A few years ago I saw the Gregg Araki teen film Kaboom. The sci-fi themed story about a gay college student and his best friend uncovering a sinister global plot was amusingly silly at best and a bit sloppy at worst. Fortunately, the film had a great soundtrack which is by the way not available unless you have the patience to make your own compilation.
Kaboom might have been a lousy film, but when Araki selected the soundtrack music he may have already realized that he was on to something. He’s been known to have a knack for matching music to a mood and attitude better than most directors. Be retro or just a new generation finding their muse with shoegazing music, Kaboom highlighted music as attitude/style much like the 4AD label did decades ago.
The bands featured on the roster of 20 some songs ranged from the widely known (Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeah) to the more obscure (The Horrors and Cut Copy). Of the newer bands on that list, Helen Stellar was my favorite. 2010 was a big year for the band having been featured on the Kaboom soundtrack (and in the film) while releasing their first LP If The Stars Could Speak, They Would Have Your Voice.
By 2010, the LA based band they had released a few EPs and had been together since 2001 Their sound could be best described as a mix of crisp Cocteau Twins styled guitars meets Smithereens styled rhythms. Although the fuzzyness of vintage 4AD was all over the Kaboom soundtrack, Helen Stellar stays closer to the Veldt on If The Stars Could Speak, They Would Have Your Voice.
Besides sounding like an homage to Simon Raymonde’s guitar style, the quartet led by Jim Evans features songs with a post modern sass. It’s the kind of sound meets post goth attitude that got the band the attention of film directors Cameron Crowe and Gregg Araki. Ironically enough the band has yet to sign a traditional record deal, instead spreading their music via soundtrack exposure on a small label that specialized in film music.
If The Stars Could Speak, They Would Have Your Voice teeters between a kind of lazy paced strumming of songs like “Show Me The Good” to more muscular rhythm sections from the Smithereens-like “The Disappearing Twin”. It’s a pleasant-sounding approach to a sound usually inspired by dark irony or goth. Just Orange and The Veldt excelled in this kind of twin guitar sound. Helen Stellar adds a bit of warmth.
Where The Veldt added soul to shoegauzing, Helen Stellar offers a kind of songwriting that when it’s not being sarcastic (“Show Me Good”) sounds like it could be interchangeable with Hootie and the Blowfish. Its strange, but had Evan’s voice been removed a songs like “Sensation Blvd”, it could work for Darius Rucker. The comparisons with Hootie or more specifically Darius Rucker end there as Evans has a limited vocal range that seems better suited for the cool low-key contemplative music he makes. A Rucker comparison might be a stretch, but you have to listen to hear what I mean.
Apparently bands like Anne, Just Orange, Ariel and Helen Stellar prove that old school shoeguazing via The Cocteau Twins, The Cure or The Jesus and Mary Chain is still very much in vogue with stylish, overly connected yet disaffected youth (The Jesus and Mary Chain was actually on the soundtrack for Kaboom). If this ever blossoms into a bigger more mainstream commercial movement, hopefully Helen Stellar will be on the leading edge of it with a major label contract in hand.