This is the catchiest Three One G release I have ever heard. Coming from a label that normally specializes in the extreme outer reaches of noise punk, this is practically a pop album. Yet, this still has the classic bratty Three One G art-school vibe.
Named for the 1980s epidemic of grade school kids carrying around throwing stars, The Chinese Stars also happen to have two members of the now defunct Arab on Radar: Craig Kureck and Eric Paul. It was Eric Paul's high-pitched yelps and half-coherent rants that made Arab on Radar one of the creepiest bands around. His voice still has kind of a howl to it, but now he seems to be trying harder to carry a tune, which is a good thing most of the time.
But the Arab on Radar comparison stops there. Where Arab on Radar were abrasive and high-pitched, The Chinese Stars are sugary and infectious. But this is done within the familiar, and still enjoyable, framework of fuzzy bass and noodly, dissonant guitar. There are some futuristic-sounding keyboards thrown into the mix as well, and Craig Kureck's drumming is downright bouncy. This album is on the very fringes of being dance punk, but is somehow more interesting than that.
Eric Paul has toned things down lyrically as well, but not too much. All the songs on Listen to Your Left Brain are a unique breed of futuristic, '80s-influenced, drugged-out love songs. The album oozes with a semi-creepy, medication-induced notion of teenage romance- exactly the kind of thing you can expect from someone like Eric Paul.
This album is also slightly more melodic compared to the couple of earlier Chinese Stars recordings I've heard. Could it be these guys are getting older and finally exorcising all the melody they've been suppressing all these years? If nothing else, Listen to Your Left Brain is a reminder that you never know what to expect with Three One G.
One part noise punk swagger, two parts Arab on Radar eccentricity, and two parts infectious dance punk, Listen to Your Left Brain is hard not to enjoy on some level. Anyone into Arab on Radar or any of the Three One G bands would probably like this. At the same time, kids into Franz Ferdinand or whatever faux retro-pop band is popular this week would be all over this album, that is if they even knew The Chinese Stars existed. Honestly, this is catchy enough that your little sister might even like it, but it will probably give her nightmares too.
Let's get the ex-members of comparisons out of the way: I loved Arab on Radar. Their assembly line anti-anthems stimulated the same part of my adolescent brain that was dedicated to naked girls and prescription drugs. I listened to tunes like "Attack on Tijuana" over and over, thoughtfully contemplating Mr. Pottymouth's hysterical confessions about yellow snow and oral sex. The irony is that if Arab on Radar had appeared today, I'd probably hate them with an irrational vengeance. I'd reflexively assign them a spot in the horde of idiots cranking out sub-Lightning Bolt tripe and fancying it some kind of bold experimental gesture.
Because the truth is that a whole constellation of styles-"post-punk." "no wave." and similar terms that provoke instant, overwhelming exhaustion-have grown a bit threadbare, thanks to countless molestations of its rotting corpse by uninspired pretenders. But The Chinese Stars have an elusive musicality and chirping oddness that sets them above the horde. It's "dance-punk," or something, but with a (right!) brain where the usual void should be: it doesn't blindly follow formula, but bends and tweaks it like a 19th century onanist who can't stop playing with himself despite bowl after bowl of corn flakes.
The greatest shock on Listen to Your Left Brain comes from the conventionality it exhibits at times. "Drugs and Sunshine" pounds and seduces, a bleakly glamorous number that could almost be a pop tune - even vocalist Eric Paul's lusty weirdness is harnessed to a mournful melody. Guitarist Paul Vieira produces glistening, sad lines that sound like running out of pills under the filthy glow of streetlamps. "Cold Cold Cold" gets ugly but then blows up into left-field twang - Vieira oscillates between icy prettiness and discordance like a guy with multiple personalities.
Bassist/synthman/Six Finger Satellite alum Rick Pelletier and keyboardist V. Von Ricci slide subtle melodies through the backdoor while Paul and Vieira are busy peeping through the blinds. "Bored With This Planet" has space age synths and a bounciness that sounds much friendlier than Arab on Radar's nuclear drool ever did, and closer "The Drowning" grows a hazy, slow motion electronic ambience like its a third arm. (Pelletier has since left the band under mysterious circumstances, leaving Ricci to take the buzzing analog reins.)
On this LP, The Chinese Stars kind of half-heartedly threaten us with greatness. They aren't quite there yet, still straddling too many different impulses. But there are moments, and I'm kind of antsy to see what they cook up in their basement lab in the future, because no matter how hard I try and how much cereal I eat, I can't turn off that part of my brain that demands nudity and drooling chemical lunacy. It's good to know that there's at least one band that can scratch my itch.