I See Stars won’t find favor with a widespread audience, but those with an ear for the poppy liveliness of electronica and the rugged vigor of post-hardcore should find something unique to enjoy with the debut album 3-D. Songs infused with peppy synth beats mesh with aggressive breakdowns and ruthless screams fill this diverse take on the screamo genre, which will surely appeal to the hardcore music-loving teenage crowd, but won’t win over anyone else. Powered by Zach Johnson’s hoarse unclean vocals, Devin Oliver’s pure and whiny clean vocals and dance floor-inspired electro-rhythms, I See Stars offers a largely engaging experience that, while lagging at times, showcases a new and distinct brand of musicianship for post-hardcore fans to relish.
The concurring whines of Brent Allen’s guitar and Oliver’s vocals open and dominate “The Common Hours,” a brooding and well-paced track filled with infectious synth melodies and the rhythmic drumming of Andrew Oliver. Johnson lends the dramatic element with his engrossing screams, but the defining moment of the song is Oliver’s declaration that pierces the silence: “She screams my name.” Despite its short length, “The Common Hours” provides a good look at I See Stars’ ability to combine electronica, pop and post-hardcore into something worth listening to.
A wicked little intro of synths, keyboards and drums builds into the monumental track of 3-D, “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World.” Johnson steals the show with his ear-splitting growls, but Jimmy Gregerson’s rhythm guitar riffs should not be missed either, especially when set to Allen’s adrenaline-charged guitar hooks. The use of auto-tune for Oliver’s upbeat choruses is slightly overbearing at times, but this song is represents the total package of I See Stars and is the best 3-D has to offer.
Sure to hit home with every emo and post-hardcore teenager in America, “The Big Bad Wolf” is the end of 3-D‘s significantly stronger first half. The guitar riffs and fast-paced drumming drive this song more than the ever-present synth beats, giving Johnson’s intimidating roars of “I’m the big bad wolf” more staying power. Oliver’s vocals are heartfelt but the spunky pace keeps things light, making “The Big Bad Wolf” a complex and all-encompassing track.
From the opening notes of the dynamic leadoff “Project Wakeup” to the angst-fueled breakdowns of “Where The Sidewalk Ends,” I See Stars paints a vibrant and clear picture of who they are and what their music sounds like. Johnson’s piercing screams set the tone during each heavy section filled with blazing guitar riffs and thundering drums while Oliver livens things up with his high-pitched but aesthetically pleasing clean vocals for the lighter choruses. Although the blend of electronica and post-hardcore is unconventional at times (see the overly poppy swinger “Comfortably Confused” or the jumbled mess “Sing This!”), the amount of skill and dexterity needed to pull it off is unprecedented in comparison with 3-D. The auto-tuned vocals are cumbersome at times, but for the most part, I See Stars delivers an intriguing dose of pop that mixes well with hardcore overtones. Fans of We Came As Romans, Blessthefall, Memphis May Fire, Attack Attack!, Woe, Is Me, Hands Like Houses, Of Mice & Men, Sleeping With Sirens and Asking Alexandria will be right at home with I See Stars’ similar style of balancing pop and post-hardcore with a dash of electronica thrown in, ingredients that make 3-D an entertaining debut.
Final Score: 7.3/10
Rank: 2nd (three total albums)
- Project Wakeup
- The Common Hours
- Save The Cheerleader, Save The World
- The Big Bad Wolf
- I Am Jack’s Smirking Revenge
- Comfortably Confused
- Where The Sidewalk Ends
- Sing This!
- The Ocean
- What This Means To Me