Album Review: Stellarondo

Stellarondo – Stellarondo
(2011, self-released)

I’ve had a soft spot for Missoula, Montana since the first (and only) time I ever visited there. My band The Luna Moth drove the 8 or so hours out, played a show at a vintage clothing store with This Is a Process of a Still Life (before moving out here and becoming Scriptures, they seem to have played with pretty much everyone who went through Missoula, as Louis will attest), slept a few hours, then turned right around and drove back. In the few short hours I spent there the town totally charmed me, and I’ve been meaning to go back ever since. (It doesn’t hurt that KBGA, the college station there, gave a good amount of airplay to both of my last couple solo albums.)

So it was with delight and surprise that I received an e-mail out of the blue not too long ago from one Caroline Keys, who wanted to share with me the vibrant corner of the Missoula scene with which she’s affiliated–a group of about 8 bands that share members, practice space, transportation, gear, and so on.* There’s a lot to dig into, and I hope to be revisiting the Missoula beat from time to time, but I thought I’d start with the band that Caroline leads, Stellarondo.

Stellarondo’s self-titled album (which you can hear on their Bandcamp page) is a strong, diverse batch of songs that have country/folky leanings but aren’t slavishly attempting to recreate a bygone era, rounded out beautifully by the production of Adam Seltzer at Type Foundry. They start things off very interestingly indeed, with “Icarus Stops for a Burrito,” a relatively simple song punctuated with head-turning 1/8 note runs on marimba and guitar. Later on in the album we hear “Strawberry Cake,” a laid-back country ballad with  an understated string arrangement that add a richer, more subtle texture than your standard rootsy fare. That tune is followed up by “Three Cowgirls on Redchurch,” a downright strange number with a raucous, Southwestern vibe that evokes an amped-up Calexico, trumpets and electric guitar a-blazing, beefed up with fuzz bass and rock drums. Then we’re back to ballad town with “What I Know,” which makes perfect use of lap steel guitar, melodica (I think), and one of the best saw performances I’ve heard in a while (certainly way better than anything I could pull off).

I think my favorite song on the album, though, is “Hotel Roberts,” a rough-edged banjo tune with all sorts of bowed skronkiness, hectic guitar and percussion, and Keys’s voice sounding like it’s coming down a phone line. If “Three Cowgirls” was Calexico, this one’s got Califone all over it. (And hey, those are my two favorite bands that start with “Cal-“!) At its core it could be an old folk song, collected by Harry Smith and updated for the 21st century by Caroline and her band of noisemakers.

If you’re into hearing the sounds and tropes of folk and country music as filtered through the less-than-reverent ears and brains of young, energetic musicians, I highly recommend checking out Stellarondo. Hopefully we’ll get to see them live here in Seattle before too long. My thanks to Caroline for reaching out and sharing her band and her scene with us here at Blog of Wax.

*The other bands Caroline recommends we check out: Wartime Blues, Butter, Him & Her, Cash for Junkers, Wise River Mercantile, Tom Catmull & the Clerics, Broken Valley Roadshow

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