You wouldn’t think that someone like Efrim Manuel Menuck, ringleader of Constellation Records, whose radical views are matched only by his genre-bending punk, would harbor information on decades-old American entertainment news. When he was a teenager, he saw a story about television personality Mary Hart dating Mohammed Khashoggi, son of a Saudi arms dealer: “There was something about their pairing that got caught in my head. I was living in a flooded basement with two other lost kids and a litter of feral kittens,” explains Menuck about the conditions he was in as a teenager. Hart and Khashoggi’s courtship, although vulgar and spurious, was still rooted in love.

While Menuck was stewing over a defunct celebrity romance, we were boiling in his band's compositions. The instrumentals of Godspeed You! Black Emperor get stuck in your head like a bad news story. Via track titles alone, there are odd references to love, retribution, and freedom. Projects that contain vocals, like 2011’s Plays ‘High Gospel’ and Menuck’s work with Thee Silver Mt. Zion, are fussier, more straightforward works. There’s esoterica in the compositions, sure, but it acts more as a respite from the violence found on the television via pure escapism or benevolent acknowledgment.

Without the press release, there’s not much suggesting that Menuck would have taken any interest in the Hart/Khashoggi romance. However, there is a dichotomy swirling around Pissing Stars that could also be found on American entertainment news. There’s ugliness and beauty at play simultaneously. One track here is called 'The Beauty of Children and the War Against the Poor'. As a father, he’s got to be positive despite grievances toward corruption, war, and poverty.

'lack Flags Ov Thee Holy Sonne', the album's opener and finest cut, opens with the drama you’d expect from 2018 punk rock. Beginning with a breath cycle of cicadas and white noise, Menuck’s voice approaches with a distorted caution: “Good times aren’t the good times anymore,” he laments. Droning tones of various fidelity and overtone structure melt into the two-chord structure like dirt piling over a grave. Menuck’s vocal doubles and triples before a Dr. Strangelove bombshell drops into the mix with dark humor.  A child’s voice enters to sing about “dead stars” atop the increasingly dismal, yet deeply effective layers of harsh fuzz and cacophony.

The next track, aptly titled 'The State and Its Love of Genocide', conveys a similar feeling of dread in half of Black Flags's length. This outing is more inviting, playing with a heartbeat pulse underneath the dissonance and tortured vocals. Like Jonny Greenwood or Warren Ellis was in charge of strings, the (perhaps wholly digital) violins play tennis with the vocals. We aren’t treated to an overwhelming crescendo here as much as the churning of gears - like looking at an image of the modern political machine, unable to combat it since it is, after all, just a painting.

Transition tracks 'The Lion-Daggers of Calais' and 'Kills v. Lies' are Berlin-era Bowie sounding comedowns from the album’s first act. As if aware that we still have most of the record to wrap our minds around, they draw brief sketches of musical invention over heady subject matter. Though the monologue on 'Kills' is one of the wordier moments on Pissing Stars, it doesn’t enforce a positive or negative theme; which is in many ways similar to the now iconic ramblings of Blaise Bailey Finnegan III on 1998’s Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada.

“The Beauty of Children and The War Against The Poor” is another highpoint. High-pitched vocals herald the song alongside delayed piano chords and cellos. Triplet patterns on guitar drive the track forward in place of conventional percussion. The voice here is utilized as more of an instrument, with each syllable bearing an evil twin that drowns Menuck’s voice in digital decay and wetness. The words devolve into simple “da da da das,” and a chorus joins in for more sonic slow motion. Blink your eyes and it feels like a week has passed.

The rest of the record isn’t as memorable as these moments. Lead single 'LxOxVx/Shelter in Place' is a Menuck ballad that doesn’t work as well as his usual layered sound treatment. To his credit, a record that compellingly combines storytelling with shoegaze fuzz is hard to come by (looking at you, Microcastle). Menuck even throws in a bona fide alternative rock song with “A Lamb In The Land of Payday Loans,” but the song gives away all its tricks right at the beginning, and the slow build formula is missed.

The title track combines some of the records only major keys with organs as the drone. The only complaint here is the lack of drums, which are disappointingly absent throughout much of the record. It’s also in waltz time, a time signature that lends itself to circular, meditative drumming. Instead, the drum machine on “Lamb” and the sonogram beat on “Genocide” are our only real representatives of the drum set, and you wonder why Bruce Cawdron couldn’t feature on a couple tracks.

At the end of the record, you’re as far away from the notion of an entertainment news host’s personal life than at the end of any other Menuck project. I wish I had the lyric sheet to help unpack this theme, but it’s likely Menuck didn’t want Pissing Stars to be about his lyrics. He’s pretentious, sure, but he doesn’t want one man’s view to be the only one present. Instead, we get to assign our own drama to the songs, even if they are laid out in the song titles. At the end of the day, this is a compelling addition to the Constellation ouvre, and there’s plenty to love here for fans of any moment of Menuck’s wonderful last 20+ years in recorded music.