Music / Features
Track by Track:
Distant Stars -
The Way Things Work
Words by James Lynch
Thursday 29th March, 2018

On their debut release, Distant Stars make very clear that they won’t be bound to any traditional music-making guidelines. The duo, Richard Payne and Muriel Annic, who are respectively based in Melbourne, Australia and Caen, France, make music that is as unrestricted and eclectic as their transglobal partnership. At one moment grimy synth, the next weirdo electronic soundcollages, The Way Things Work is an unexpected journey and a wild one at that.
The Way Things Work blasts off with the title track, driven by a convulsing bass-synth and by a pounding beat that makes room for some jagged synth work and some avant-garde vocals. Followed by the slow burning ‘Estoy Tan Lejos’, which is packed with quivering leadlines and eerily dissonant melodies. These opening tracks highlight what Distant Stars do best, which is minimal synth driven by powerfully brooding intensity that constantly builds, often to the point where it feels like the track may completely become overwhelmed by its own chaotic darkness.

The album continues in a similarly erratic fashion, bouncing from the high-energy synth punk of ‘No Snow’, to the abrasive yet lush ‘Cloud Seeding’ and the all engulfing psych-out of closing track ‘Blood Machine Flesh Magick’. However, the album highlight has to be ‘Indulge’ - a masterfully crafted slice of minimal electronic that toes the line between pure pop and glitchy synth, as Muriel’s blissful vocals drift over a throbbing synth line. The Way Things Work is definitely a challenging listen at times, but each unexpected turn only works to suck you further and further into the elusive universe that Distant Stars have created. To get the inside scoop on the album, we had Richard and Muriel from Distant Stars talk us through each track.
The Way Things Work

Richard: This song is our old skool EBM/minimal track… of course it ended up sounding more The Flying Lizards than KaS Product but that’s part for the course. Muriel’s first take didn’t sound right, I suggested she needed to be more "uptight" which took a bit of explaining, I don’t think there is a French word for it!!

Muriel: You said sound more "frigid"!! and I eventually understood the gist of it. So I recorded again, with my legs crossed, imagining I was Bree Van de Kamp in Desperate Housewives.

Estoy Tan Lejos

Muriel: Language is only a tool to unite. The song is more about the feeling of being estranged, no matter where you are on the planet, or even when. Sometimes, you have the feeling of not being in the right moment in history and you wish you were far away in the past or far away in the future. “Estoy Tan Lejos" = I'm so far away. But no era is perfect, so I end up with the advice to inspire. Both meanings: breathe in and help others with art...

Richard: Many of the songs have lyrics that flip between dialects - it definitely fits with the conscious theme of broken communications and lost transmissions. The synth on the first section is inspired by ‘In my Room’ by Yazoo... but it soon gets into far noisier territory than Vince and Alf ever ventured.


Muriel: This one is a false friend for French listeners who think it has to do with leniency. And the equivalent concept doesn't really exist in French. I'm really fond of idiomatic expressions. But I used it, not really the way I shoud have done. I indulged myself in a use of your tongue!

Richard: It’s our token pop song and as it practically wrote itself it was one of the first songs we finished. I have nightmares that it will be used for a cat-food commercial and be a mega hit, then we will still be playing this tune in a crumbling Las Vegas casino when we are 108.

No Snow

Richard: This song was earmarked for my vocals very early on, so I’m guessing Muriel isn’t keen on it!!! The ending gets almost post-rock with all the noodlings going on! When writing we use a Slack Workspace to collaborate, where we post "work in progress" MP3s of the tunes and any bits of lyrics, images, videos, samples etc that we think are complimentary. Most days we catch up and chat either in my morning as Muriel gets home from work or my evening as she gets up.

Muriel: This song is for the new settlers on the barren planet feeling homesick for earth.


Muriel: I imagined what it would be like if they tried to send us into space and how we would feel, realising that they had lied to us to turn us into test subjects. The fear and the anger to have been betrayed by "clever" people. Once in space, we would try to communicate with alien life forms but would not be sure how to relate to them, having no common codes, either social or language - “what do they understand from my signals”. It's all about communication and fear of misunderstanding.

Richard: This started off with that monstrous bass tone. It was our favourite during production and we seemed to capture the atmosphere we wanted without even trying.

A Promise

Muriel: This one is the music of the advert that made people want to go into space!

Richard: A song about all the things you didn’t say, and all the things you should have. "If I see you fall, I will come back and help you and if you’re there on your own I promise I’ll call you". It started off called ‘Husker Du’ with a really REALLY cheesy chorus. Then we found that ‘OMD’ synth sound and it went off on a tangent. Like many of the songs it was dissected and reassembled a few times before deemed fit for human consumption.

Cloud Seeding

Richard: The only track with "real" bass guitar on it, in the movie of the LP this will soundtrack the zero-gravity chase scene, I will be played by Simon Le Bon...

Muriel: No! You will be played by Bouli Lanners! I will be Eliza Duchku, or Melissa Rauch… maybe even Wynona Ryder!!


Richard: Ramalama synth-punk by numbers and the first song we wrote. I was pretty happy with the Ben Bloodygrave piano drone. But our songwriting had moved on by the end of the LP so it was lucky to make the cut. It has a fade out because the whole thing lasts about 6 minutes and there’s only one thing worse than a guitar solo and that’s a synth solo. The theme is the same: a distant planet, spacecraft and radio smashed, transmitting with no way of getting a reply or even knowing if the message is heard.

Blood Machine Flesh Magick

Richard: I think we saved the best till last, which is almost certainly not the thing you should do when sequencing your debut. It was the most organic song we wrote - starting off with that haunted vocal phrase "just one time, I promise" (which ended up at the end), then combining the wall of synth noise, then finally the main vocal which was the last thing recorded for the LP.

Muriel: Into space, all alone, you need to create new art. There are no museums, no theatre, and very fast, the life on the spaceship needs entertainment. More than anyone had ever thought, And people start to realise how it's both hard and easy to express themselves. I would eventually dare to sing and get rid of shyness in space. Or get killed by aliens, it all depends on the choice of communication made beforehand.

Check out The Way Things Work above, and follow Distant Stars on Facebook to keep up to date with all their intergalactic endeavours.