LP Review: Starcrawler’s Sophomore Effort, ‘Devour You’

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I have to admit, right off the top, I’m impressed.

There’s an old saying in music – I’ll try and get it right – that goes: you have your whole life to write your first album and two weeks to write your second one. It was a giddy Bono during his Rock Hall of Fame speech, when speaking about the band’s sophomore album October, who described it as “the difficult second album.” So many bands have faced the “sophomore slump” that they are way too numerous to mention here. The Aussie band Jet springs to mind, I don’t know why.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. For some reason I was thinking about the Black Crowes second album this week. I loved their debut album, it came out about the same time as GnR’s first record and I thought rock and roll had been saved for generations to come. Then I heard The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion when it came out and I liked it even more. I can remember singing the lead single, “Remedy” outside a club in Dallas on a road trip and mixing up the lyrics to go, “baby, baby why you dry (sic) your hair.” Uh, the line is “dye your hair.” While the Cars debut should have just been called “Cars Greatest Hits” I’ve always liked Candy-O as much or (gasp) better. That may be because every track on The Cars was wildly overplayed on the radio.

All of that aside, Starcrawler – Arrow de Wilde (vocals), Austin Smith (drummer), Henri Cash (guitar) and Tim Franco (bass) – dropped their second album a couple of weeks ago, just before I was to see them live Concert Review: Starcrawler, 10/14/2019, At Kansas City’s Riot Room – Punk Rock Rag Doll Delivers. If you haven’t seen them, do so, post haste. I will say right off the bat, Starcrawler is not suffering from a slump, sophomore or otherwise. If anything this band is growing and developing at an alarmingly fast rate. They take the menacing punk energy of their first album and expand upon it. They replaced producer Ryan Adams from their debut (New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles) with Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) for Devour You and I like the different directions he’s pushing them.

The album starts off with “Lizzie” a song about a bully that would have fit right in with the dark energy of their debut…”I think I’m gonna fall DOWN!” From there the band takes us on an ever-expanding palette of sounds and subjects. The first single, “Bet My Brains” will just gallop into your subconscious, perhaps against your will. Tim Franco’s bass line is pure opium, it’s that addictive. Although when singing it in the shower I found myself messing up the lyrics to “Bless my brains I’ve gone insane,”… some things never change and my inability to sing proper lyrics is apparently one of them. It’s a great single, it may be their “Satisfaction” or “My Generation.” It’s that good. Although I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Ants.”

I don’t want to do what I did with Greta Van Fleet and suggest that these guys are derivative of anybody – they are fiercely original – but I get more of Celebrity Skin-era Hole vibe on this record than the Runaways-meets-metal vibe of the debut. It has more of a grunge vibe to me. “Home Alone” has a jaunty Velvet Underground feel to it… again, not suggesting any derivation here, just suggesting the vibe I’m feeling. They’re doing so much more on Devour You than on the first record, it’s impressive.

My favorite songs on the album are breakup laments. “No More Pennies” with it’s Exile-era Stones vibe is my absolute favorite track of theirs (they even name drop “Dead Flowers”). “Hollywood Ending” explores the same theme but with an entirely different sound and vibe. “Born Asleep” is another great mid tempo thing with a wobbly solo from Cash and perhaps Arrow’s best vocal yet. They’re all great songs. “You Dig Yours” is a fabulous kiss-off song, where Arrow summons a bitchy chorus, “you dig yours, and I’ll dig mine.” “I Don’t Need You” explores the same subject terrain with a more muscular attack (“you only show up when you want to fuck”).

