Stranger By Starlight, a new project from Anthony Saggers (aka Stray Ghost) and Eugene Robinson (the singer from Oxbow) is releasing their first album, Chalk White Nights. To say that it will divide reaction down the middle is an understatement.
Robinson says the lyrics were inpsired by “unsolved crimes, male prostitution and the absence of any and all hope,” from which we can deduce that the duo seem to happily wallow in the darkness. Indeed there is no trace of light or optimism to be found across these five tracks; as Chalk White Nights progresses it gets murkier and more disturbing. Robinson doesn’t so much sing but talks, proclaims and, at points, barks over the music.
There is no easy way into this album, truth be told, and it will take a gargantuan amount of perseverance to stick with it and find its peaks. Beautiful Boy With A Stone is the best piece. After a few dramatic strikes of piano, a jazzy rhythm starts up and propels a wonderfully atmospheric and cinematic few minutes that runs the gamut from seedy via eerie to mysterious. And it’s followed by a pretty unrelenting piece of drone in the form of The Organist, the one truly insignificant part of the LP.
The Last Days Of The Sinner turns up the tension to its maximum setting and is a rather nerve-wracking listen. In the end, it all unravels on A Black Cat, a doom-laden finale that will send a shiver down the spine. Initially, just the sound of soft organs and guitars play notes that ring out for an eternity. Textures start to build and build without warning whilst Robinson yelps and hollers with a powerful echo before it all dies a slow death.
If actively seeking to be scared alone in the dark is your thing, Stranger By Starlight are more than happy to provide the soundtrack. Their aim is to make provocative and startling music and, on that level, their mission is accomplished. Chalk White Nights is a record that will surely confuse at first but, on repeated listening, some of its better qualities start to emerge. It’s too unsettling to be called weird and to call it novel would be implying that this hasn’t been tried before. However, it’s hard to think of many albums this year that are this challenging.