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ALBUM REVIEW: Stardog more than sum of its NEPA parts

By Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent

May 8, 2013

How appropriate that the first lyrics we hear from Stardog Champion's “Exhale” EP go something like: “Spark in the eye, fire in the hole.” This overwhelmingly assertive musical plan of attack serves the band well and sums up the five tracks on “Exhale” as much more than a Lifer/Breaking Benjamin splinter. Stardog is a dynamic, rock-honed paradigm standing tall amid an ever-bubbling wellspring of modern rock cookie cutters – zero pretension with just the right touch of refined rawness; the band's honest melodicism says they are hopelessly devoted to a brave musical future.

Recorded at NRG Studios in Hollywood by Grammy-nominated producer Neal Avron (Everclear, Switchfoot, Fall Out Boy), the sound on “Exhale” is pure modern rock muscle. Not quite as heavy as Breaking Ben, guitarist Aaron Fink instead chooses a scrappier, run 'n gun guitar approach, smattering tracks like “When We Fall” with a familiar, de-tuned urge, yet leaving plenty of open space throughout for vocalist Nick Coyle's imploring wail of “no more lies,” just before the arena-ready infection of the layered chorus kicks in. “Nothing To Lose” rocks with similar abandon, with more of a punkish edge, akin to the driving, eccentric approach taken on material like Stone Temple Pilots' “Purple” album – adventurous, stinging, slightly off-kilter ear candy.

Other tracks like “House Of Cards” up the emotional range with calculated, progressive chord structure – opening with a haunting, picked sequence before Coyle testifies to human nature's arbitrary flaw of “holding out for something better,” lashing out against how, “When push comes to shove, it all falls apart.” Closing out the EP is “The Switch,” a melancholic ballad filled with lip-quivering reassurance and alleviating imagery of “the dark fading away” – overwhelmingly positive without the slightest touch of sap.

“Exhale,” while forward-thinking and vital, satisfies with melodic familiarity and artistic authenticity; the sound of four musicians not content to live off past glories, planting excitingly new, articulate seeds of musical expression.

Stardog Champion 'Exhale' Rating: W W W W