Lee Bozeman // The Majesty of the Flesh EP

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8.6 BEST NEW RECORD

Velvet Blue Music / 2017

Maybe one of the reasons Lee Bozeman has been preoccupied with the body over the course of his career as frontman and lyricist of Luxury is that he's felt its fragility. In the trailer for the forthcoming documentary about the band, there's camcorder video from 1995 of a battered young Bozeman laid up in a hospital bed following the horrific crash of the group's tour bus. At another moment in the trailer the band's drummer Glenn Black breaks down crying as he recounts hearing Bozeman's agonized screams as the hospital doctors went to work on him. Bozeman tells the story from a cool remove: "...almost immediately they started cutting into my sides - they were inserting chest tubes. It's a kind of unique pain that I'd never experienced before." But while the tour bus disaster might have acquainted him with the body’s capacity for pain, his new solo EP The Majesty of the Flesh dwells on another capacity: pleasure.

The Majesty of the Flesh is Bozeman's first proper solo release (all previous efforts used the moniker All Things Bright and Beautiful), and while the perennial comparisons to Morrissey and The Smiths are still apt, the EP's four diverse tracks have Bozeman operating far afield of Luxury's usual wheelhouse. "The Sound of the Orchestra" for example, builds upon a groundwork of metallic drum machine, and the gorgeous "I Am My Beloved" paints its sensuous portrait of courtship with insistent strings and a warm blur of finger-picked guitar.

An Orthodox priest now serving a parish in Waxahachie, Texas (the album cover is a shot of his green-and-gold vestments) Bozeman's meditations are vigorously Christian while being provocatively allusive - the aforementioned "I Am My Beloved" portrays the premature consummation of a marriage with metaphors that would make a florist blush: "And we married too soon/Couldn’t wait until June... The pistil is brittle, the sepal all bruised". Similarly, the EP’s bombastic post-punk title track has the artist raising a glass to Dionysian carnality ("Out in the woods in the heart of the night/Giving names to the stars in the sky/We ran in the nude/Barbarian mood!"), joyously extolling what the French call la petite mort.

But The Majesty of the Flesh’s high point is the lumbering, six-minute masterpiece “Nice Touch”, where Bozeman’s scathing assessment of the social, religious, and political landscape is wedded to the menacing groan of a saxophone and bass synth. He seems disgusted with contemporary society’s performative facade, with a world where deep convictions are donned and discarded as appearances demand (“They say that money is a nice touch/They say that outrage is a nice touch/They say that a Bible is a nice touch/You don’t need to read it, it won’t mean much”). The song's chorus is a reactionary spasm against that nihilism, a statement of hope in the sublime and the true: “But what do they know?/Maybe someone had a vision of God/What do they know?/Maybe I’m human, maybe I’m loved”. 

Bozeman finds traces of the divine in great art, too - on the same chorus, he sings “But what do they know?/Maybe someone saw Olympia”. That’s a reference to painter Édouard Manet’s famous nude, continuing the EP’s constant celebration of the physical. But it’s a celebration undercut by the body’s aforementioned fragility and its foregone doom. Even on the title track, a song about awakening anew to bodily pleasure, the coda makes its insufficiency crystal clear. The riotous guitar and drums fall away, replaced by an elegiac piano as Bozeman intones, “Oh, the majesty of the flesh... It’s an idol we made, a glorious mess” - followed by the only words there are left to say, straight from the Apostle Paul: “Who can save us from this body of death?”

Digre // The Way of a Pilgrim

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5.3

self-released / 2017

For anyone who grew up playing 8-bit RPGs, the sound of dungeon synth music will instantly call to mind long journeys, but Swedish chiptune artist Digre's The Way of a Pilgrim is almost certainly the first time the genre's metallic bleeps, bloops, and drones have signified a spiritual sojourn rather than a trek through an enemy-filled overworld.

