Review: STRFKR – Being No One, Going Nowhere

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STRFKR (formerly known as Starfucker before vowels fell out of fashion) never wanted to be pinned down or confined to any single box. In an interview, frontman Josh Hodges declared that the band’s mission was to create “dance music that you can actually listen to, that’s good pop songs, but also you can dance to it,” so that new listeners could at least have a good time, if they weren’t immediately blown away by the melodies and lyrics. This sounds like a modest goal, yet the caveats in this statement indicate that they wanted to do more than make simplified dance music or pop songs.

STRFKR’s 2008 self-titled debut was full of simple electronic pop ditties, so their 2009 follow-up Jupiter (originally released as an EP and expanded to a full-length in 2012) seemed to be their first full-hearted attempt toward this intricate goal. It contained consistent dance beats and impressive melodies, including the best all-dude cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” you’ll ever hear. Reptilians expanded on this in 2011, with well-crafted songs that went further into synthpop territory, before the highly eclectic Miracle Mile combined the simple pop songs of their debut and the dance music of Jupiter with a new psychedelic style. Much like the experimental electronic group Yeasayer, none of their albums sounded alike, and they attempt to hide deeper lyrics behind pop hooks. For STRFKR, this meant contemplations of life, death, and frequent samples of British philosopher Alan Watts.

Being No One, Going Nowhere is an apt title for an album that continues this pattern of lyrical existentialism, although the second half of this title also seems to describe the album’s music. The album is designed to have an ethereal, celestial feel – as indicated by its cover – and its themes originate from Hodges’ time spent in Joshua Tree National Park, where “it’s easy to feel small and slow.” True to form, it does breach sci-fi electronic rock territory a la Klaxons, and you don’t have to search too hard within the album’s lyrics to find the kind of meditations on life that would arise from spending time in a desert at night.  Opener “Tape Machine” asks “was this trouble your nature?/why can’t you shake it?,” while “Satellite” declares “my thoughts all evil and pure/gone away from my own design.” Other reflections are more personal, like “what could I have changed your mind?” on “Open Your Eyes” and “we were both confused and young, and our games are growing old” on “Dark Days.” No, it’s not all deep and philosophical, but at least STFKR’s musings seem natural, be they metaphysical or intimate.

 

That said, you have to strain quite a bit to actually understand the lyrics most of the time. Hodges sings in a tone that makes Thom Yorke seem lucid, which is peculiar for an album that places significant emphasis on lyrical content. Furthermore, he also has an overall dreary quality to his voice, which dragged down many a track on Miracle Mile and continues to do so on Being No One, Going Nowhere.

In contrast to Hodge’s voice, though, the album is actually the most straightforward dance music album STRFKR have released to date, and nearly every track is full of pumping beats designed to get you moving. It’s a cleaner sound than what they’ve done on past songs like “Medicine” and “Malmö,” and less intense than “Bury Us Alive” or “Quality Time.” Yet this moderation brings an overriding quality of sameness to Being No One, Going Nowhere, and tracks easily blend together. Taken individually, nearly every track is a welcome addition to a dance floor, yet as a whole they quickly become indistinguishable.

There are of course exceptions to this uniformity, and Being No One, Going Nowhere does nudge the band in the occasional new direction. The opening rave-like synthesizers of “Tape Machine” and its various sci-fi sound effects make it a good opener, and “When I’m With You” has a previously unheard house music quality to it, with a thumping bassline. Elsewhere, lead single “Open Your Eyes” has a catchy chorus full of hi-hats, and “Something Aint Right” features a relatively strong vocals during its hook. But most importantly of all, Alan Watts returns to lecture us on galaxies and interconnectedness on Being No One, Going Nowhere’s “Interspace,” after being conspicuously absent on all of Miracle Mile. In this context, Being No One, Going Nowhere does have some dazzling spots in its galaxy visions and revelations of the self, but the interconnectedness is more of a limitation than a marvel.

Rating: 6/10