Starflyer 59 (Gold)
Tooth & Nail, 1995
REVIEW BY: Josh Allen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/14/2010
I’m not gonna lie to you. Shoegaze rock has never really been my thing. Something about its monotony and miserable mood fails to engage me...which is odd, because you could argue grunge rock is closely related, and I’ve devoutly followed grunge since I first set foot in a used CD store.
But, postulating that my musical preferences evolved over the years, I decided to give Starflyer 59 a shot. Unfortunately, several journeys through their second album, Gold, did little to change my opinion.
Jason Martin is the driving force behind Starflyer 59, writing and producing each track while providing much of the instrumentation and vocals, with the help of Andrew Larson on bass. Perhaps as a result of the album’s lukewarm critical reception (though it gained more attention years later), the band underwent significant changes before their follow-up release two years later.
The vast majority of Gold consists of similar stylistic elements and patterns: slow-burning minor chord strumming that explodes into a “wall of sound,” composed of heavy distortion and liberal helpings of feedback and other “noise” typified by shoegaze. Sure, feedback is a fine way to add an edge to an otherwise dull track...when used with discretion. Gold’s implementation of feedback early on is far too overpowering. It’s a challenge to make it through the first two tracks without wincing at the prolonged, nails-on-the-chalkboard squealing.
“You’re Mean,” however, is certainly more listenable than the opening trio that preceded it. More prominent guitar riffs suggestive of Sonic Youth carry a more complex melody over the top of backing chords, representing a more conventional structure. Similarly, “Do You Ever Feel That Way” grew on me, too, primarily because of its more upbeat nature. “When You Feel The Mess” is another highlight, with a thinly textured, more deliberate sound: a slow, easygoing introduction reminiscent of a night drive down an interstate gives way to a repeating, gradually crescendoing chord progression underneath forlorn lead guitar.
My sole complaint with the 50-minute album is its monotony and predictability. Sure, maybe it’s difficult to have that much variation within the confines of the genre – it's not exactly supposed to be power-pop – but I found it difficult to trudge through the entirety of the album in one sitting without becoming bored. At times, Martin does try to mix up rhythms and throws in a sudden key change here and there. “Somewhere When Your Heart Glowed The Hope” is a good example of this, but it’s immediately followed by over two minutes of a stoic, repetitive theme, an occurrence that happens all too often throughout the course of the album.
Perhaps another reason I find it difficult to relate to Gold is the fact that Martin’s vocals more closely resemble aggravated whispering than singing, making the lyrics barely audible. (But then, given all of the depressing song titles, maybe it’s better that I can’t understand them.)
You can probably mask a lack of emphasis on lyrics if the music is engaging enough. Alas, except for a handful of moments, Gold just does not pass this test.