“Where is the future we wanted?” In one succinct lyric, Death by Stars mulls the question at the heart of the Generation X/Y existential malaise. I have had the good fortune to attend a number of this Tacoma trio’s live performances over the past year and each time I hear their brand of psychedelic dance rock, I walk away from the venue having noticed at least one new wrinkle in the music that had previously eluded me. Death by Stars’ March 14th performance at the Mix in Georgetown was no exception.
Filling the headlining slot on a three band bill supported by Soft Blows and Mrs. Howl, the band, consisting of vocalist/guitarist Patrick Galactic, vocalist/keyboardist Cherry Danger, and bassist/vocalist Juan El Revelator kicked off their set with the first track from their debut EP The Future We Wanted (released in the fall of 2013 and available at www.deathbystars.com) entitled “Source”. Galactic and El Revelator actually opt to swap musical roles on this song, with the former providing the driving bass ostinato while the latter takes a textural approach to the guitar part, eschewing any sort of repetitive chord pattern and electing instead to create an ambient drone that provides a fuzzy aura for the song’s lone lyric “Separation is illusion”.
The exclusion of live drums in favor of synthesized drum loops has been gaining in popularity
among many Northwest bands in recent years. It is a mixed blessing. While some will miss the flash and spontaneity of an in-the-flesh drummer, the practical realities of playing live in venues that frequently offer less than stellar P.A. equipment serve to underscore one very real benefit of pre-recorded drum loops: volume control! It is the bedevilment of every band, regardless of musical style, to figure out a way to keep the vocals from being drowned out in a sea of drums and guitars. With Death by Stars, this is never an issue. The listener can hear and understand every last word. So the entire audience at the Mix had no trouble at all singing along with the E.P.’s standout track entitled “Arsonist”. Minimalism and nuance are again the order of the day as Galactic sets his guitar aside entirely to come off stage and into the audience, supported only by Danger’s dark, ringing C minor chord, to bring the Hamlet-esque brooding of the song’s verses to life before culminating in Death by Stars’ most memorable chorus “There ain’t no devil gonna steal my soul”. Imagine delta blues imagery mixed with Portishead grooves and you will get an idea of this song’s effect.
The band rounded out their set with some newer material not included on The Future We
Wanted. Several of these tunes saw keyboardist Cherry Danger taking on a greater share of the lead
vocal duties. Her husky, alto voice betrays something of Fiona Apple and whets the listener’s appetite for what may be in store for future Death by Stars recordings. And that is certainly a future that this listener wants.