Stardeath and White Dwarfs are no strangers to collaboration. Their last album, Wastoid (2014), features New Fumes, Chrome Pony, and another wee little band you may have heard of: The Flaming Lips. They also worked with The Flaming Lips on covers of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King. It’s a well-deserved collaboration, but not without nepotism; Dennis Coyne, the lead singer of Stardeath and White Dwarfs, is the nephew of Wayne Coyne, the front man of that better-known experimental rock band. The two groups share more than blood, though, with similar voices and an atmospheric, psychedelic sound.
The Oklahoma-based band finds a less obvious partnership in the dream-pop trio Casket Girls, with whom they share their latest EP, What Keeps You Up At Night. From Savannah, Georgia, the Casket Girls formed in a way that I imagine all bands from Savannah do (disclaimer: I have never been there)—after producer Ryan Graveface happened upon sisters Phaedra and Elsa Green playing autoharp and singing beneath a tree. That kind of whimsical narrative is fitting for a band that sometimes sounds like a fuzzed-out psych-rock group, occasionally sounds like a syrupy pop band, but always sounds dreamy and romantic.
Alternating songs, with two total for each group, the EP makes the Casket Girls sound a little more psychedelic and Stardeath and White Dwarfs seem a little more pop (emphasis on “a little”). Starting with the Georgia trio’s “Western World,” a seemingly straightforward pop song with a beat as at home in a ‘60s girl group song as in this one, the sisters sing, “We commiserate at heaven’s gate / There’s nothing natural left in the Western world,” lyrics that don’t read well but translate seamlessly in their simple delivery. Underneath the bleak message with a cheery tone, though, a droning synth line slides around, lending the music a floating, off-balanced feeling that sends it further into the realm of fuzz and surrealism.
Their second song, “Deep Time,” continues that journey with a reverberatingly mournful synth and a metaphysical refrain, “Am I you, are you me, are we free / Are we lost in deep time?” that more clearly shows why they’ve thrown their lot in with Stardeath and White Dwarfs, whose part of the album, while it can’t exactly be classified as pop, is mostly accessible. Both of their songs, echoing and cavernous as they are, rely on simply repeating structures that add clarity and rootedness despite the feeling that they are floating. A section or two in the slow final song, “What Keeps You Up At Night,” even border on catchy, and the noisier, more driving “Egostatic” opens itself up to pop sentiments in the sparser last section: “A lot’s been said now / And you can’t take it back.”
Set side-by-side, the songs of the two bands form terrain textured with objects both of and out of this world. Between the dreamscape of the Casket Girls and the space odyssey of Stardeath and White Dwarfs, What Keeps You Up At Night is a brief but intriguing album to wander through.