[27 October 2008]
Profane band names are the kind of things that either make sense or don’t. Take, for example, the Butthole Surfers—to this day, still known as “BH Surfers” among TV and radio stations wary of the long arm of the FCC. It’s an amusingly crass name, and works decently as preparation for the dark psychedelics and noisy metal indulgences of the group’s ‘80s output (who knows where “Pepper” came from). Or how about Smegma, a collective of experimental musicians—I’d like to think the name is a cheeky acquiescence to the lack of commercial prospects. Starfucker, however, only makes sense as a third-grade prank on indie-pop, which, oddly enough, is what the group’s self-titled debut ends up sounding like. The music is neither confrontational nor without commercial prospects, while the lyrics eschew any grotesqueries for sing-along chants like “she / won’t have / a thing / to do / with me.”
Like a child learning to swear, Josh Hodges, the main man behind Starfucker, sounds like he’s discovered a brand new method of giggly self-expression. Starfucker doesn’t consist so much of songs as much as a collection of ideas, each its own avenue of indie pop sugar, bubbling to the surface. Exhibit A, and far and away the best cut here, is “German Love”, where we encounter the aforementioned sing-along lyrics. The only other words for the song are “German love / I will give it to you / give it to you / give it to you”, backed by a gently strummed acoustic guitar, some quirky synths, and a basic, chugging beat, interrupted at regular intervals by some gated percussion hits. It lasts a perfect three minutes, establishing its point without sticking around too long and making things awkward. Speaking of awkward, I’ll reiterate that for a song called “German Love” by a band called Starfucker, I wasn’t expecting something this pleasant.
Of all the song-balloons Hodges releases into the Sunday afternoon blue sky, none manage to soar higher than “German Love”, but, if nothing else, Starfucker proves that Hodges is a capable indie-pop chameleon. The two-minute mandolin rah-rah of “Laadeedaa” features the kitchen sink of twee—approved percussion, including tambourines and shakers and other jangly sorts of metals and woods. Another winner is “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second”, apparently named after one of Hodges’ good friends and influences. Like the rest of the album, “Rawnald”’s lyrics aren’t anything to write home about; given the burial of Hodges’ sigh-ridden vocals, it’s possible that this is intentional. Starfucker songs bear more in common with instrumental electronic pop nuggets than other indies of the moment – think why? with a sunnier disposition. Things get mighty groovy when Hodges does focus exclusively on this kind of plinky legacy, as on “Hard Smart Beta”, a lovely number with gurgling synths reminiscent of Air or Stereolab.
The major fault with Starfucker rears its head when Hodges is content to be a little too precious. “Myke Ptyson”, with its live handclaps and yawn-worthy progression, appears to have escaped from a commercial for the next new product aimed at 20-somethings. “Miss You”, meanwhile, tries for the same forest-nymphs-playing-Stereolab vibe of “Hard Smart Beta”, but unfortunately falls flat out the gate and drags on for an unnecessary two minutes, punctuated by bubbling synths to nowhere. Oddly enough, these lesser moments feel like necessities to the whole of what Starfucker is.
It is a pop document of 2008. It is a record filled with instruments, all played and multitracked by one person, most likely in a modest little studio. It’s full of basic little repetitions and ephemera, layered together to make something more expansive than one might expect. It’s a guy with some ideas, and his attempt an intimacy in the middle of a society more interconnected than ever before. The lyrics aren’t deep, but then again trying to express something so heartfelt through words would hardly make Hodges unique, let alone its rate of failure in the modern crop of indie popsters. No, in the end, Starfucker is all the better for taking its own route. There are neither risks nor revelations here, but it’s a solid album and the product of an artist with the patience to pursue his vision and the sense of humor to still kiss off to easy classifications.