A "searching pagan" and black metal musician (how Scandinavian), Olof Svante converted to Eastern Orthodoxy after witnessing the baptism of a friend at a parish in his small town of Umeå and being moved by its power. He gave up black metal at the counsel of his priest, but returned to music as Digre, making dungeon synth-style chiptune with Christian themes - his first release, Martyryxan, took many of its melodies straight from Orthodox choir sheets.

The Way of a Pilgrim, on the other hand, is entirely inspired by the 19th century Russian text of the same name, a well-known work of spiritual literature. (J.D. Salinger fans might remember the book as figuring heavily into Franny and Zooey) In it, the unnamed Pilgrim recounts his quest to discover how to follow Scripture's exhortation to "pray without ceasing". Among other adventures, he encounters a starets (or "spiritual father") who tells him about the Jesus Prayer - "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner" - and instructs him in how to pray it continuously, so that the prayer almost becomes a kind of breathing.

The Way of a Pilgrim's seven tracks each represent a different part of its protagonist's journey, and they range from dreary slogs to triumphal hymns like "Feast of the Annunciation”. And appropriate to the hard-bitten asceticism of the source material, The Way of the Pilgrim's chiptune compositions are austere, with nary a hint of embellishment added to their NES-era tones. Indeed, the album probably would have benefited from some extra instrumental flourishes, or maybe a broader palette of 8-bit sounds - even compared to modern dungeon synth contemporaries, these songs are absolutely skeletal. Still, Digre's project would be remarkable for its oddity and total uniqueness alone, and for anyone with an interest in Russian 19th century prayer manuals, old-school dungeon-crawlers, or both, it’s well worth checking out. 

Jay Tholen // Celestial Archive

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7.8

self-released / 2017

"You don't suck, you don't suck, you don't suck..."

Such is the backing refrain on "You Are Someone Special", the upbeat encouragement-anthem from Jay Tholen's new record. You could miss it on the first pass if you're not listening for it, but the line is everything great about Tholen and his music in microcosm - giggle-inducing, weirdly uplifting, and as earnest as a kid's picture drawn just to tell you they love you.

Sincerity pervades everything about Celestial Archive - you can practically feel Tholen straining to reach through your headphones with a big, squishy hug like Dropsy, the main character of his recent computer game. Tholen's parallel career as a game designer has become his main jam over the last few years, but Celestial Archive is the first time he's bent his programming skills to serve his music, rather than the other way around. Enter the "Celestial Archive Multimedia Experience". A charming webpage partner to the album clad in late-'90s internet flair, it gives background on each song and even lets listeners play along with the tunes using a built-in synthesizer. Reading tidbits about Tholen's adoration of breakfast (“the greatest non-divine meal”), or his "slime socks", it's impossible to experience Celestial Archive as anything but a labor of pure love.

Of course, even without the Multimedia Experience, Celestial Archive is a resoundingly successful endeavor. Compulsively singable melodies appear, disappear, and reappear transmogrified at later points amid piles of sound that smack of everything from retro electronica to vaporwave to chillwave to Eno-style ambient. The way-too-short, Neon Indian-esque cyclone of noise "Do I Deserve This?" manages to be deeply thought-provoking with just a few vocal samples, while the joyous prog-rock boogaloo that ends "You Are Someone Special" is the perfect culmination of the track's radiant positivity.

Tholen spends much of Celestial Archive marveling at God's intricate design and care for his creation, down to the finest details. Tholen got married last year and moved to Germany after a long international courtship, and that sense of wonder at God’s master plan encompasses his relationship with his wife. While lots of googly-eyed lovers attribute the way they met to some vague cosmic destiny, on "Celestial Archive of Divinely Authored Plans", he traces God's sovereign orchestration all the way back to the foundation of the planet: "When the plan was made, the boundaries were laid, and the landforms were raised/I think he knew this would be the place/Where you'd meet me and I would meet you". 

The level of micromanagment that he describes - stacks of heavenly file cabinets stuffed with papers outlining everything you’ve ever done or will do - can get slagged as an existential straightjacket, but for Tholen, it’s the source of deep comfort and security. That’s because it’s grounded by an even deeper belief in God’s radical goodness. Those axioms shape everything about the wonderful Celestial Archive, whose simple thesis is summed up in the middle of the track “He Wrote It All Down”: "It's good to know that all you've been through was carefully arranged/By a God who really loves you".

