Starcrawler went straight from high school to a record deal in an era when kids their age play rock star video games and there no longer are record deals. This rapid upward mobility was achieved thanks to family support that was not limited to buying strings or turning the garage into a rehearsal pad.
Vocalist Arrow de Wilde’s grandfather Jerry took iconic photographs in the ‘60s (that shot of Jimi Hendrix dousing his flaming Strat with lighter fluid was his). Her mother Autumn was born in Woodstock and continued the family tradition by shooting the likes of The White Stripes and Beck, directing music videos for artists such as Spoon and Death Cab For Cutie, and writing a book about Elliot Smith. Her dad Aaron drummed with Smith, as well as Father John Misty, Ariel Pink, and his own band, Beachwood Sparks.
If that wasn’t enough, Ryan Adams (a friend of mom) produced the band’s eponymous debut, and Elton John premiered the single “Ants” that preceded the album’s release on his Beats 1 radio show, Rocket Hour, last November. Oh, and Dave Grohl personally invited them to play the CalJam he curated. The Los Angeles–based band is so connected, it’s almost embarrassing.
As much as all of this makes Starcrawler easy to dismiss, the band proves much harder to ignore.
Evidently, they’re difficult to describe as well. Articles gushing about the young group refer to them as “stoner metal,” “hair metal,” “’70s glam,” “punk” and “grunge.” The confusion is likely because at any given time Starcrawler can be any of those things.
The aforementioned “Ants” (not on the album) is fuzzed out Detroit proto-punk gone glam, with Arrow playing the part of Suzie Quatro cum Iggy Pop. The video, filmed at The Echo in their home base of Echo Park, sees the singer gyrating out of a straightjacket with fake blood pouring from her mouth. “I got ants in my home, I got ants in my bones,” she sings while flipping out exactly like someone with ants in their bones likely would.
There’s nothing exactly like that on Starcrawler (Rough Trade Records), though that isn’t for a lack of trying. The band seems willing to give anything a go as long as it rocks sufficiently. Bassist Tim Franco takes the lead on “Love’s Gone Again,” which sounds like an ‘80s Sunset Strip band doing their best Runaways impression. “Different Angles” is Kiss gone punk rock. “I Love LA” is grunge fun, with drummer Austin Smith driving the track with surprising agility and economy. “Full of Pride” sounds like a slowed-down, street-metal “Cannonball.” It’s not hard to see L7 doing “Let Her Be,” and album closer, “What I Want,” is the kind of slow and sleazy a stripper could love. Mentioning an adult entertainer in a review of an album by a bunch of teenagers might be gauche if it wasn’t for “Pussy Tower.” Behind a decadent bluesy New York Dolls swagger, guitarist Henri Cash and de Wilde trade lines about the wonders of head (not the one on their shoulders). This ain’t your father’s indie rock band. Or theirs, for that matter.
It would be easy to be cynical, write Starcrawler off as the sum of their iPhones’ contacts, and complain that their inability to lock into a sound is detrimental. But the album confounds such thinking by throwing back to an age before irony. The disjointed nature of the 10 songs is a product of their enthusiasm for the almighty riff in all its forms; the sloppiness part and parcel of the recklessness of youth is a feature, not a bug. If rock & roll is dead, nobody told these kids—and they probably wouldn’t listen anyway.