Wayne Coyne and his Flaming Lips cohorts cast a long shadow, one that Stardeath and White Dwarfs probably won’t ever fully escape.
The comparisons and bar-trivia fact that frontman Dennis Coyne is Wayne’s nephew would feel superfluous if it wasn’t totally necessary, because Dennis is the nephew of weirdo-indie rock’s brightest luminary. The two groups collaborate frequently (remakes of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King), drummer Matt Duckworth is now touring with both bands and Stardeath’s sound is cut from the same acid-soaked washcloth that the Lips practically own the textile factory for at this point.
To tell Stardeath’s tale without mentioning all those ties to The Flaming Lips would be like The Karate Kid without Mr. Miyagi. But what’s more important is the fact that the rise of Oklahoma City’s second most famous psychedelic pop band is not just alternative music nepotism. With Wastoid, the long-awaited followup to 2009’s The Birth, the four-piece is proving to be more than the Igor to Wayne and company’s Dr. Frankenstein. While they will always share the same penchant for graspable experimentation, Stardeath is plotting its own space-rock trials and executing them nicely, too.
It’s important to have a rope back down to Earth with such sonically ambitious excursions, and Dennis, Duckworth, bassist Casey Joseph and guitarist Ford Chastain have found their essential sense of gravity in funk and groovy, ’70s-divined bass lines. That wasn’t absent from The Birth, but it’s exponentially more pronounced in the Parliament-on-LSD title track and “Sleeping Pills and Ginger Ale.”
Wastoid alternates between nasty-sexy and nasty-abrasive, a sprinkle-coated blood-and-guts affair that delights with shiny gems and spooky industrial thuds alike. There’s plenty of ear-bleeding noise in “The Chrome Children,” “Birds of War” and “Hate Me Tomorrow” clocked in before a true Sea Change moment with soul-purring closer “Surprised.”
That’s all folded together in leadoff single “Frequency,” traversing to the top of a Play-Doh sludge mountain just in time to catch the sun bleeding into the night.
Stardeath is in its peak form in those flashes, plucking a gold nugget out of the River Styx. The band does it again in “The Screaming” (featuring — you guessed it — The Flaming Lips), but the more straight-ahead, traditionally poppy twosome “Luminous Veil” and “Guess I’ll Be Okay” is just as winning.
A rare album that gets its momentum in the back nine instead of losing it, Wastoid overcomes a comparatively slow start with a rush of impressive songwriting toward its end. It lacks a song as singularly effective as The Birth’s “New Heat,” but the sophomore effort is a fully baked thought, and even its most starkly contrasting offerings are bound together.
There’s a gentle, throbbing loop that its first and last songs are built on, and it pulses throughout like the album’s very own irregular heartbeat — which is fitting, because it feels like a new monster has just come alive.