Nathan Partain // A Lovely Wait

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6.1

self-released / 2016

Two years ago, Indianapolis musician Nathan Partain gave us one of recent memory's best worship records with Jaywalker, an LP that mixed rollicking Creedence Clearwater Revival-style roots rock with the wide-eyed urgency of a revival tent preacher. Now Partain is back with another set of songs, though with a decidedly different tack. While Jaywalker channeled CCR and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, A Lovely Wait is a more modest, acoustic affair that fits snugly with folk-worship contemporaries like Sandra McCracken and Cardiphonia/The Liturgy Fellowship, of which Partain is a co-founder. His version of Psalm 136, "The Lord Is All That Is Good" was one of the standouts on Cardiphonia's Psalms release a few years back, and these eleven devotional songs have roots sunk similarly deep into Scripture.

Case in point: opener "You Were Not My People" traces the Biblical metanarrative of a God in relentless pursuit of a people who spurn him again and again. The verses initially echo the Law and Prophets, but culminate in the Incarnation and Crucifixion: "You spit on me, even as I kissed you... You crucified, and I let you".

Two other songs highlight different aspects of the anticipation implicit in the name of the album. One is the title track, where an the beat of an anxious snare throughout mirrors the longing of the chorus, "So I eat the dust, I wear the ash/I bear the hunger, I keep the fast". Album closer "We Shall Sing", on the other hand, practically shivers with joyful expectation - the celebratory guitar riff swings through the song like a wedding bell, and Partain echoes the Apostle Paul in Romans, singing, "The whole world of despair is not worth being compared/To what we shall see". A lovely wait indeed!

Bjéar // Bjéar

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7.3

self-released / 2017

It's a common thing for artists to look to far-flung cultures for inspiration, but Brae McKee, chief member of South Australian band Bjéar, found his in Iceland, on precisely the opposite side of the planet. And while the influence of the island nation's musical acts (most notably Sigur Rós) is certainly perceptible in Bjéar's sound, it's Icelandic folklore about elves or "huldufólk" that serves as the aesthetic touchstone for the group's debut record. The "hidden people" themselves never show up lyrically, but Bjéar's ethereal atmosphere manages to be evocative of the volcanic, otherwordly landscape where stories about them arose.

Despite that definite Sigur Rós influence, Bjéar owes its biggest stylistic debt to pre-22, a Million Bon Iver, whose sound is all over the first track, "Sierra". Opening the album with a gentle shiver of strings, the song sketches a picture of a northbound drive in the snow, and McKee's clipped falsetto refrain couldn't be more Vernonian when he sings, "I don't wanna waste my time/I don't wanna lay my line", giving way to sublimely triumphant trumpets.

Bjéar was recorded and produced entirely in McKee's home studio, but it's lushly appointed nevertheless, with some lovely instrumental flourishes; that the band is able to pull off moments like the breathtaking violin coda of "Firefall" is a testament to his considerable talent as a producer and arranger. On top of that, each of its nine tracks flow seamlessly into one another, strengthening the impression of a unified aesthetic whole - there's a assured coherence to Bjéar that's uncommon to debut records.

Nevertheless, "Cold", which centers on the arresting image of a mysterious inferno in a darkened wood, stands as the LP's cathartic high point. "It's a cold dark forest where we found the fire/And it burned me down and consumed my heart", sings McKee as the snare drum intones martially, before altering the line on the next verse: "It's a cold dark forest where we found desire". The song's got a reverent, numinous quality to it - it's almost a burning-bush moment - with its protagonist stripped existentially bare before something fearful and awesome. Though it's bound to remain ineffable, Bjéar is chasing that wonder through their music, and wherever the chase takes them in the future, it will certainly be worth following.

