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  Alva Star  
  Princess Records  
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Alva Star are a band from Minneapolis, who have recorded a second album called Escalator. Apparently, this album was something of an experiment, as front man John Hermanson originally recorded these song in a simplified manner, before adding layers of sounds and instruments. His intention was to create something of a lush, psychedelic pop record. And with that in mind, I can certainly understand his intentions, even if the record as a whole isn't entirely successful.

Escalator begins with its title track, which is vaguely reminiscent of that late 60s Beatles-esque type music. Think White Album, and you're in the right ballpark. This song has lots of phase shifting, with multiple vocals in harmony. It seems a little odd on the surface, but it is very radio friendly and wholly listenable.

From there, Alva Star moves into a softer mode, albeit still with a slightly psychedelic feel and the doubled/multiple vocal lines. Yet, the strength of the band seems to lie in their musical construction. For instance, on Comeback, the melody seems to alternate between the bass and lead guitars. Likewise, Cold Calculated features hand claps as well as what sounds like a xylophone in the background. Furthermore, on the latter song, the melody again appears to pass from instrument to instrument, which suggests the relative strength of all the musicians.

Tornado Girl is a bit of departure, which New Wave style guitars and a focal bass line. In this case, if you like The Cars' Just What I Needed, you'll probably like this song. However, the next song, Downsides, is the first actively disappointing song on Escalator. It's very vocal heavy, and the harmony is off just enough to grate on my nerves. Furthermore, Hermanson's falsetto comes across as a faux-disco/funk maneuver that just isn't right.

Unfortunately, Downsides left such a bad taste in my mouth that I automatically was suspicious of the next song. And when it began with more falsetto and a slow piano, I was tempted to write the rest of the album off. However, The Level improves as it progresses. And, with one minute left in the song, the band breaks into a quick, heavily distorted rock number which is driven by the bass and drums. In and of itself, this last minute is utterly gorgeous and compelling, and I wish the rest of the track (and the album, for that matter) were more like it.

The next song, The Messenger, continues the upbeat pop milieu that was first introduced in the first song. Although there is nothing particularly outstanding about this track, it has a nice head-bopping drum line, which makes it into danceable Indie Rock, a la What Made Milwaukee Famous. And, unlike some of the earlier songs, it doesn't have that overwhelming psychedelic influence.

But then there is Curtain Drops, which I swear has the exact same guitar riff and rhythm as The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun. Still, despite this influence, the song does have some nice synth work acting as an off rhythm. In this context, the layered vocals and gentle swells work to Alva Star's advantage.

And then there are the last two songs on the album, Today and Get Behind Me. Today is noisy and loud, with enough vocal shifting and effects to create a wall of sound. The guitars and drums seem straight-forward, but the effects draw so much attention that you can't easily hear the song itself, which I think could be a nice song, if they had allowed it to be. In essence, Today epitomizes most of the problems with the album.

Luckily, though, the album ends on an up note with Get Behind Me. This one begins with slow vocals and a soft, acoustic guitar. In the background, I think I hear a slide guitar and perhaps a theremin adding touches. Still, there don't seem to be as many layers on this tracks as on the others. When you combine this with Hermanson singing in a more speaking style, it turns out that Alva Star can actually write a great little Indie Rock tune. I really like Get Behind Me, even as it swells with the sound of the full band, and I wish the whole of Escalator were more like this last song.

In the end, if the layers of recording were stripped away, I suspect that there is a good album just waiting to get out. The best tracks on Escalator stand up despite the way they are put together, and most of the more middling songs could be improved if Alva Star would just simplify their sound. Yet, as a self-described experiment, one would hope that the band learns from its effort on this record and changes a bit as they move forward.

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