STARS LIKE OURS – Better Every Day EP

The self titled full length album from Boston’s Stars Like Ours was the ultimate throwback, in the best possible way. The band’s sound recycled bits of Letters To Cleo, The Muffs, Other Star People and other 90s alternative groups with love, and gave the listener a record that absolutely overflowed with nostalgia. If nothing else, it proved that a combination of fuzzy alt-rock guitars and bubblegum inflected choruses just never gets old, but luckily, Stars Like Ours showed off a tightness and skill for well written hooks that also helped the material to stand beyond any nostalgic feelings.

On this EP, the band are working to a formula which feels very much like a direct continuation of the previous release, but fans will surely welcome much more of the same. The immediately enjoyable ‘Counting All The Ways’ opens with an abrasive electric guitar overlaid by bubblegum punk vocals, immediately advertising the contrasting anger and sweetness that often sits at the heart of the band’s best material. Once the rhythm section kicks in, the vocal melodies hold firm, but actually improve since the pop punk tune that’s been quickly set in place gives Michelle Paulhus’s performance far more of a buoyancy, and she really sells the huge, natural melody. Better yet is the way Rice Edmonston’s drums really smash through everything with really heavy snares, often accentuating the band’s pop punk edges. Those looking for more a power pop slant might latch onto a jagged riff cutting between the verses and an even brighter sounding middle eight which celebrates the punchy alt-pop of the legendary Letters To Cleo. Overall, this is very strong; especially so, since it packs pretty much all of the band’s best traits into a little over three minutes. There’s no room for any musical flab here.

The even noisier ‘A Way To Remember’ opens with a cascade of drums set against an abrasive guitar, immediately capturing the spirit of bands like Superchunk and Skiploader, but Michelle’s clean vocal gradually shifts the tone further towards the louder end of Letters To Cleo’s output once more, but also acknowledges the oft forgotten Jale in the way those melodies work with the angry music, rather than against it. With a harmony filled chorus found en route, this is classic Stars, whilst the grubbier sounding ‘Winding Down’ sounds like a collision between solo Bob Mould and the brilliant Mother May I. Those already familiar with Stars Like Ours will love the rattling bass work and fuzzed up guitars that dominate, and there’s a good chance that first time listeners will be drawn to a pop-ish chorus peeking confidently through the band’s wall of sound. Compared with several other Stars tunes, it doesn’t try too hard to be different, but the number’s blend of anger and sweetness works perfectly.

‘What’s Going Wrong’ advertises its fuzzy 90s credentials with immediate effect when Paulhus delivers a dirty bass rattle and contrasts that with a clean-ish vocal that taps even further into an alternative past. The tune than pushes forth with a full compliment of crashing drums and overdriven guitars, owing a little more to the pop punk of The Muffs than a pure power pop, but within a minute or so, it’s very clear that the band feel really at ease with the style. As the riffs plough forward, more of a melody begins to challenge the more abrasive elements, and by the time the rousing chorus rolls around for a final time, accompanied by a counter melody from a slightly pointed lead guitar, this song feels even catchier than first impressions might’ve suggested. Even with the injection of melody the chorus brings, this very much sits at the noisier end of the Stars Like Ours Scale, but it’s great to hear the band truly cutting loose.

The title cut ‘Better Every Day’ actually shows off a slightly darker side to the Stars Like Ours sound. The guitars take a deeper tone, and when played against a solid bassline, chug their way through a riff that sounds like a cross between the more melodic Pixies fare and a half-remembered post-grunge band. Michelle’s bass has a real presence throughout, but if anything makes a lasting impression, it’s Kristin Holliday’s lead guitar work, which colours the end part of the number with a great sound that calls back to a lot of 90s alternative fare, but particularly appears to pay homage to some of the great Paul Q. Kolderie productions from the Fort Apache studios. In terms of showing of Stars Like Ours with some proper musical muscle, this is about as good as it gets.

There may be a predictable approach applied here, but between a few huge choruses and some fantastic lead vocals, its five songs are actually essential additions to the band’s catalogue. A full album would’ve been great, but by presenting the equivalent of a one sided LP, the band actually advertise themselves in a much stronger position, since ‘Better Every Day’ leaves no time or room for obvious filler. For those who still love crunchy sounding alt-rock with an unashamed 90s flair, this is a must-hear.

April 2024