The Soldier Story // Flowers For Anonymous

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6.9

Off Atlas / 2016

New Haven-based multi-instrumentalist Colin Meyer has had his hand in many projects over the years (most notably the 00's pop-rock outfit Ten Shekel Shirt) but his solo endeavor The Soldier Story is where his muse runs wild. Flowers for Anonymous is his third record under the moniker, the fruit of three years in his basement studio which saw him doing absolutely everything for the album from playing to mixing to cover art. While these sorts of DIY ultra-solo projects can have a stilted, airless quality to them, Flowers for Anonymous emphatically does not. This is a quality collection of precision-cut math rock and singer-songwriter tunes that oscillate between latter-day Pedro the Lion and The National after a dose of antidepressants. 

Flowers for Anonymous is one of two maiden releases for Meyer's upstart label Off Atlas - the other is All a Shimmer, by label co-founder and frequent collaborator Jonny Rodgers, who performs as Cindertalk. Meyer handled percussion on Rodgers' soundtrack for the recent Bono/Eugene Peterson doc, and his deft sense of rhythm is what stands out immediately on Flowers for Anonymous - the opening track, "Artifacts of an Abandoned", is a captivating, chaotic whirlwind of syncopation.

The song seems to be for a jilted spouse - Meyer sings about how "he took the last glimpse of light from you" before offering comfort in the reality that, "there's still a sound/there's still a soul/in your bones". The record is full of cuts like this, written for (as Meyer puts it, referencing the album title) "the unloved, the forgotten, or the abandoned. The flowers aren't necessarily from me, and they're not for an individual, but for the nameless or the anonymous."

On "Talk With Our Eyes", the nameless addressee is society as a whole, and Meyer anxiously laments the loss of our universal mother tongue - body language - in the modern age. The Soldier Story's lyrics have grown less frilly with every release thus far, but it's hard to imagine them getting any more direct than the song's first line: "Everyone is staring at the screens in their hands". 

Elsewhere, Flowers for Anonymous' focus is more intimate - "Life is Short" is like a tender note to loved ones scrawled by a man in some great peril ("Before I go/I'm telling you everything you should know"), and a pair of other songs explore romantic love. "Right Here" is an uncomplicated love song, while "We Were Lovers in the Garden" meditates on the broken imago dei in man and woman, mourning for the paradise that's been lost.

Meyer's oaky voice and evocative delivery make these low-key singer-songwriter tracks more than worthwhile, but by and large they don't have the same staying power as the complex, angular slabs of math rock (like the aforementioned "Artifacts of an Abandoned") that dominate the other half of the album. The closing stretch of "Constant Crisis", where Meyer creates a dizzying tangle of tones by piling guitar on guitar on guitar, is another standout in this vein, but the high point of the whole record is the fantastic "Drifting Apart".

Here, Meyer traces the disintegration of a friend's faith, remembering someone hungry for grace ("Broken heart, but you were so complete") before lamenting, "But I've watched you slowly undress/Every garment of white you wore". The song's raw guitar, bass, and drums run parallel and yet remain untethered, shifting and corkscrewing around one other as Meyer slowly twists the sonic kaleidoscope. And should he be accused of sitting in judgement, he ends with a sad and bitter disclaimer: "I'm not casting stones/I am grieving you". Not all the "flowers" on Flowers for Anonymous are gifts of consolation - this is more like one you'd place on a casket as it's being lowered into the ground. 

The Chairman Dances // Time Without Measure

 

7.6

Black Rd Records / 2016

The Chairman Dances' new record dropped just a couple weeks before the recent, high-profile canonization of Mother Teresa by the Roman Catholic Church - an interesting coincidence because with Time Without Measure, the Philly five-piece have mounted something not unlike a canonization. Frontman Eric Krewson calls it a "book of saints", and all ten songs live up to the description, remembering a diverse collection of faithful figures from the past, though with a particular focus on activists and political dissidents from the last century or so.

