis Coyne's voice and the overall sound of the track sound more proficient than their newer overly-produced albums (including the stunning Embryonic) and more self-assured, but less refreshingly goofy than the older albums. SDAWD keep these effects and poppy choruses going throughout “The Birth,” interspersing them with spacey, trippy bridges and long passages that emulate an interstellar voyage through the deepest reaches of space. Heavy guitar lines provide passage into effects-laden interludes that separate and extend from each track. These never feel like filler; they make the album seem like one varied and excellent song, the parts expanding on one amazing idea. “The Age of the Freak” starts with an acoustic guitar and a plaintive vocal, almost a plea, that is interrupted by heavy guitar chords. “Country Ballad,” in turn, sounds like a twisted cousin to a Band of Horses song, adding a heavy dose of psychedelic instrumentation, alongside its country rock meandering. Coyne's vocals keep their steady twang, parodying the down-home lyrical bent of these sorts of songs, yet oddly creates a song more compelling than what most genre stalwarts would be capable of. Once again it morphs into a heavier section that carries us into a catchy interlude track, “The March.” Not downplaying this track, which continues the feeling of momentum and experimentation, it pales next to the appropriately named “Smoking Pot Makes Me Not Want To Kill Myself,” which could very well be the best track on the album, even though it does little to sum up the album musically. It seems like a downturn of the momentum the band has been pushing for, but ends the album on a hopeful note that juxtaposes a feeling of loneliness with an attempt at reflective understanding. After the spacey trip into the unknown, we are back on earth dealing with the same old boring shit. Or maybe our whole experience was a bad trip. The old paranoia that can come with the stoner's toke. The track appropriately ends with a shimmer that anticipates another epic track that never comes.
“The Birth” is an album that grows with each listen. Different layers of sounds and lyrical ideas pop up with new strength on each listen. The strangeness is tempered with a familiarity. We've heard this sound before, but never in this combination or with this surety. For a first album, STAWD have created something very special, a timeless album that could have come out in 1969, 1974, or 2015. They have created something that they will hopefully expand on, something that will serve as an inspiration for others. I think it already has and might have even influenced the revitalization of the Flaming Lips on Embryonic. The band follows familiar models, but with personality, identity, and a great set of songs reaches to the future. SDAWD are a young band, and I can't wait to see how they expand on the joy that is “The Birth.”