Yam Haus could not have picked a more apt title for their debut album.
They’re a Twin Cities band releasing on an indie label with a sound that aspires toward top 40 pop. Their sound is that of a band hoping to rocket into the stratosphere of fame. They are Stargazers. The slick, full production and explosive yet smooth vocals mark this as a pop record, through and through.
The album opens with the eponymous “Stargazer,” the album’s premier single. It opens with dreamy synths that break into a tight guitar riff. As the track progresses, the production becomes richer and richer. By the end, the singer Lars Pruitt is nearly wailing over frenetic percussion, doo-wop styled background vocals, electric guitars, and a veritable orchestra of synths. The vocal hooks (the endless “ba-da, ba-da”s) give the song away as radio fodder.
Next up is “West Coast,” a track that reveals to the listener that there’s a formula at work. Again, the track opens with with a synth-riff (though this time, it’s big and punchy, evoking bands like CHVRCHES). The synths give way to a more typical rock instrumentation, that builds into a grand swirl of synths, strings, showy melismas, and, of course, background “oo-oo”s and “woah-oh”s.
The next track “Kingdom” progresses the same way. “Get Somewhere” shakes things up by ditching the synths, but otherwise continues the pattern. Yam Haus knows what makes a good pop song, and they stick with the plan.
“Too Many People” is the first real shift in tone on the album. The band brings the tempo down for a cheery piano ballad. The track is truly refreshing after the first four – mostly. Yam Haus keeps the energy down except for occasional bursts of “woah-oh-ohs.”
The true breather comes on the track “Right Now, Forever,” when the band really strips things down. The song features soft, intimate vocals; contemplative acoustic guitar; a tasteful drum machine; and sparse synths. A true standout, it shows the act’s range.
The rest of the album continues to show that Yam Haus can do more than just a particular pop music formula. They abandon the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to production, opting for tighter styles and more limited instrumentation. “Bad News” settles into a groove, perhaps the catchiest on the album (even more so than the aspirationally named “Groovin’”). “We Are the Storm” sounds a bit like an Oasis song, with Pruitt’s voice soaring.
The weakest point of the album might be the lyrics. The album abounds with ancient hooks like “I wish it were right now, forever.” But this should surprise no one – it’s a pop album. For a record like Stargazer, lyrics are mostly beside the point. They set a tone and give Pruitt some words to sing while he shows off his impressive pipes, nothing more.
Stargazer is full of tracks that beg for the radio. It’s got feel good jams, crooning ballads, and over-the-top pop explosions. The album suffers from being a bit repetitive at points, but this is perhaps more the fault of pop music than Yam Haus specifically. There are expectations to be fulfilled, after all. Yam Haus keeps the energy high and the fun flowing.
Stargazer is an enjoyable summer album with high aspirations, a worthy debut.
The Mainstream: Summer Release Roundup
Bad Witch – Nine Inch Nails
Frontman Trent Reznor has still got it. Bad Witch packs a lot of music into six, short songs. The album features everything you’d expect from a Nine Inch Nails album, distorted, cutting vocals, fuzzy yet overwhelming synths, and catchy hooks. Reznor adds brass into the mix on several tracks, bringing a welcome new dimension to NIN’s instrumentation. Bad Witch is all punch and no filler, a worthwhile listen for any fan of industrial or hard rock.
Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington
Heaven and Earth is a solid effort from saxophone sorcerer, Kamasi Washington. The album is big and diverse. He covers a great deal of stylistic ground, from funk, to latin, to hard bop. The name of the album will never be far from the listener’s mind, as Washington’s tracks evoke other worlds with mysterious harmonies and ghostly choirs. The album suffers from being overlong–it’s not clear how all of the tracks hang together. Clocking in close to two and a half hours, Heaven and Earth is an exhausting listen. Washington overflows with great ideas, there is a lot of great jazz on this album. But the great jazz is sandwiched between less memorable tracks that tire the listener and drag the album down. Any jazz head should give Heaven and Earth a spin, but be ready to do some skipping on repeat listens.
Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album – John Coltrane
The world has been blessed with the release of an unheard John Coltrane album. Both Directions at Once features the classic quartet: Coltrane on sax, Jimmy Garrison on bass, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Elvin Jones on drums. By the year of recording (1963), the quartet had gelled completely. This “new” Coltrane album features ‘Trane at his best, combining the innovation that would characterize his later Impulse records with the fire and impact of his early work. Both Directions at Once is required listening for jazz fans, but anyone remotely interested in jazz and the big musical events of the year should check this one out.
By Linden Smith