Stars Like Fleas is the Broken Social Scene of Brooklyn, a collective running the gamut of cutting edge bands from Beirut to At The Drive-In. The wondrous layers are made possible by minute contributions, a glockenspiel here, a flugelhorn there, but the arrangements are thick and rewarding, even in their weirdest states.
Stars Like Fleas does not try to be a friend with “Karma’s Hoax.” A tender menace drifts through the six minute piano part, trumpets screech in pain, drum sticks rain on the skin and Montgomery Knott’s broken whimper is sung from the fetal position.
After nearly two minutes of drone, the hands around the neck loosen, blood returns to your skull; you're in a summer clearing. Montgomery Knott is singing “I Was Only Dancing,” a glistening, uplifting moment after the previous, subterranean track. Knott’s upbeat musings build into euphoria as the refrain of “I was only…” echoes in sprightly variations. The outro shifts into twangy blankets and suddenly it's a comfort tune; it's like he's taking us home.
It takes two more songs for Montgomery and company to find us again. “Falstaff” and “Early Riser” fiddle and drift about, disinterested in giving us the time. “Berbers In Tennis Shoes” nearly makes it worth the wait, but it halts into “Toast Siren”, a scathing orchestral drone of militaristic drums and porch chimes, like they're waging a war in the peaceful home they've carefully constructed.
Knott is a tangential lyricist. The words tell bits and pieces of situations too disjointed for third parties like myself to fully grasp. But in the wake of comprehension, there's a lot of feeling. The main appeal to Knott's voice is his gentle falsetto delivery, often just slightly aloof from his range, but consistently endearing.
To me, the litmus test to a great album is how it ends, much like a great movie or book. I personally excuse the drones and frittering about of prior tracks; “You Are My Memoir” and “Some Nettles” are huge rewards. An a-typical, yet structured pop song followed by piano mobile tinkering, flittering harp plucking and a driving climax of rolling percussion and promises of romance found. Suddenly the sparse piano stabs are not stabs at all, but gentle hands resting at piece on the pure white. Knott is off in the other room, still humming with a coy smile and then… it happens — but you'll have to experience The Ken Burns Effect's finale yourself.