(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, October 7, 2011

CD review - Gringo Star, Count Yer Lucky Stars (2011)

Thick layers of saturated sound are best at full volume

Context is key. After a cursory listen to Count Yer Lucky Stars, I mentally filed it away as lo-fi retro pop. It wasn't bad, but I didn't connect. I came back to it largely because I loved the band name, Gringo Star. This time, I kicked up the volume which made all the difference.

Count Yer Lucky Stars is designed for loud listening. At higher volume, the fully saturated tone resonates, drowning out any other voices competing for attention in your head. This exposes Gringo Star's psychedelic undertones. The hard stereo separation and lo-fi, garage band sound mesh perfectly with that intensity. Lo-fi doesn't mean sloppy; the band is tight as a drum head on their changes.

Count Yer Lucky Stars is chock full of retro elements, whether it's the reverb drenched tones of Mexican Coma, the the close harmonies on songs like Come Alive, or the doo-wop vibe of Jessica. But Gringo Star rises above retro obsession with their punchy attitude and complex sonic layers.

Title track, Count Yer Lucky Stars is rooted in a Yardbirds sound, even name checking For Your Love. Up tempo drums set up a rollicking two chord rhythm line, with guitars, keys, and bass. The double time pick up into the chorus sends the song hurtling at a frantic pace. It's a mod, mid-'60s rocker, but the solo kicks it loose into a headier space. The lo-fi mix and thick reverb reduce the backing parts to an ebb and flow between the two chords. Turn up the volume and details emerge from the mud, like the trippy Doors-style keyboards.

Shadow is another strong track. Elements of ska, retro pop harmonies, and garage sneer blend together in a swirling mass. The chorus is ushered in with muted guitar strums providing a rhythmic pick up. The bridge goes for an overtly psychedelic repetition. An archeologist could make a career out of excavating details from the layers of saturated sound. The last chorus fades down to set up the perfect contrast for the sparse power pop sound of the next track, You Want It.

Count Yer Lucky Stars has been ringing in my ears all day as a moderating influence for buzz kills like work, traffic, and chores. How lucky is that? Pick up the album when it releases on October 25. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to Gringo Star's show in Denver (10/20). I have no doubts that the band will deliver the songs with all the rattle and ring they need.

Listen to Count Yer Lucky Stars on AOL Spinner.

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