The New Orleans-based rock band revisit a classic sound; is 2013 ready for it?
Before Metallica, "heavy metal" was a fluid term that described a lot of hard, blues-based music. After Metallica, "metal" referred to blues-free, militaristic music that had demonstrations of power as its underlying subject matter. That shift left a lot of heavy bands without a meaningful descriptor; I like the uncomplicated "hard rock" for New Orleans' Star and Dagger because it's simple and accurate. They're hard and they rock. On their new Tomorrowland Blues, they grind out muscular - not musclebound - riffs, riffs that try to move you instead of stalk you.
Star and Dagger's hard rock has a classic sense of punk/glam style. The cover features Sean Yseult, Dava She Wolf and Von Hesseling looking angelic in white, an homage to The Valley of the Dolls that signals not to take the image at face value. The band's crunch is similarly sleek, textured and stylized, but the lyrics are from a world that's anything but elegant: "Freaktrain," "Your Mama Was a Grifter," "Selling My Things." The latter presents Star and Dagger at their sludgiest as Hesseling sings about emptying the house down to the mattress to buy drugs. Dava's guitar stings and bent notes tap into a tradition of sleazy, rock and punk takes on the blues while Yseult's steady, even touch on bass gives the tracks a relentless propulsion.
In another era, it would be tempting to consider Tomorrowland Blues as a Can't Miss album, but in that era, hard rock fans were largely suspicious of women and treated them as novelties, so maybe not. Today, it's almost an underground sound despite a multi-decade history. If there's a shortcoming, it's that the album feels slightly detached from the world. It's clear that Dava, Yseult and Hesseling are heavily invested in Star and Dagger and its music, and they're making the music they want to make. Whether there's an audience for it or not is the question they're just starting to explore.
In today's My Spilt Milk podcast, I talk with Sean Yseult and Von Hesseling about that question, the band's origins, life on New York's Lower East Side, and Mount Everest. Tonight Star and Dagger play a CD-release show for Tomorrowland Blues at Tipitina's with R. Scully's Rough 7 opening.