The pop-rock genre is one of the most readily slandered genres in the realm of professional music. I believe it is accorded greater rancor by many critics simply because it stands astride the gap between popular music and the edgier, artsy realm of rock. One could even argue that the creation of the, “indie-rock,” label is due in large part to the negative perception of, “corporate rock,” acts and the radio inundation they often enjoy.
However, when properly executed, pop-rock is one of the most captivating, inventive and alluring genres in all of music based on the complexity of crafting music that is accessible to the main-stream while staying true to the rock format. Bands like Fleetwood Mac, U2, Aerosmith (in the 90’s and 2000’s), Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Big Wreck, Matchbox 20, Coldplay and Fun. (and concurrently The Format) can be heralded for having curried gargantuan appeal by crafting memorable melodies and virulent hooks with a virtuosity that is second to very few.
Thus, when a new indie-rock act arrives on my personal listening horizon that has the innate, ineffable ability to write eternally listenable songs I suffer the urge to label them a pop-rock act. This is, in my estimation, high praise for a group because I am according them the title as a way of conveying my esteem for their art. It’s difficult to write a timeless song— and the repetition of radio station fodder is evidence of this fact. Sure, everyone’s tastes vary, and thus their estimation will as well… Taking that into account, it’s a lofty feat to create songs that traverse genre boundaries and create the sort of mass-appeal that lands you a spot on the all-time album charts. Many of the artists that have, however, are pop-rock acts.
I pen this lengthy introduction as a means to justify my statement (and soften the blow) when I say that Stellar Young is one of the best pop-rock acts I’ve heard in a good long while. The group recently released their first full-length record, Everything at Once, independently in December of 2012, and it is a stunning tapestry of styles, moods and influences that will hold you hostage from the moment you hit play.
Knee-jerk listeners will label the group a Fun. knockoff by virtue of the vocal similarity between Stellar’s front-man John Glenn (not the astronaut, as noted on the band’s FB bio) and Fun. vocalist Nate Ruess. However, there is a definite complexity and kinetic quality to the group’s material that makes them a great deal more raucous than their Ruess-fronted pop-rock contemporaries.
In fact, the group’s eclectic style makes it difficult to draw many adequate parallels to similar sounding acts— which simply deepens my admiration for them. At instants they assault the audience with Rush-like musical dexterity (as with their album’s second track, “Restless”), yet their more atmospheric moments smock of Coldplay’s better qualities (see, “The Misses,”), even evoking thoughts of Guster’s compositional approach with certain tracks (“We Own Nothing,” or “Animals,”). Compound this with Peter Gabriel-esque emotionality, Kings Of Leon guitar texturing and Big Head Todd & the Monster’s soul and you are close to approximating what you’ll hear on Everything at Once.
This is a quintessential pop-rock record; the hooks are abundant, the atmosphere soaring and anthemic, the instrumentation lush and evocative. Southern-rock guitar tones merge seamlessly with synth waves and glimmering vocal falsettos above fuzzy basslines and boisterous percussion to create a unique ambience from track to track. The record is so well-crafted that it’s difficult to point to specific tracks as exceptionally appealing. The album as a whole is a virtual pit of sonic quicksand that you can’t help but get immersed in.
The Albany, NY-based quintet has already established a firm foothold in their local region, being named Best New Band and the #1 Indie-Rock Band for the greater Albany area according to the Metroland 2012, “Best Of,” issue and 2012 reader’s poll. The group certainly warrants the accolades as well. It is very rare to encounter a group with such an appealing sound that isn’t already permeating the air-waves. Luckily, many of us will be getting in on the ground floor with this record.
Everything at Once is currently available via BandCamp.com as a name-your-own price download. The band feel this is appropriate given the DIY nature of their project and the vehement support they’ve received through sites like Kickstarter (which helped the band procure a mini-shuttle bus to facilitate touring), and is impressive from a completely independent act.
“People are going to download your music one way or another, so why not give them the highest quality download with the option to pay?” says Erik Flora (guitar/vocals). Erik goes on to explain that free downloads with the option to pay is the direction the music industry has headed, with bands such as Radiohead and Wilco paving the road for the movement. “Since the digital release is basically free we wanted to add some value to the physical release,” explains John Glenn. The physical release of Everything at Once will contain musical interludes as well as a booklet with illustrations by Amanda Marie Eilis King (of AMEK Studios). “This album is more of a cohesive thought than what we’ve done in the past,” says Dave Parker. “By using a centralized theme, we aimed to create an experience when you listen to the whole album front to back which has also been the movement in our live show.” The physical album will be released this month.
If you are a fan of melodic, poppy and atmospheric rock music this album is a must-have. The material is infectious, immensely listenable and far from run of the mill. Do yourself a favor and procure a copy of Everything at Once. You may find yourself on the bandwagon for a record that feels primed to make history.
Swing by and check the gentlemen out on Facebook as well! I’m sure they’ll appreciate it!
For fans of Fun., The Format, Better Than Ezra, Kings of Leon, The Shins