By: Matt SaldañaThe Chinese Stars
A Rare Sensation
From the first fuzzy staccato notes and hi-hat off-beats on A Rare Sensation (Three-One-G), the debut LP from the Rhode Island-based Chinese Stars, the band lays down its groove--and doesn't get off it for nearly 30 minutes. Driven by Rick Pelletier's winding bass lines, the groove is a fun one to sit on, for sure. But by the time the album closer "Getting the Death Card" quietly ends its anti-anthem chorus of "anti-depressants make me love her," the sensation is that of having just listened to the same song nine times in a row.
Craig Kureck, who along with singer Eric Paul comes to the Chinese Stars via Arab on Radar, plays the same drum beat--with slight variations in beats per minute and fills per song--on every one of A Rare Sensation's nine tracks. It's not a beat often used by rock bands--electroclash or otherwise--and it goes well with Pelletier's funky bass, but it's also beaten about six tracks too many times.
Meanwhile, Paul Vieira's minimalist guitar fuzz sounds like a half-baked version of John Schmersal's fully realized sonic tweaking on Brainiac's Hissing Prigs in Static Couture. When compared to that album's completeness (completed eight years ago), A Rare Sensation sounds like nine narrow attempts to capture its spastic intensity. With their cards stacked against them (Hissing Prigs may be the most intensely spastic album of its kind), the Chinese Stars should have given it a go or two--"Cheap City Halo" and "Electrodes in Captivity" are fine attempts--and then moved on.
Eric Paul, who borrows heavily from Brainiac vocalist Timmy Taylor's word bank with talk of halos, human robotics, and blips on the screen, possesses the deceased singer's eccentricity but sadly not his energy. Though Taylor's lyrics were often nonsensical, he always had his enormous (and enormously metamorphic) voice to fall back on. With his comparatively limited vocal pallet, Paul is left hanging with lines like "I need life insurance on my zipper/ To keep you out of my pants."
If you were thinking of buying this album, pick up one of Brainiac's instead. Hopefully the Chinese Stars will pick up the slack on their next one.