Stella Diana - 57

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7 Release Date:2018-05-25
Stella Diana - 57
Stella Diana - 57

Despite its early 90s heyday, Shoegaze continues to thrive all over the globe with mainland Europe seemingly supplanting the UK and the US in its increasing popularity and the number of artists taking the sonic route to their guitars and synths. Italy has been a recent hotbed, with the likes of Moondrive, Rev Rev Rev and Kimono Lights, amongst others, producing excellent blissed-out Dream Pop in recent years. Stella Diana have been mining a similar territory for well over a decade and with their latest release 57, whilst not following the usual JAMC, MBV lineage, still struggles to stand out from the ever overcrowded sphere.

'Lurine Rae' has spacious and spectral guitars from the off, but rather than an over-reliance of a multitude of pedals, the band are more at home with C86 and the more lo-fi and abrasive dream-weavers of the late 80s and early 90s, as driving guitars and tinnier drums lead from the off. Dario Torre's vocals are set way back in the mix, like early Chapterhouse, as the track is nice and melodious, if feeling dated. The slightly under-produced nature of it adds to the charm and at less than 3 minutes everything is packed in without the track outstaying its welcome.

'Naos' hints at Blind Mr Jones and Drop in its musicality, as guitars and bass feel more oblique, pointing towards post-punk as well as contemporary artists O Children and Monster Movie. Dario's vocals are more upfront, like Underground Lovers sitting in a darkened room absorbing fellow Antipodeans The Birthday Party, and as with the opener the track has more a demo feel, rather than a finished product, but still possesses some decent touches.

'Iris' is much improved, with nice echoed vocals and more upbeat tones, like early Slowdive or a less-dense Levitation. The higher-ended bass is busy, as it builds slowly before the layered guitar swathes and heavier drums appear, with the Czech Republic's long lost The Naked Souls, perhaps the best musical reference to a great track.

One of the main issues of the album is that it struggles to get out of gear in pace on a regular basis with several tracks just simply plodding along into anonymity. The poppier 'Harrison Ford' has twangs of buried acoustic guitars supporting the lead's chiming tones but is rather unmemorable. 'Ludwig' is slow and brooding, with hints of The Cure and This Ascension in the guitars and possesses nice and simple chord changes, but the languid pace is constant throughout, even as the track gets noisier towards its close. 'Mrs Darling' hints at unleashing the shackles with a brighter The Sundays opening, but quickly sets into the usual pattern and drifts along unremarkably, only waiting to the near end before the guitars 'awaken' the track from its slumber.

More effective are the tracks where outside elements are introduced, adding more variety to the record. 'Do Androids....' has washes of electronic synth notes to back the drums, before high-end bass a la Peter Hook and guitars echoed to spectral level #11 appear, dealing more in repetition and monotone which though are affective, doesn't quite possess the hooks to leap out of the stereo. Better is 'Elaine', opening with a buried sample, guitars politely emerge, along with the sound of someone breathing through life support. A nice effective and subtle use of strings adds substance and texture, as the drums are scattered, giving a positive element of unpredictability, Like Youth Pictures Of Florence Henderson meets Tindersticks, it is a very spacious song, with nice breaks in the instrumentation allowing the vocals to fully express themselves and shine, which become more mantric and atonal at the end, again adding a different touch. Strings again add depth to 'Der Sandman', maintaining a mournful tone, as guitars weave in and out and Dario's vocals are set higher, touching on Mogwai's Les Revenants soundtrack. Though the bass and percussion feels a bit muggy and heavy and The Cure references are clearly present, the variations in instrumentation, pace and tone lend weight to an interesting track.

The highlight of the album is closer 'Lost Children'. Helped again by added strings, there is simply more oomph to this track from the off. Structurally the track feels more solid as each instrument is louder without impacting on the clarify or drowning out the others. An immediate number it builds patiently to a hypnotic crescendo, nodding to late 90s / early 00s US band Antarctica.

57 is a decent album that frustrates from time to time. It cries out for surprise and intrigue and something really inventive to happen but settles too often on meandering mundanely along instead at a pleasant trajectory without making enough impact to really hit home. There is plenty of positives especially where the band are willing to experiment with sounds, noises and textures, but there's not quite enough of it for 57 to stand out as a listening necessity.

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