Last year, I was quite impressed by German folk-electronic pop band Like a Stuntman’s quirky Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town. The band, combining trashy electronics with lazy acoustic folk leanings, created a collection of songs that were haphazard in an endearing way. Odd glitches would herald the beginning of a 5 second rock jam, which then spazzed out and became a quiet folk song: this was the “formula” for Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town (while not truly being a “formula”, since each song was uniquely crafted). In the midst of the hyperactive arrangements and tongue-in-cheek humour, Like a Stuntman were able to write memorable melodies, though short and often unfocussed. The question that begged to be asked was, “what if the band actually sat down and attempted to write entire songs?” as opposed to charming song fragments strung together by irreverent studio tricks. Like a Stuntman has answered the question with Stan Places, a 6 song EP to be released on CD and on 10” vinyl. On Stan Places, the band settles their creative energy down for a while to write 6 solid, full songs of electro-pop-hizz goodness, and while the band does not cast aside their whimsical treatments and often bizarre lyrics, the band also uses these aspects to support incredibly strong songwriting.
Stan Places opens with the title track, which opens innocently enough with a quiet keyboard blip which gives way to a lazily strummed guitar supporting S. Fritz’s baritone vocals. After the verse, a plethora of instruments such as keyboard winds, electric guitars, and a seemingly sampled drum part build beautifully to a rock jam, in which the song soaks in for the remainder of the track. Dissonant guitar chords and vocal harmonies only serve to sweeten the vibe, and more and more counter-melodic elements such as keyboards and odd noises fill the mix. Yet, even in the midst of all of these disparate sounds, the song builds logically and beautifully. “Stan Places” is a great beginning track, and serves notice that Like a Stuntman has been doing their songwriting homework in-between releases. A long picked acoustic guitar-drum machine-keyboard drone intro heralds the beginning of “The Slow Lane”, until the song builds into a rock-pop jam, heavy on attitude and sonic trickery. “Hairy Diamond Breasts” follows, and despite the silly title, this song is the real deal in terms of demonstrating the excellence of Like a Stuntman’s songwriting abilities. The melody is strong and catchy, while a collection of odd sounds sail over the sampled drum and guitar rhythm. The song builds to a heavily distorted electronic pinnacle, which ultimately gives way to an almost sleek rendering featuring the strong melodies. Finally, the song morphs into a hip-hop influenced outro that fades, leaving S. Fritz alone with an acoustic guitar, singing “I’m out of lyrics”. All of this takes place naturally in only 3 and a half minutes, the longest song on Stan Places. If the world were a just place, “Hairy Diamond Breasts” would be a top radio summer hit for 2006…the theme song for lovers and young people enjoying the carefree season.
Next up is “Porsches On Their Way Home”, a somewhat dreamy song, with its warbling synths and clarinet parts, but the band keeps the song more than grounded with its plodding rhythm and heavy electronic overtones. Through it all, S. Fritz sings in his somewhat irreverent, disjointed, and light-hearted manner, layering falsetto harmonies over the main melody. “Panama Is Where Exclusive” is next, and is the quietest and most stripped down song on Stan Places (of course, “stripped down” relative to the other Like a Stuntmen songs). “Panama Is Where Exclusive” is essentially a quiet folk song, with subtle and even sparse arrangements of guitar and vocals, which eventually coalesce to a soft and dreamy postlude including gorgeous keyboard parts and a subtle rhythm, almost appealing to a mid-West USA gothic sensibility. The song is slow and beautiful. Finally, Like a Stuntmen return to their too-short song length with the 1 ½ minute long “Trash Island”, which features a seething electronic bass line, smart background vocal arrangements, a variety of electronic percussive sounds, and yet another strong melody. The song closes out the EP in a abrupt flattening of these sounds, leaving a smile on the face of the listener.
Like a Stuntmen have, in short, done it again, but only better. Not only have they retained their fun and highly inventive use of sounds, but they have notched their songwriting skills several notches, becoming bonafide song crafters in the process. On Stan Places, the band is a tad more mellow, but a lot more focussed, and the end result is a collection of six fabulous songs. A strong mid 2006 contender for EP of the year, Stan Places is sure to give smiles to discerning listeners all summer long. Highly recommended!