“Toy Teenager” is a great punk-y put down song as well…”all you are is a clothing hanger.” “Toy Teenager” makes me wonder if it’s aimed at a certain model, but how would I know? I can’t tell if “She Gets Around” is a put down or a song about female empowerment. I’m going to bet on the latter. “Rich Taste” and “Tank Top” are both great tracks. The former is kind of funny which I hadn’t expected and the latter is an expression of fashion and freedom…”she never wears a dress, she looks her very best, she goes to bed and spreads her legs in a tank top…”

I can’t say enough about the drumming of Austin Smith, he powers each song forward. He and bassist Tim Franco are the engine of this car. I really like Henri Cash on guitar. His playing is expanding in all sorts of different directions. His solos are compact, economical and powerful. This band just keeps getting better and better. Arrow de Wilde’s vocals more nuanced on this album than they were on the debut as well. She’s bringing the natural charisma she exudes on stage into the studio. The songwriting is getting sharper and sharper.

There is a lot of hype around the aforementioned Greta Van Fleet, and having seen them live this summer, there should be. I would tell you for my money, Starcrawler is just as important for the continuation of rock and roll as GVF. These guys are raw, rocking and utterly irreverent. I have to say I love it all. We need more in-your-face, fuck you, nasty rock and roll and Starcrawler provides it. Give this band a chance, they’ll crawl under your skin and into your brain… pretty soon you too will be botching the lyrics to “Bet My Brains” in the shower, with your shampoo mohawk on full display… that may be TMI…Jump on this bandwagon, it’s like getting in on the ground floor of Apple back in the day. It’ll pay off in a big way.

Cheers!

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Concert Review: Starcrawler, 10/14/2019, At Kansas City’s Riot Room – Punk Rock Rag Doll Delivers

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*Photo of Arrow de Wilde taken by your intrepid blogger shortly after she spit water on me

Well there’s not much that gets me out on a school night any more… especially on a Monday. Rock and roll is about the only thing that will cause me to muster out of the house when I know I’ve got a busy day the next day. It wasn’t always like that… just last night I was musing over a beer about how cool it was when I was younger, in high school, to go out on a week night. I can remember looking out of the sun roof in a friend’s car staring at the moon and stars and thinking I was really fucking alive.

And speaking of being fucking alive, the Rock Chick, our friend RJ and I went out last night to Kansas City’s Riot Room in Westport to see some live punk rock courtesy of Starcrawler. I loved their first album (New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles) and had eagerly bought their new one, just out last Friday, Devour You. We drove down to Westport around 7 last night and ducked into a restaurant for a couple of vodkas and some food. I saw this couple walk by the window. The guy had green hair and make up. The gal had white grease paint on her face and jet black lipstick like a goth Harley Quinn… I thought, oh yes, this will be a great crowd.

We slipped over to the Riot Room right before show time just as the opening act was leaving the stage. I had no idea what to expect from the crowd. I hadn’t been in the Riot Room since it was the Hurricane, back in the day, as the kids say. There were about 50 people milling about in the bar. It was a diverse crowd in terms of age and appearance. The aforementioned goth couple were in there. There were some older guys in concert t-shirts and one guy who looked like my dad… the authorities might want to check up on that guy.

Right at 8pm the lights went down and drummer Austin Smith came on stage, quickly followed by bassist Tim Franco. From the other side of the stage, out of the darkness came guitarist Henri Cash. I was watching him put on his guitar when, literally out of nowhere lead singer Arrow de Wilde materialized on stage. If David Bowie and Patti Smith had a child, it would be Arrow de Wilde. She’s as thin as a quietly muttered whisper. Wearing what looks like an old ballet uniform, stained in fake blood… I liked the fact that in front the blood was painted to look almost exactly like a knife wound… and white boots, she prowls the stage like an escaped animal, and I mean that as a compliment. Her facial expressions could easily lead one to assume she’s utterly insane… forget Joaquin Phoenix in The Joker, this chick is the real deal. RJ asked me after the concert, and I think she was serious, “who hurt her?”

The show was part rock show, with Henri Cash’s guitar loud and ferocious – believe me, my ears are still ringing today – and part performance art. I haven’t had that much fun on a Monday in a long, long time. The rhythm section was tight and strong. I’m not sure how to describe Arrow’s on-stage presence. As I said, its part performance art – she tied the microphone cord around her neck at one point and into her mouth like a gag at another point – and part full on rock and roll. She jerks with the music as if she had hinges instead of joints. She spits, she blows her nose on the crowd, she spit water on me, she mauls the front row of the crowd. She picked her nose and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She’s a seriously riveting performer.

