Brooklyn collective Stars Like Fleas blend post-rock experimentation, chamber music influences, traditional American folk forms, and indie pop into a sprawling, appealingly untidy mass that at various times recalls not only contemporaries like Broken Social Scene, Akron/Family, and Sigur Rós, but also earlier experimentalists like Rachel's, Talk Talk, solo Robert Wyatt, and the Incredible String Band. Though the core of the group is the duo of singer and lyricist Montgomery Knott and multi-instrumentalist and producer Shannon Fields, Stars Like Fleas can include over 30 participants on-stage and in the studio at any given time, and the liner notes of the group's third album identify ten permanent members. Knott, a video artist who owns a gallery and restaurant called Monkey Town in Brooklyn's hipster enclave of Williamsburg, had previously worked with Austin-based ambient drone duo Stars of the Lid, while Fields' résumé ranged from acoustic Americana to electronic noise before the duo met in Brooklyn in 1998.
Originally only a recording project, building songs one layer at a time on digital recording rigs in their respective apartments, Knott and Fields self-released a demo called Took the A** for a Drive in 1999. (Nearly impossible to locate for years, the album was reissued as a digital download in 2006, available from the usual online sources.) Four years later, the more widely available Sun Lights Down on the Fence incorporated more contributions from outside musicians, and Fields and Knott turned Stars Like Fleas into a live band with an ever-shifting cast of musicians. Released in 2007, The Ken Burns Effect (jokingly named by Knott after a video editing trick that the documentarian uses liberally, panning and zooming across old photographs to create visual interest in otherwise static shots) furthered the group's collaborative nature, adding fiddle and banjo player Sam Amidon (who also adds shape note singing, a 19th century American folk tradition, to the band's vocal arsenal) and drummer Ryan Sawyer to all ten tracks alongside a growing cast of part-time members. ~ Stewart Mason