And not one of us had it ruined by mishearing “cellular”…
William John: From the kitsch of “Pull Shapes“, to “Find Me Out“‘s devastating heartbreak and corroding faculties, to the comparatively exuberant “Stellular”, one thing has remained constant: Rose Elinor Dougall’s superlative, confounding voice. It’s at once sinewy and commanding, as though it could slice glass, but also velveteen, cosy, and so reliably tender. On “Stellular”, Dougall positions herself as cheerleader, accompanied by cosmic synths and a whirring bass line. When the pistons come to halt and she exclaims “you…are…stellular!” in her round-voiced, admiring, knowing way, not only does it restore the listener’s figurative crops, but makes one flush with incandescent triumph.
Thomas Inskeep: “Stellular” is built around an awesome snare pulse much akin to Trentemøller’s stellar “River in Me” but goes in some unexpected directions: it’s spacier (pun intended), it’s got vaguely horn-y synths on the chorus, and its title is “Stellular” for chrissake (“having the shape of a small star,” according to Merriam-Webster). The guitar tones read post-punk if not quite new wave, and Dougall’s vocals especially give this liftoff. As someone who never paid attention to the Pipettes, for me “Stellular” is one of 2016’s most pleasant — no, not “pleasant,” more like small-scale magnificent — surprises.
Madeleine Lee: I’ve been informed that “stellular” is a real word, but it’s not a very attractive-sounding one to me. But if it’s what allows the syllables of “constellations burn brighter” to be laid out over the next line the way they are, turning a potential cliché into something as alien and ear-catching as the marriage of outer-space synths to post-punk bass, then I’ll allow it.
Katie Gill: This desperately wants to be a synthpop banger. And the verses have the potential for a synthpop bangers! However, the lilting vocals mixed with the ethereal synth mixed with those hard snares just muddle together into noise at certain points–especially ironic considering that the muddled mess is accompanied by “burn brighter.” I wish the song took its own advice.
Will Adams: With its hyper-tempo and skittery synths, “Stellular” plays like a brighter reimagining of Trentemøller’s “River In Me.” While it misses out on some of the sinister edge, Rose Elinor Dougall’s starry-eyed performance is a pleasure in itself.
Ramzi Awn: Finding someone stellular in a cold and cruel city is a great feeling, but it doesn’t always sound so great on record.
Ryo Miyauchi: Instead of showing us how big the stars actually are or how strong its gravitational pull, Dougall points up at the sky to admire celestial bodies from afar. The gossamer synths draw out most of the song’s sense of cosmic grandeur and curiosity while her voice stays low-key, raising exactly once and only once. But whether it’s that sudden jump giving the song a subtle yet effective hook or how she awes at the sweet sounds of the titular word, her state of down-to-earth reserve makes me appreciate the small things.
Katherine St Asaph: There’s probably some critical syzygy that can map, perfectly, Rose Elinor Dougall and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s respective shifting alignments with rock and dance. While you work that out, I’ll be here, whisked alongside the ambivalent narrator into someone’s gravitational field: a star that looks like a pinprick (key to the lyric, I think, is that it’s a small star) until you’re swept up by it. The metaphor’s been done before, and so has love, but both retain awe. What’s “you’re giving yourself away again” to a cosmic force?
Cédric Le Merrer: Solo ex-Pipette makes modern space pop isn’t a shocker at this point, of course. But this time I get the lyrics, and they seem to aim for comforting and confidence-boosting. At this point it’s a cliché to point out how awful 2016 was and how worse 2017 will probably be, but will the psychedelic be the comforting escape from it all we need? I kind of get the appeal of the surrealist, of the lysergic and of, basically, drugs in the face of absurdity. But we’re going to need much stronger doses than that.