They played for an hour. My only complaint is they needed to turn up the vocals. Arrow’s voice got lost under the guitar and bass during a few of the verses. She’d banshee wail the choruses so you could hear her then but if they’d just turned her vocals up a notch or two, it would have been perfect sound. Cash’s guitar pedals malfunctioned at one point and that took a while to fix… as they get bigger they’ll have guitar techs to handle that stuff. In between songs, Arrow tended to just flop down on the stage and drink water. She’s like a punk rock rag doll.

They played tunes from both albums and went back to their first single, “Ants.” There were so many highlights – “I Love L.A.” and my favorite from them, “No More Pennies” were stand out tunes. “Bet My Brains” was particularly unhinged. “Pussy Tower,” “Hollywood Ending,” “Pet Semetary,” and “You Dig Yours” were all great. It was played loud and fast and I loved every minute of it. The Rock Chick and RJ stood toward the back of the crowd, but I was right up in front of the stage, one person back, in front of the microphone stand punching the air. There’s just something about being that close to the band that hits me in the lower brain stem.

To end the concert, Arrow came crashing off the stage, after biting a fake blood capsule and rubbing the blood all over her face. She crashed into me and the creepy old guy, and then staggered to the back of the crowd where she fell to the ground. She then jumped up and hopped up on the bar in front of the Rock Chick and RJ…she jumped off and disappeared into the basement. The crowd was elated and ready for more, but they were clearly done… I’d have liked to stuck around to see if the band came out and signed autographs, but we ducked into a restaurant next door, the Westport Cafe, for a night cap. What a great Monday. Keep your eye on this band… like Greta Van Fleet, it’s great to see these younger kids playing straight up, fuck you, rock and roll.

Cheers!

 

New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles

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“Out of the mouths of babes…” – From, surprising to me, Psalms 8:2. Who knew?

As most of our intrepid, regular readers know, here at B&V we tend to focus on older, more established artists who are still putting out new, vibrant rock and roll. Admittedly, we’re also fond of “vault” releases from those same older artists. But every now and then we need to get out of our comfort zone and explore some of the new and sadly, increasingly rare rock and roll out there. I might be pushing some of you to an uncomfortable edge here, but this is a band you need to hear, much like Greta Van Fleet (for very different reasons and very different music).

In my life of musical spelunking, it’s become apparent that I discover music in the weirdest ways… Earlier in the year, the Rock Chick bought us tickets with our daughter to see Beck, Cage the Elephant and Spoon at Fiddler’s Green in Denver in late July. Because I’m a neanderthal, I wrote that down on my calendar instead of posting it on my work calendar. At the time I had months and months to worry about July, it was a lifetime away. Sigh. I ended up scheduling a very important meeting on the day of the concert. There was no way around it, I had to skip the show.  I haven’t been to a concert all year, so there was deep anguish associated with this decision. Not to mention my family was not pleased.

When the Rock Chick got back from Denver and I returned from my business travails, she told me the highlights of the show. Spoon rocked, Cage the Elephant was great and Beck was well, Beck. She even put a Spotify playlist together featuring the combined setlist for each band together. In the arc of the story about the show she mentioned the opening act, Starcrawler. She mentioned they rocked and were fronted by a woman, two things that were bound to pique my interest. She said the performance was “something else.” At one point, the lead singer, Arrow de Wilde spit out fake blood. She crawled around on the stage. At the end she collapsed and had to hold onto the railing to crawl backstage again. She said, “You know, I’m not sure if their set was any good, it was kind of overwhelmed by the spectacle.”