Time Without Measure is explicitly dedicated to disciples of Christ, but it becomes clear just a few seconds in who else Eric Krewson is a disciple of: John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, whose influence hovers over the album like the Spirit over the waters. Krewson's voice is a near-doppelgänger to the invincibly nasal Darnielle, but the similarities in songcraft between the two are just as uncanny. Krewson shares Darnielle's hyperliterate nerdery (the record is strewn with references and winking callouts), but also, and more importantly, he shares a talent for left-field biographical snapshots that bring historical figures to startling, immediate life. For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's song visualizes the German pastor huddled fetally on the floor when the Gestapo finally smash his windows and drag him off to prison, and the buoyant, tambourine-and-handclap-spiked "Fannie Lou Hamer" has her belting out hymns on the bus ride that galvanized her as a civil rights leader.

Time Without Measure commemorates a wide variety of saints, from the no-brainers ("Augustine") to lesser-known inclusions that might necessitate a little research ("Peter Gomes and Nancy Koehn", which adapts a eulogy for Harvard's idiosyncratic and beloved campus minister). The Chairman Dances' sonic palette is just as eclectic, drawing from all over the indie rock spectrum: "Augustine" is a gloriously catchy piece of Yo La Tengo-esque garage pop, while "Peter Gomes"'s crashing, cathartic builds make it one of the record's most indelible tracks.

Of course, Christian sainthood has always been bound up, almost inextricably, with death. "Thérèse" paints a grisly but tender portrait of Saint Thérèse of Liseaux as she wakes in the middle of the night to vomit "a shower of roses" (blood) onto her already-drenched sheets. Depressive and resigned to the tuberculosis that eventually takes her at age 24, Krewson softly sings for her, "You would have thought that I'd protest..." 

Resolve in the face of an grim fate is the theme of "Catonsville 9", too. Memorializing an iconic Vietnam protest led by Father Daniel Berrigan involving torched draft records, the cut is a leisurely duet that has husband and wife Thomas and Marjorie Melville contemplating the prison time they will surely serve - apart from each other - for their crime. Yet they hold on to their convictions, and their napalm, taking bemused comfort in the fact that at least "there'll be conjugal visits."

In the middle of Time Without Measure is "Jimmy Carter". Though it has ostensibly little to do with the former US president, it includes a nod to that famous Flannery O'Connor quote about how true faith intensifies rather than numbs life's pain: “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe." That's as good a definition of a saint as any other: someone who embraces the cross, knowing all too well that it's no electric blanket. And for those trying to do the same today, it's great to have a record like this one by The Chairman Dances - a reminder of what that embrace looks like when it's done really, really well. 

Wesley Randolph Eader // Highway Winds

 

7.5

self-released / 2016

Highway Winds is Wesley Randolph Eader's second album, but the cover art for his first LP, 2012's Of Old It Was Recorded, is still the most descriptive metaphor for what he's about. It's a washed-out, far-away photograph of Eader with guitar in hand, mounted in an antique wooden frame that you'd guess was from half a century ago. Like that picture, newcomers to Eader's music would probably assume it's decades and decades old. That's because he plays his version of old-fashioned folk and gospel completely straight, with not a wink or a trace of irony to be found - he's like a time-traveling third Louvin Brother who's taken up life as a 29-year-old Portlander.

Eader's economic but powerful way with words gave Of Old It Was Recorded's stark, very traditional gospel hymns a sublime gravity, and Highway Winds' more personal folk songs benefit from the same, still delivered in a charmingly nasal, old-timey twang. Eader draws from other branches of Americana on this record, too, adding bluegrass and country inflections with the help of (among others) Blitzen Trapper frontman Eric Earley, whose multi-instrumentalist chops embellish nearly every track.

Like the name suggests, Highway Winds is about and meant for the road. Trucks, buses, and highways show up on nearly every song, and Eader's characters - missionaries, ex-cons, astronauts - are always leaving or in transit. Indeed, the bluegrass thumper "Carry On Down the Road" (which features champion fiddler Luke Price, tearing it up), is an explicit ode to the curative powers of peacing out: "If you're broken and you wanna get fixed/Just remember these words then go like this: I've got to go, I've got to go/I've got to carry on down that road".

