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Stereo Telescope

On and Running

[Self-released; 2013]

By ; March 12, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

James Cooley (aka Mesita) recently wrote a charming article about how he grew up playing Zelda, Kirby, and Mega Man and how the music he heard when playing those games (and many others) inspired and astonished him then and still do so today. When you spend so much of your time invested in a (good) video game, the music becomes integral, being almost subconsciously drummed into your head. When you read an article like the one above by Cooley, aspects of an artist’s music make more sense. It’s influence bred straight from nostalgia, and in Cooley’s case it’s nurtured to become its own thing within his music.

Boston-based duo Stereo Telescope are a pair of musicians who look like they owe a lot to their gaming days. While I can’t vouch for their time spent handling a SNES controller or anything like that, I can make a pretty educated guess that they must have come across an early Nintendo console sometime in their life just by hearing the first few seconds of their album, On and Running. The duo favour 8-bit electronics burring and bleeping while they add in vocals and guitars, and it’s hard to say it’s not at least another charming ode to decades come and gone.

If On and Running were compared to a game of any sort, though, it wouldn’t be a very good one. It’s only enjoyable at certain points, lasts just over half an hour, and doesn’t urge you to return to it too often. If you’re fond of the arcade melody that begins opening track “Geography” then chances are you’ll get a light kick out of the album, but even for all it’s high points and nostalgic attraction, it wears itself down all too quickly.

Credit where credit is due: On and Running is an album that flows. Each song bleeds into the next, if not jumping suddenly but appropriately, like when you enter a new room in a Zelda game. Despite its brevity, it still finds time to wander off into instrumentals that go from pointless minute long You Say Party-titled codas (“Ah! Dance!”), to lightly enjoyable more stretched out affairs, such as the innocuous “Summer,” which feels like unused “travelling music” from a game released twenty years ago, if not a forgotten múm track. Listening through in one block isn’t hard, and in the best of moods you’ll maybe find some element of escape here, but it soon becomes apparent that there’s very little to actually hook onto. Melodies are forgettable and the vocals wash away into background most of the time, usually once they’ve revealed how much reverb they’re holding on with.

Even the best moments don’t feel fully realised. “Draw Me A Sky” offers the most enjoyable chorus that verges on affecting, but it never nails any kind of emotional burst, instead drifting around cohesiveness most of the time. “Again and Again” has a chirpy melody going for it, but its synchronizing vocals soon grate while the aforementioned “Geography” aims to “tear this city down” but barely makes a racket with its chugging guitars and twinkling glockenspiel. Single “Fires” has an opportunity to stand above everything else with its bigger drums, but it just sticks out like a sore thumb here, offering nothing enjoyable to latch onto and passing by in a forgettable manner. The closing duo of tracks inject something into the formula that does help, but it comes off as too little too late when taken with the rest of the album. “I’m Not Finished With You Yet” throbs with up-tempo drum machines and a sense of urgency and “Lighthouse” sounds like the impending Big Boss level to begin with but harks up during its chorus to help it to (appropriately) find some kind of light.

On “Lighthouse” vocalist Kurt Schneider sings “Now I’m free/ so what does that mean?” and it rings kind of true, but behind all the fanfare, there’s still a distinct 8-bit melody driving the song forward, presenting the question as to how far they’ve really come. The lyrics on the album keep returning to references of breaking free but they spend the majority of the album stuck in the same rut. An upbeat rut that recalls my younger years when I spent hours in front of a TV screen, but a rut nonetheless. Bluntly, this kind of music has been done over and over again, and it’s been done better. Mesita makes it his own with complex intertwining melodies playing into and off each other while narrating it all with earnest honesty while Beach House smooth out all the elements Stereo Telescope use and refine it to a genre within itself that can work in its own subtle way on across different albums. Heck, even Passion Pit’s “Little Secrets” captures everything Stereo Telescope aim for and hits a home run with a single song (granted: that kiddie choir does do wonders). There’s nothing wrong with letting a little (or a lot for that matter) gamer influence into your music, but until you’ve got an appealing package to offer, you might just be best sitting indoors with a controller in hand, waiting to be inspired by the music on screen.


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