taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment


Given the moniker adopted by songwriters Stephanie Morgan and Chuck Lichtenberger, it’s a safe assumption that the evolution of Stephaniesid from barroom folk to glistening dream-pop has been driven purely by the pleasure principle. It could have been assumed that the Asheville band’s last album, Warm People, represented the culmination of their transformation; they expanded to a full band and their pop sound felt capacious without being unfocused. It was a truly great and contented album that worked within genre constraints while coloring outside the lines at the same time. On their latest release Starfruit, however, it feels as if contentment isn’t enough. It’s both a tribute to and a product of the most impulsive part of the psychic apparatus, a romantic notion in theory, but rarely consonant in praxis. The primary problem with Starfruit appears to be one of the ego — the notion that indulging in every whim available is not only possible, but advisable. That’s not to say that Starfruit doesn’t tickle the pop pleasure center; it does in multiple instances. “Life In A Northern Town” is an infectious and uplifting recitation of the once carefree middle-class lifestyle, and it’s a rarity in pop music where tasteful jazz drums can push a song from good to great. Morgan’s voice is brooding and sultry on “House of Many Colors” and “Multiply,” and the instrumentation economical and complementary to the pieces. Other times, Starfruit can just be a freaking mess. Overdubbed vocal tracks and misplaced outbursts obscure and complicate Morgan’s dynamic range and the band’s driving rhythm on “Life of Pi,” while “Shlamiel” is inexplicably built on notable quotations of the “Laverne & Shirley” theme song. Surely, it sounded cuter in someone’s head. On record, it grates hard. Some of the chances Stephaniesid takes don’t misfire quite as badly. “Cinematic” is a dance number that evokes Control-era Janet Jackson, but it feels as if the band is reaching for the mercurial allure of Tune-Yards last album. The nonsensical lyrics of “Doggy Song” don’t quite mesh with the Massive Attack-inspired soundscape that accompanies it, but its abrupt transition from ambient folk to jazztronica is one of the most disarming moments on the record. It’s an ambitious record, for sure, but it can be so undisciplined that one struggles with finding a common musical thread between the majority of its songs.