"Talkin' Walmart Texas Blues" is the record's most instantly memorable song, calling back especially to Dylan's "Talkin' World War III Blues". But instead of wandering a newly-irradiated New York, Eader's version has him trapped at a nightmarishly huge, town-devouring iteration of the house that Sam Walton built. Hilariously, it's so big that it has "its own post office, its own city hall, its own go-kart racing track, its own nuclear missile silo, even its own K-Mart." Yet even in this trenchant and comic vision of capitalism run amok, Eader retains a humble self-criticism. At song's end, he exclaims with relief, "I've been to Walmart for the very last time", before wryly nodding to the maybe-even-more-dubious (yet socially kosher) new way of doing things: "Now I do all my shopping online/Who's running that operation, anyway?"

Like the best folk singers of the past, Eader doesn't just excoriate the powerful for their sins, but elevates the morally heroic everyman: on the gorgeous ballad "Eliza (The Saint of Flower Mountain)", he spins the story of a young woman laying her life down for villagers in an unnamed war-torn country. Similarly, "Country Preacher" is a refreshing and straightforward acclamation of a parochial minister - so straightforward, in fact, it's disorienting. Describing the preacher's life, Eader rattles off so fundamentalist cliches - pickup truck, revival tent, altar calls - you start to brace for the inevitable suckerpunch to shatter the rosy caricature. But the suckerpunch never comes, and the song remains precisely what it seemed on the surface: a happy celebration of a nobody preacher who "follows Jesus most humbly."

For every one of those moral heroes on Highway Winds, though, there are two more broken-hearted lovers or disaffected vagabonds - Eader has especial sympathy for the down-and-out, and a Townes Van Zandtian knack for the poetry of the hard-scrabble. Driven by a deeper spiritual hunger, his rootless wanderers are ambivalent about the possibility of material satisfaction - as the melancholy riverboat sailor on "Big Steam Wheel" puts it, "I guess I should be proud that I live in such an age/Where mankind rules the world and does everything his way". But Eader's songs are encouragements that the rambling path is suffused with grace - that no matter where you go, you go with God. Or, as he sings, accompanied by the sigh of a harmonica as the album closes, "Oh, the highway winds blow easy on the road that carries you."

VAS // VAS

 

6.3

self-released / 2016

Young songwriter Julien Baker's surge to prominence over the last year has afforded her a mouthpiece to speak about Christianity to the national media, but also to draw attention to the vibrant D.I.Y. music scene in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. In an interview with Bandcamp, one of the Memphis contemporaries she most enthusiastically shouted-out was VAS, a rock quartet formed of students at the city's Visible Music College who recently released their self-titled debut. VAS ("vessel" in Latin) is a collection of melodic, electronically-inflected indie pop, packed to the brim with hooks - and though the record suffers from a sense of sonic déjà vu over its nine tracks, it's well worth a spin for frontman Andrew Elder's sometimes sublime vocal performance and for the promise it holds for the nascent band's future.

Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver)'s influence is all over VAS - from Elder's vocals, which are a clarion falsetto in the high ranges, then soaked in autotune and other effects in the low, to the neon-streaked synthesizers that recall Vernon's side project Volcano Choir even more than Bon Iver. It's an invigorating mix, and VAS succeed in making the sound their own, though most tracks are cast after the same mid-tempo prototype that by record's end loses its novel luster. Yet while the pace and structure of the songs becomes too familiar, every one has individual elements that work. For example, the dark bass synth that anchors "Soda Pop", the blistering, proggish guitar solo on the same song, or the close of "Dream For Real" which would be at home in a European electro club. But for all of that busy sound, some of the best moments come when VAS take a breather, like the memorable coda of "She Told Me", where the guitars drop away and Elder sings vividly about smoke billowing from a girl's ribcage. 

The singer's performance on the sorrowful, piano-centric "BloodIsBloodIsBlood" is one of the album's highlights, and there's a crystalline quality to his voice as he delivers the remorse-ridden lyrics. Interesting lyrical territory is explored on "Vipers", too, which laments the know-nothing apathy of white churches to the unique struggles of black Americans. Imagining those struggles as the titular snakes, it ends on a note of hope in Christ's justice: "The head of the slithering serpent will be crushed under his foot."