She immediately went to YouTube and started pulling up their videos. As I sat there, mesmerized by the physical appearance and performances of the show, I started focusing on the music. And damned if I didn’t hear the Runaways. As I’ve admitted previously on this blog, I was late to getting into punk or punk-influenced rock. I live in the American midwest, where we didn’t discover punk until 10 years later, like we were encased in amber. The Clash and the Ramones were my gateway punk bands. After that I was in – the Stooges (and Iggy solo), X, and The Sex Pistols, I love all of them. The more of the Starcrawler videos I watched the more I knew I had to check this band out.

Formed in L.A in 2015 by literally children, Starcrawler is a foursome consisting of Tim Franco (bass), Austin Smith (drums), Herni Cash (on nasty guitar) and Arrow de Wilde on lead vocals. Arrow’s mother is a photographer and is friends with Beck… that’s his daughter on their debut album cover (pictured above). They have, according to Wikipedia, the funniest origin story since Hendrix founded the Experience and hired Noel Redding because he liked his hair. From Wikipedia:

“In the summer of 2015, Arrow de Wilde and Austin Smith came together to collaborate in making music. When the school year began in 2015/2016, the two decided to recruit new members, a guitarist and bassist. One day during school Wilde saw Henri Cash and asked: “You look cool, do you play guitar?” Cash was actually carrying a tuba. Wilde later recruited bassist Tim Franco.[7]” 

“You look cool, do you play guitar?” may just go down in the annals of rock and roll. The fact that he was holding a tuba is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

I immediately started crashing through their entire catalog of recorded music. I love this band. They’re punky and edgy. They can be vulgar and in your face. They conjure up the Runaways, or at least that was my first impression, but I also hear some Ramones and a lot of Hole in this music. I am not suggesting in any way they’re derivative like Greta Van Fleet, these are just the bands they remind me of. This is elemental, primitive rock and roll played extremely well. It’s visceral music. There’s not a lot of solo’ing or really any solo’ing on guitar it’s all just big riffs, played fast and aggressively.

Their first single from 2017 was “Ants” backed by “Used to Know.” Both tracks are that nasty, fast guitar rock that I just fall for. “Ants” kind of reminded me of the Ramones. From 2018, the had the single, “Hollywood Ending” and “Tank Top” both of which reminded me of Celebrity Skin-era Hole.

Their first LP, eponymously titled, is harder and has less obvious influences. There is a lot to like here. “Loves Gone Again” has a desperate, edgy riff. “I Love L.A.” (no, not the Randy Newman song), reminds me of Missing Persons with guitar. I’ve heard this first album compared to Sabbath, and I don’t particularly hear that except maybe for the big, monster riffs that drive “Chicken Woman,” another highlight here. I love the song “Pussy Tower,” but with a chorus that begins, “She gives me head,” how could I not love it. “Full of Pride” is another vulgar putdown, “‘Cause you’re a pretty little bitch, no matter how I word it, You’re always full of shit and everyone has heard it.” I like where these kids are coming from. Total punk attitude. The album ends on “What I Want” a declaration, “I don’t wanna be anyone but me.” At almost 4 minutes long, this amounts to an epic for this band. There are 2 songs on here that clock in under 2 minutes. Keep it up!

They followed up in 2019 with three new singles, “She Gets Around,” “Pet Sematary” (which has to be from the movie I’d guess), and the pick of the litter, their latest, “Bet My Brains.” “Brains” has a loping gait and I dare you not to become addicted to Arrow singing “Bet my brains, I’ve gone insane.” I have to say, “Pet Sematary” is catchy as hell and probably the most polish thing they’ve done… it almost sounds like arena rock.

I’m not sure where this band is going, they’re still awfully young, but I like where they’ve started this journey. Hopefully all of the singles released this year are pointing to another LP, I can’t wait to hear what they do next. Check this music out and keep an eye on this band.

Cheers!

Editor’s Note: It came to my attention that Starcrawler indeed have a new album coming out, ‘Devour You,’ on October 11th. We’re all looking forward to that here at B&V!