Seriously, why have Stella Dawes not been signed yet? A clutch of glowing reviews like theirs, and you might have expected someone major to have taken notice by now.
I first received my copy of ‘Contrasts‘, their debut full-length, in the summer of 2008. Boy was I excited. I’d been keenly following this band for a while, ever since vocalist Mike Shakespeare, ferreting his way around Myspace one day, politely messaged a bunch of like-minded people in my area asking us to check out his band. Words such as ‘Mare‘, and ‘Eden Maine‘ were bandied around, and I’ve been in love ever since.
I had known the album had been in production for a while. Mike and guitarist James Barter were taking on the entire process themselves, fitting it around day jobs, so a delay was to be expected. But when it came, I was stunned. Two tracks, ‘Dichotomy‘ and ‘Everything Happens to Eeyore‘ had been favourites for a while, and the recently previewed ‘Happy Ever Afternoon‘ and ‘The Unspeakable‘ had satiated my desire for new material, but even these didn’t prepare me for the majesty of the beast.
You see, with a lot of albums, and ones of this genre in particular, the songs – the lyrics and the heartfelt meaning behind them – can come out quite same-y. Not entirely, obviously, but I quite often find myself having to check the name of the track against the listing to get a bearing of where I am in the record. This is never the case with Stella Dawes. Every song has a unique hallmark, not least in thanks to Bart’s unique guitar sound – something akin to the love-child of a chainsaw and a cheese grater. You know it’s ‘Gut‘ because of the throaty staccato opening. You can differentiate between the two ‘Investment Intercourse‘ tracks (Deposit and Return respectively) because the former kicks you squarely in the groin at 1:31. You know you’re listening to what is arguably the album’s centrepiece ‘When the Tiger Lost His Voice‘ because, well, who else sings about tigers except Survivor? No riff or chord progression is repeated between songs, and they could have, because they’re all good.
For me though, it’s the very lyrics I mentioned earlier that make this record for me. Furious wrath and hardcore go hand-in-hand, and that’s all well and good, but I like my lyrical spice to take a more intelligent twist than your average ‘argh, I’m so misunderstood!’. Mike knows what he doesn’t like about the world, but he expresses it intelligently and, above all, poetically. Lines like ‘we polish shit, but like it or not, nobody here is perfection’ ring true, as well as being delivered with consistent gusto and conviction.
Just a little note on the packaging. If ever there was a reason to buy a physical copy, this is it. The brown cardboard case is beautifully DIY (in keeping with the ethos of the whole package), and charming to boot. The insert, chock full of handwritten lyrics, continues the theme, and a nice little bonus was the typed insert thanking me for buying the CD. It’s these little touches that might draw the ever-increasing number of pirates away from torrent sites and towards their wallets, were the majority of albums not merely templated jewel-case jobs. Anything to help in the war.
I know the band is not currently gigging due to the departure of founding bassist and drummer, Steve Butcher and Simon Kendrick, but I wish them the best of luck finding suitable replacements to fill the void. Based on a heavy amount of speculation (and the appearance of a couple of demos on their Myspace page recently), I suspect that the rest of the band will use this time to gather their creative thoughts, and I hope they will hit us with a stunning sophomore release sometime soon.
- Happy Ever Afternoon
- Investment Intercourse: A Deposit
- Everything Happens to Eeyore
- Investment Intercourse: A Return
- Sleep is For the Week
- Fifteen Hour Drive
- When the Tiger Lost His Voice
- The Unspeakable
[The boys are very reasonably offering you to ‘set your own price’ on what you think is fair for the music. You can choose to pay either £3 ($4.84), £5 ($8.07) or £7 ($11.30) + shipping. Check out the link above to hear what you’re letting yourself in for. It’s hardly expensive, and the packaging alone is worth it.]