Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 07.29.10
in•die \in-dê\adj + El•ec•tro \ i-lek-troh \ adj + pop \päp\n
It’s been more than 18 months since iPod hard drives ran white hot from the endless looping of “Cold Dust Girl,” Hey Champ’s 2008 Internet sensation. The song, a synth-pop and rock hybrid about being snubbed by a girl at a club, turned a lot of people on to the trio. Lupe Fiasco was so enamored he even signed them to his First and Fifteenth label. Like that, the band was set to release its debut album in March of 2009. Or so they thought.
After Fiasco abruptly shut down the label, the band’s record was left in purgatory until Brent Stiefel—an ex-employee of the visionary Sub Pop label—offered up a home at Townie Records. Given its temporary shelving, Star avoids sounding stale. The dance-rock drums, crisp guitar and electro fuzz of opener “Shake” sound just as current as those of critically adored newcomers Two Door Cinema Club. The song’s pop sheen also makes it clear that Hey Champ means to attract as many ears as possible. That was the mind frame vocalist Saam Hagshenas, drummer Jonathan Marks and keyboardist Pete Dougherty were in while writing and recording the LP.
Depending on who’s listening, the band is indie rock for the club or, if you prefer, electro pop served with a side of guitar. It’s a great formula for marketing, but it also gives an air of trying too hard to please. On “No Future,” the six strings take a hike altogether to give us a less ironic take on Chromeo’s sound. The latest single, “Neverest,” is cast from the same mold as “Cold Dust Girl,” only this time the New Order melancholy is turned up slightly. Songs like “Artificial Man” and “So American” hint at punk authenticity, but ultimately, tooled for maximum playability, Star seems well positioned to make members of the band just that, stars.
—Joshua P. Ferguson