8.3 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.