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What Are We Doing Here?

They Came From The Stars I Saw Them
What Are We Doing Here?
(Lo Recordings)

It was some time ago that I read about They Came From The Stars I Saw Them, and even longer after that when I actually heard them. Although they have a website with a little bit of information, they've managed to remain fairly elusive thusfar in terms of the amount of press written about them and even who is involved in the group. What Are We Doing Here? is their debut full-length album of 8 tracks and nearly an hour of music, and it's literally one of the strangest things that I've heard this year.

Imagine The Beta Band at their most absolute tripped-out and what you arrive at might be something like this group. According to the somewhat hard-to-decipher liner notes, it seems that nearly 20 people had at least a small hand in helping with the album, and the scatterbrain factor is definitely at work in the compositions. The disc opens with the title track of "They Came From The Stars I Saw Them," a six-minute piece that tumbles through shortwave radio sounds, upright bass, bursts of noise, lap steel, and arpeggios that sound like they were created on a keyboard with the wiring reconfigured to twitch things out. Towards the end, some spoken word vocals creep in and manage to take things to an entire other level of oddness.

"The World Turned Upside Down" takes a slightly more standard route, mixing buzzing synths with a wobbly rhythm with horn bursts, hilarious vocals, and tons of other random additions (like vocals being sung into a fan). Probably the only song on the disc that could qualify as pop is the fairly straightforward "Starburst," a gem of a little track that mixes layers of warm guitars, string flourishes and more shimmering synths into a 3 and a half minute singalong.

On the other side of the spectrum is a track like "Beer Of The Gods," a nine-minute sprawl of keyboard arpeggios and novelty sounds that is strung together like a serious of improv tracks jammed together for the hilarity of it all. Surprisingly enough, though, the group pulls off the album closer of "The Holy Mountain," an epic running nearly 25 minutes long and filled with steady builds and falls of juicy synths and just about every other instrument under the sun (perhaps 20 people really did play on the track). There's a really weird sense of humor that pervades the entire disc, and even when the group isn't hitting on all cylinders it still makes you want to smile just a bit knowing that someone had the audacity to lay something so ludicrous down. At their best, They Came From The Stars I Saw Them is what you wished the Beta Band would have done instead of watering themselves down. At their worst, they're still an elaborate freakshow that succeeds most of the time.

Rating: 7.5