Planes Mistaken for Stars roar back with agitated, bloody pain and aggression on raspy ‘Prey’

planesI don’t tend to be a huge festival goer, mainly because I have very little patience and don’t like being around a lot of people I don’t know for very long. But festivals have been good for me when it comes to discovering bands I didn’t know previously—novel concept, eh? —and a little more than a decade ago, I had one of those experiences.

I was at a fest that I really only attended because a friend wanted to go, but it was there that I came across the thunderous post-hardcore band Planes Mistaken for Stars for the first time. My initial impression is they were heavy and kind of scuzzy, and they stood apart from most of the other groups at this event, because the bulk of the lineup was poppier and skewed much younger. I went on to buy “Up in Them Guts” not long afterward, and from that point, I followed the band pretty closely. Things seemed to be looking up for the band at the time, as well, as they signed to Abacus and put out 2006’s great “Mercy,” but not long afterward, the lights went out for the band, and they folded up their tent. But then in 2010, Planes were reactivated, as the guys started doing shows and getting their energy going again. Now, a decade after their last record, the band has returned with their fourth album “Prey” that sounds like these guys never went anywhere.

planes-coverPlanes Mistaken for Stars now call Deathwish Inc. home, as ideal a place for them as any, and they sound as unbalanced, heavy, and scarred as ever before. The unmistakable, gravelly croon of Gared O’Donnell remains there, smearing blood and emotion over everything, and with him are guitarist Chuck French, bassist Neil Keener, and drummer Mike Rickets (it’s notable that longtime guitarist/vocalist Matt Bellinger is not part of the band anymore). This album, like many of the Planes’ past work, is a grower. It sounds great on initial listen, no doubt, but more visits reveal other layers and colors that emerge over time. My feelings and understanding of this record are far different on listen 20 or so than one, and it’s as good as anything else in their catalog. It’s also colored by O’Donnell’s trek into Middle America, where he took up residence only to find a crumbling wasteland seemingly in midst of delusion.

The record opens with the stabbing, pissed off “Dementia Americana,” where O’Donnell delivers his rage pointedly with howls marking “you faking motherfucker, who the fuck are you?!” It’s a song that doesn’t even reach two minutes, but it sheds the blood, with the frustrated shouts of, “Wake up!” looking to thrash clueless ears. “Till It Clicks” is whirry and weird, with O’Donnell’s trademark raspy singing pushing, with the band backing him with atmospheric punch, slide guitars crying under the din, and a noisy punchout. “Riot Season” charges up, with wild howls mixing with air-filled playing, as O’Donnell warns, “It’s riot season again!” “Fucking Tenderness” has a nice, strong riff that powers the tempo, and the verses are bursting with energy as they lead to a grounded chorus. The melody is infectious, and the impact is bruising. “She Who Steps” has jangling guitars that lead to a fierce charge. The playing goes to loosen teeth, with the back end calming down, with static rising, and piano dripping like a clogged gutter.

“Clean Up Mean” is a really strong one, beginning with drubbing and guitars soaring, while the chorus has O’Donnell admitting, “Don’t want to love you no more,” in a moment that will stick in your head all day. “Black Rabbit” is a soul cutter, as raw acoustics strike, with “O’Donnell darkly warbling, “Here are your keys,” before noting, “What a fucking mess.” It’s a sad, heartbroken song that’ll jab you and let you bleed out before the door slams closed at the end. “Pan in Flames” eases into the fire before it tears open and lets the guitars scorch. The music pulls back a bit on the chorus, though the vocals hit hard, and later the soloing completely goes off and leaves torched flesh. As the track goes on, the singing scars, and heavy bass work takes us out. “Enemy Blind” has quiet guitars and coarse singing, with psychedelic keys washing in, and O’Donnell urging, “Stop killing love.” It’s another pained, stinging track that pushes the thorns in deep. Closer “Alabaster Cello” bleeds into grime and breeze, with a post-punk fog warping the guitars and the music simmering. O’Donnell’s voice isn’t heard until halfway through the song, as the track gives off heat, and the insistence of, “Now we wake,” sends the record off on a hopeful note that things are just beginning again.

Having Planes Mistaken for Stars contributing new music to our world is a very welcome thing, and “Prey” is a really strong effort that keeps giving with every listen. It also helps that no other band sounds remotely like Planes, and no one should even try. This is raspy, testy, catchy stuff that sounds pretty great anytime, but especially when you’re in a foul mood.

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