Music

Star Fucking Hipsters: From the Dumpster to the Grave

Unexceptional, if occasionally exciting, agitprop from New York's squatter scene.


Star Fucking Hipsters

From the Dumpster to the Grave

Label: Fat Wreck Chords
US Release Date: 2011-10-11
UK Release Date: Import
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Scott Sturgeon has had about as long and varied a career as someone without a fixed address can: from Lower East Side ska-punk terrors Choking Victim to Leftover Crack (aka "Choking Victim with a larger recording budget"), Sturgeon has been making agitprop punk music for nearly 20 years now, all woven with the common threads of ska, metal, and crust music.

Star Fucking Hipsters is Sturgeon's current vehicle for his rabble-rousing sentiments, and he's chosen to label the band's genre "bubble-gum crust." They've already reached an apex of catchiness and visibility not achieved by any of Sturgeon's other projects: their video for 2009's "3000 Miles Away" featured My Name is Earl star Ethan Suplee. But that hasn't stopped Sturgeon and co-writer/lead guitarist Frank Piegaro from continuing to address their same pet topics with the same degree of occasionally difficult intensity.

The difference between Star Fucking Hipsters and Sturgeon's other projects, though, is a distinct sheen of pop luster. Where Choking Victim and Leftover Crack both relied heavily on Sturgeon's ravaged scream and more abrasive textures, SFH's From the Dumpster to the Grave brings slightly more honey than vinegar and a wider palette of influences. Rapper Boots Riley pops up on "9/11 to Infinity", a nod to Sturgeon's continued love of hip-hop (He was credited as "Stza" on earlier recordings as a tribute to the Wu-Tang Clan), and "Honey, I Shrunk the Cops!" has a soaring chorus that almost makes up for its irritatingly sing-songy verse.

And that's really the problem with From the Dumpster to the Grave. Sturgeon has a great sense for melody, and he's capable of writing catchy songs, with Piegaro's crunchy guitars doing a lot of the heavy instrumental lifting (The opening guitar harmonies on "9/11" are especially badass), but his polemics sometimes get in the way of the song. Even when he's using female vocalists (like Nico de Gallo, Yula Beeri, and Kelsey), his intent to get as much message into the songs as possible is distracting from the basic elements of the song.

And he backslides into old habits at times, as well: "Rapture, Rinse, Repeat," sounds like an old Leftover Crack b-side, from its noticeable drop in recording quality to its thrash metal tempo and Sturgeon's abrasive screech. It's not unlistenable -- just odd when following "Ana Ng", a ska-inflected They Might Be Giants cover.

Sturgeon's schizophrenic tastes spill over into other parts of the record, as well: From the Dumpster to the Grave contains "Intro" and "Outro" tracks -- set to acoustic guitar and organ, they're pleasant, kind of nice, even. But "Intro" is abruptly cut off by the album's title track, and it's supposed to sound like a statement of intent, I think: "You thought there were acoustic guitars on here? Well take this double-timed thrash beat!" "Outro" repeats the same hook, and it's still kind of nice, until Sturgeon starts in on what sounds like a bad Bob Dylan impression. It's as if he feels like he has to subvert all of his exploratory tendencies with either anger or caustic wit.

But there's still some great songs on the album: "Drowning Out Another Year" is the kind of nihilistic anthem that Leftover Crack used to traffic heavily in, to great effect, but here it's augmented with a bowed saw and soaring backing vocals. "Death is Never Out of Fashion" bops along on a hyperactive bass line, and its chorus has a lovely descending chord progression.

From the Dumpster to the Grave barely hits a half-hour of running time with its 13 tracks, and that's including "Intro", "Spoils of War", and "Outro", whose running times are 30 seconds, 34 seconds, and one minute-29 seconds, respectively. I would never say a short and punchy punk album is a bad thing, but the album is simply too inconsistent to merit repeated listens. It just doesn't feel weighty or balanced enough. Still, it's got a couple great tracks, which makes for interesting -- if inessential -- listening.

4

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