I first encountered the four-piece rock band from Atlanta, Georgia opening for Danny Worsnop’s solo tour this past January in a small venue in Frederick, Maryland. Though the venue was small, the energy and iridescence they brought filled the place to the brim, fascinating everyone, including me. Their newest album, Love Potions, released fittingly on Valentine’s day this year truly uses that same energy to take listeners on a journey of rebellion, love, and stardust.
This album is filled with the aura of magic, however, it is not a cheap magic found from a Walmart kit or a show in Vegas. It is a magic where the only tricks behind the curtain are the passion and innovation of rock, along with the snapping of the bubble in bubble-gum pop. The album begins with the strong jam “Hangin’ on Tonight”, letting the listener know that they better be hangin’ on for the ride this album will take them on.
Throughout Love Potions, each instrument and vocal part is distinct, an art so commonly lost through overproduction in search of perfection. The instruments and vocals work perfectly in tandem on what feels like their own path, coalescing with and complementing the others. With catchy bass licks from bassist Aaron Lecesne, one would think they are the sounds of combat boots on cold pavement with how hard they hit, especially in songs such as London and Something Ain’t Right. The bass throughout the album sets an undercurrent for the intensity, always in motion, never stagnant as it follows the listener closely on the path through the showcase of punk magic the album builds.
The guitars, provided by Kriss Tokaji and front-woman Kimi Shelter, stand side by side with the others, helping to carry the listener along in an almost supernatural glow. There are strong moments of psychedelia and blunt force creativity where their solos sound completely, and beautifully improvisational, as on the song Coming Up Roses. The range of the guitars travels from the inspired sounds of Hendrix, to Jimmy Page, and even further beyond as they carve out a well-deserved niche for their own style.
Emily Moon hammers home the fantastic and heart-pounding drumming which gives the album such a naturally flowing pace, but with surprise twists on the path. The drumming on songs such as Holy Mother lead the way, bringing forth a true power of Love Potions which is empowered by the other members’ talents: making rock and roll danceable again. The drums, played so consistently with fervor, provide a groovy intense backtrack to passionate music that while rebellious and in your face, is begging to be danced to.
The vocals of front-woman Kimi Shelter are remarkable with the ability to go from a soft tone similar to flower petals to a powerful howl as shown through Holy Mother and Precious. Her vocals, no matter their volume, hold immense strength, a power in waiting. By drawing in the listener with her vocals, the power they hold then waits like an animal, ready to take advantage of the moment to show its full potential to the enraptured listener. Kimi’s strong vocals and inspired guitar playing are part of what makes the band so transformative.
The new sound they create speaks to the gritty and supernatural, almost Bowie-esque world full of stardust and love they sing in. There is a beautiful haunting quality to their music in some songs such as “Bitches Be Witches,” but it does not slow down the music, instead it only a adds fantastical quality reminiscent of early Stevie Nicks and Heart, but with more of the rebellious punk side of Joan Jett and mysticism and punching power of Led Zeppelin.
Having influences throughout classic rock and punk which showcase themselves in the album but portraying their own power through both hard hitting songs and softer ballads such as Precious show how unique a space this band is carving out for themselves. While inspired by the past, they are not bound to it, not when they have their own future to create. That future is obvious with such intriguing and complex songs which, if I had to describe the aura surrounding them, particularly “London,” would be similar to the scene in Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” where Jimmy Page sitting by the lake, turns around, and as the surroundings turn purple, his eyes glow red.
Overall, I would say Starbenders are more than just accomplishing setting out a niche for themselves, and not copying the classics. They both show their inspiration, and exemplify their own talents in a genuine way which makes the listener eager for more. Their creativity and innovation show as they blend rock and pop once more in a natural combination with organic sound. Starbenders continue to refuse to be boxed in by genres, definitions, and even mortal earth itself. With animalistic grace, the album ends with the mystically charming song ‘One of Us’ which feels as fitting as a song to hand hold the listener as they leave the world the album has built, waiting for them to return again.
I highly recommend buying this album if possible, and once concerts are available again, going to see them live to experience a rock n roll baptism you’ll never forget. That cold January night in Frederick, Maryland left me totally transfixed by their talent and ingenuity, and this album has further impressed me in their new take on rebellion and existence. If Starbenders continue using their immense talent to create art such as this, the future of the music world and cosmos are looking extraordinarily bright once more.