The music of Stars Like Fleas is disjointed, meandering, chaotic, and wonderfully unique. The group's second full-length release, The Ken Burns Effect, is a gorgeous jaunt through experimental orchestral pop that is as engaging as it is utterly confusing. The record seems at times aimless and at other times perfectly composed, if insanely so. With a wealth of instruments (at the album's recording the group was a 12-piece collective) that clash as often as they harmonize, and tracks that drift from beautiful symphonies to discordant pandemonium on a whim, the album plays like a work of mad genius. Stars Like Fleas have created a sound that, though certainly not easily digestible, is extremely rich.
The Ken Burns Effect draws on elements of freak folk, psychedelia, chamber pop, and the high-art rock of artists such as Sufjan Stevens or Anathallo. The record is a musical smorgasbord that runs the gamut from quick, mildly recognizable pop songs like "Berbers In Tennis Shoes," to musical freakouts of epic proportions, such as the near 14-minute manic opus, "Some Nettles." It's hard to ever put a finger on what makes a certain track so enticing, or worse, why a song makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious. One thing is for sure though: the record has an affect — a strong one.
"You Are My Memoir" acts as the figurative memoirs of the record itself, perhaps standing as the perfect example and summation of every unclassifiable thing on it. Complex orchestrations, effervescent melodies, impossible to identify instruments and sounds, and an unmusical mess of a breakdown at the track's midpoint, all work together to create an upside-down pop song that is riotously fun in its eccentricity. And at the same time, the track is muddy, thick, and ugly.
Shannon Fields, who co-founded the group with Montgomery Knott, says the group's bi-polar sound is by design. "Whenever we find ourselves settling into our influences or natural impulses, live and on record, self-sabotage is usually not far behind," he explains. "What we try to do is throw out the road map, and sometimes obscure the road map intentionally."
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