Animal, vegetable or mineral? Half the fun of Scientific Superstar is trying to guess what they are. The Durham trio defies traditional genre markers, blending guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and samples in very unusual ways. Add vocalist Junko Berglund, who sings largely in Japanese, and you have perhaps the Triangle's most unconventional group.
Formed nearly three years ago, Scientific Superstar was initially the duo of bassist Thomas Devries and drummer/ sampling star Paul Gallant. They released a self-titled album in 2007 on Subdivision 67 and had already begun work on their latest, Doomed Lucky Day, when they discovered Berglund singing with her other band, Fujiyama Roll. To Gallant she was a revelation, and soon after they recorded the title track's vocals with her, she joined the band as a full-time member.
Their eight-track arrival sidles down deep mid-tempo grooves whose sturdy rhythms and emphasis on electronics suggest Particle, in thrall to the oddball charms of King Missile, Frank Zappa and Shonen Knife. Though generally short (in and out in less than 20 minutes), most of the tracks feature at least a couple of hairpin musical curves and plenty of percolating textures, like a soundtrack for that 3-D pipe-building screensaver. A troika of highlights offer the evidence: "Sam's Quick Stop" opens with 25 seconds of Japanese before settling into a jazz-funk swing, with Gallant channeling his inner John S. Hall as he contemplates the pickled egg-and-beer peddling bounty of Durham's best beer store. With its xylophone-abetted bounce and gauzy washes of synth, the slinky "March of the Unknowns" is a lilting bossa nova lullaby. But "Renewing My Green Card" lands best—inventive electronic curliques underpin an infectious melody along with some very distant but very cool background guitar skronk. Meanwhile, Berglund recounts the title experience—"a super DMV, where the lines are twice as long and the people twice as pissed."
Multiple listens don't put much of a handle on Doomed Lucky Day. That's OK: The ride's fun enough to get back in line and try again.