Stellastarr*, "Civilized"

3.5

New York rock outfit Stellastarr* takes many musical cues from its new wave forbearers, ranging from the Cure-influenced chord structures to a post-punk potpourri of guitar effects. But the band's third studio album demonstrates its unique strengths. A summer party album at its core, "Civilized" reflects its title as a model of admirably focused moderation. Delightfully restrained production gives plenty of breathing room for a full, resonant rhythm section, where similar dance rock might give more bandwidth to a hotter, shriller high end. Stellastarr* singer/guitarist Shawn Christensen's voice varies between an ethereal, high register and a darker, more affected Ric Ocasek croon. But both blend richly with bassist Amanda Tannen's airy backing vocals, which are rightfully given co-lead on upbeat jams such as "Prom Zombie" and let-me-down-easy tunes like "Move On." Closer "Sonja Cries" brings the album's high points to the fore, floating a ringing guitar line and lovely vocal harmonies over spacious drums and bass. --Evie Nagy