Alva Star: Escalator

Alva Star
Princess Records

Even if I thought Escalator was crap and not one of the more captivating local releases of the year, my negative attitude couldn't come close to the crabby review that serves as the album's liner notes. (Although I am jealous that they beat me to the line, "I wouldn't even be surprised if [blank] were one of those records you can play backward to hear the devil.") This, combined with the cover's headline, "Alva Star's Down Escalator," sends a clear message: The mainstream masses expecting another edition of meat-and-potatoes pop will be disappointed.

Maybe they'll be turned off by the unavoidable metatheme: the life and death of a has-been. Escalator follows a weary musician who forgoes the usual kick-in-the-speakers frustration, instead rolling his eyes at his manager before pouting himself to sleep in a corner of the studio. The whole thing would smack of coddled rock star if not for the band's obviously facetious (or at the very least self-aware) bent. It also helps that the songwriting is unconventionally soulful, as if ELO and Al Green had a kid and shoved a keyboard into his hands before he could fully understand the absurdity of his lineage.Even when singer John Hermanson plays the role of cocky bastard, it's over the smoothest of grooves. In "Downsides," he sings, "Is anyone going to take us on? Just let them try," in a vibrato-laden falsetto, like a long-lost Gibb. "Comeback" puts him back in his place, with the so-called supporters who've followed his downtime in the tabloids evaluating his chances at success. Inevitably, he fails, the pity fest coming to a head in "Curtain Drops," where you can imagine the broken man writing in his journal: "Is music your only friend?"

Each song sounds like a collage, and with good reason. The craft-conscious Hermanson changed his approach with Escalator, entering the studio with no songs in tow, piecing together the 10-song album line by line. The rest of the band came in later to fill out the sound. Without really trying, Hermanson created a cohesive concept album that's so unexpectedly bizarre that you might not get it on first listen. If that's the case, try listening to it backward and let me know how the rocker turns out once the devil gets involved.

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