It's "Richard Parker" that listeners will remember most clearly, though. The record's pyrotechnic closer has VAS pushing the envelope, with synths that drift like cirrus clouds around Elder's heavily-processed vocals before giving way to a post-rock-esque crescendo so big that it required a second drum kit and additional musicians (members of Forrister, band of the aforementioned Julien Baker, cut the track live with VAS in a single take). The track title is a reference to Life of Pi, and when Elder intones triumphantly that "I'm the captain now," and, "I'll train your mind to fear all the love that you've been given", the pathos courtesy of book/film could raise a couple goosebumps. This post-rock-inspired sound seems like a rich vein to explore in the future, but regardless of where the band goes next, VAS suggests that it will be worth following along.

Starflyer 59 // SLOW

 

8.1 BEST NEW RECORD

Tooth & Nail / 2016

Jason Martin inherited more than a line of work from his truck driver father - for 23 years now the Starflyer 59 frontman has been delivering albums with the dependability and reassuring regularity that are the profession's indispensable trademark. Now running his dad's company himself, Martin has had to become a "weekend warrior" over the last decade, ceasing live performances and working on music in his spare time. But being relegated to the weekends hasn't slowed the band's steady stream of releases, and certainly hasn't affected their quality. In fact, SLOW, the band's 14th installment, is another indication that Starflyer is at a creative peak, and the new album should gratify their hardcore fanbase while ushering plenty of newcomers into the fold, as well.

Starflyer 59 was one of the very first acts signed to the nascent Tooth & Nail Records back in 1993, and since then the band's prolific output has formed the long backbone of the label's catalog, their releases poking out like vertebrae every one or two years. The new SLOW is relentlessly nostalgic, and much of it finds Martin reminiscing on those heady days of the mid-to-late 90s when, as he sings on "Retired", "I used to be the MVP/I used to be at the center of the scene." The same song has Martin lamenting that, "...there's so much more to give/But there's so much less to live", and it's a sentiment that gets repeated over and over on the album - he's got an uneasy eye on the hourglass of his life, which was once so top-heavy but lately is getting harder and harder to knock over.

Martin isn't bitter about time's passing, he just wishes it wouldn't rush past at such a dizzying speed. SLOW's fantastic title track is the biggest departure from the established Starflyer sound - backed by a plodding slowcore beat straight out of the Low playbook, Martin looks fondly back at his life as a young husband ("Played some shows, and on the drives we thought of baby names"), then fondly again at his current state as a 43-year-old dad of three, wishing it would last forever: "My kids, they grow so fast/I want it slow/So slow".

Jason Martin has always been a musician's musician - in interviews he's even more enthusiastic about the nuts and bolts of songcraft than he is about lyrics - and SLOW's eight tracks are each immaculate pieces of work, tributes to his mastery. They're also tributes to the many styles Martin has cycled through in his career, as well as the sounds he loved as a kid. The album's first single, "Wrongtime", has strong Cure vibes, and though it's an open question when Martin will tour again (let alone play an arena), the darkwave jewel "Told Me So" has a soaring crescendo of crystalline guitar that seems tailor-made for big venues.

Other songs makes dark nods to the entropy at work in a hard-working middle-aged father's life, like "Hi/Low", where a huge, lumbering riff stomps through the center of the song and Martin groans, "The way it looks, I'm right on pace to fall apart like some weirdo". The same goes for the album's closer, "Numb", which ends the deeply nostalgic SLOW by questioning the deceptive sheen hindsight often lends to our memories: "Was it really better back then/Were there really less problems?"

In an interview with NPR leading up to the record's release, Martin made a similar observation: "You look back and think they were great times, and it's probably not true; you just remember the good stuff and shove the bad stuff in a special place. You give me another 10 years and I'll be talking, 'Oh, yeah, that SLOW era, those were such good times.'" That might be true for Jason Martin, but Starflyer 59 fans' memories would be working perfectly if they looked back on SLOW as one of the best albums the band had ever given them.