Album Review: The Stiletto Formal, '¡Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta!'

Phoenix's The Stiletto Formal are playing at Chain Reaction in Anaheim tonight. They just released their full-length debut album yesterday, and I reviewed it in this week's Weekly, on racks later this week. But here it is now, in case you're interested in knowing what they sound like before tonight's show. It's like time travel! And since the review actually ran on the New Times blog in Phoenix yesterday, it's like really wonky time travel.

As the New Times blog notes, I've been following the band for a while, and actually reviewed their initial EP while I was freelancing as a senior in college. Ah, memories. I can't find that review, but here's something I wrote about one of their live shows circa December 2006.

The Stiletto Formal ¡Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta! (Eyeball Records)

It's better to try too hard than not hard enough. That might sound like a platitude from an inspirational poster that hung on your elementary school room wall, but in the case of ¡Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta! the debut full-length from Phoenix's Stiletto Formal, it really is true.

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Making good on the promise of their first two EPs, Masochism in the Place of Romance and the Army of Darkness-referencing This is My Boomstick, the band puts literally everything they have on this record, including screaming, reckless genre-bending, wild tempo changes, and a guest appearance from underground rapper MURS on “Sleeping Our Way to the Top.” And then there’s the cello. While not the first band to incorporate the classical instrument into indie rock (done notably and credibly in the past by Cursive and Murder by Death), its seamless integration in songs like “50 CCs of Anything Potent” prove that it's not simply a goofy gimmick.

The lyrics match the music quite nicely: complex, fractured and occasionally off-putting. When lead singer Kyle Howard emotes “You can stake your claim in the tributary” in the rollicking opening track “We Are All Muckrackers,” who knows what that could actually mean, but it’s intriguing nonsense worthy of at least some thought, like a Zippy the Pinhead comic strip.

And, of course, it's a concept album. Why wouldn't it be? Each song is meant to be a “cinematic collection aimed at a different facet of human interaction,” which you surely would not be able figure out on first listen Nebraska, it isn¹t.

The Stiletto Formal dub themselves “eccentric rock & roll,” and instead of just being a marketing pitch, it’s a mission statement. Sometimes the result is a bit messy, but that’s sort of the point.

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