Music act The Star Crumbles came to be rather serendipitously earlier this year when singer-songwriter Brian Lambert, who’s based in Denton, Texas, reached out to singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Marc Schuster, who lives in suburban Philadelphia, for some help with his song “Kids” (which I wrote about last March in a Fresh New Tracks post). The two had previously met on Twitter, but had never before worked with each other. Well, they immediately hit it off, so much so that they decided to collaborate together on more music projects, eventually leading to their creation of a new music act they dubbed The Star Crumbles. On September 30th, their debut album The Ghost of Dancing Slow was released on Bandcamp, and will go live on most other streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) on October 7th.
Before I get into the album, I want to provide a bit of background on Brian, Marc and The Star Crumbles. Brian has been writing and recording music for many years, and says he’s “reinvented himself more times than he can count.” He even tried his hand at country music for a while, but eventually realized that it just wasn’t for him. More recently, the prolific songwriter’s been making indie rock music inspired by some of his favorite acts like Spoon, Gang of Youths and the Replacements, and beginning in 2021, he challenged himself to writing, recording and producing a new song every week for an entire year. He now has an incredible body of work to his credit.
Marc is an insanely creative renaissance man in every sense of the word. Not only is he an educator, author and literary critic, he’s also a prolific songwriter and musician, recording both as a solo artist and as part of numerous music projects and collaborations with an ever-expanding roster of musicians. As if all that weren’t enough, he’s also a pretty good visual artist, is incredibly supportive of other artists and music bloggers (including yours truly), and has a terrific WordPress blog of his own called Abominations, where he writes about music and interviews lots of indie artists. I’ve featured him three times on my blog, including a review last February of his wonderful EP There Is No Down.
In addition to making music, both Brian and Marc are wildly imaginative and funny guys. Soon after forming The Star Crumbles, they came up with the idea of creating a tongue-in-cheek back story for the act. Since their music is strongly influenced by their shared love of 80s new wave music by such bands as The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Ultravox and New Order, they decided that The Star Crumbles would have its origins in the early 80s, but due a number of unexplained circumstances, they suddenly disappeared from the music scene before having a chance to release their first album: “From 1982 to 1986, The Star Crumbles were always on the verge of something big – until they vanished without a trace, taking their eagerly anticipated album, ‘The Ghost of Dancing Slow’, with them. Everyone thought they had potential, but they were dogged by misfortune and bad timing. Also, they had terrible business sense.“
The guys recruited a motley crew of friends and fans to provide their own unfiltered insight into what became of The Star Crumbles. The result (which I was honored to be a part of) is a brilliant and hilarious video documentary Beyond the Music. The inventiveness, originality and deadpan delivery of those who participated is really quite impressive! Please press play:
Okay, now lets get to the music. The Ghost of Dancing Slow was a DIY project, totally self-recorded and produced by Marc and Brian. Marc mixed the tracks, and they both had a hand in the final mastering. Marc played guitars and drums on all tracks, while both he and Brian played synths. All but one of the ten songs on the album were written by Brian and Marc, the exception being “Cool Down”, which was written by fellow musician Mike Mosley (who also appears in the documentary).
Opening track “Desperately Wanting” was The Star Crumbles’ first official single, released this past May. It’s a beautiful and compelling song about a couple who are unable to communicate their needs to each other, leaving their relationship in a perpetual state of limbo, with each of them feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. The album’s title is taken from the song’s lyrics: “The space that lies in between. The gap that lies in between, what we’re really wanting, we don’t want to talk about. The ghost of dancing slow, inside what we’re speaking. But we pretend not to know, what we’re really thinking.” Musically, the song is driven by Marc’s hypnotic bassline, over which he’s layered somber droning synths, thumping drumbeats and gently crashing cymbals. Both he and Brian played guitars. Brian’s plaintive vocals are both comforting and melancholy, nicely conveying the sad sense of resignation expressed in the lyrics. It’s a great song, and spent 12 weeks on my Top 30 chart this past summer.
Next up is their follow-up single “Shadows in the Dark“, another winning tune with a strong retro 80s vibe that borders on darkwave. The guitar work is fantastic, and I love that sizzling little guitar solo in the bridge. Brian’s fervent vocals are great as well. The cool video, which was created by Marc, features pixelated renditions of the band trapped in an eight-bit Atari nightmare.
On the timely and relevant “Conspiracy“, the guys take on those who spread conspiracy theories, and the damage it does to society: “While bald-faced lies are told, the rhythm of what’s true skips a beat. We wonder how they get away with it. There is no consequence for ineloquence that harms the trust. I think it’s more than just a bit intentional.” The gravity of the subject is driven home by the song’s unsettling vibe, created by a rather menacing groove, overlain with dark industrial synths and distorted guitars.
“Cool Down” sounds like a long-lost song by Joy Division or The Cure, with gorgeous shimmery guitars and swirling synths, and Brian’s vocals sound better than ever here. “Cozumel” is a sweet song about spending time with a loved one in the Mexican resort, and though the subject matter is quite different, it made me think of Suzanne Vega’s great song “Tom’s Diner”. Those great jangly guitars return on the haunting new wave gem “Trees in the Forest“, with lyrics that seem to speak of feeling lost and disconnected from the world.
With its bouncy new wave vibe, “What Are We Waiting For” urges us to stop doubting ourselves and seize the moment so that we can move forward and live our fullest lives. “Spectres in Waiting” has a decidedly different feel than the other tracks on the album, with a somber, more introspective feel, highlighted by rather mournful guitar notes. The wonderfully-titled “Past, Present and Future Walk Into a Bar, It Was Tense” is another terrific story song, in which Brian talk-sings about his present self encountering his past and future selves in a bar, and wanting to ask them questions to gain a better understanding of himself: “All these years older, what do you get? I hope not colder, nor full of regret.” I love the song’s darker vibe and rather menacing gnarly guitars.
Closing track “If I Could” is the longest on the album, running over five minutes, and has a gentle, upbeat cadence that’s really pleasing. The song seems to be about searching for the truths that will help guide us to a better life, which I also think kind of encapsulates the overall them of the album: “Every time I thought I had an answer, there is just another question that begs that I go searching. Even when I find it, I’m left not truly knowing. I guess it will always be that way.”
The Ghost of Dancing Slow is a marvelous album, and we’re so fortunate The Star Crumbles were successful in retrieving the lost masters to these new wave gems so that we can enjoy them these many years later 😉
Those who purchase the album on Bandcamp will receive a bonus song. Also Friday, October 7th is Bandcamp Friday, meaning all proceeds from purchases go directly to the artists.