After hearing a friend (and fellow music reviewer) rave about this band several times over the course of a couple different albums, I put them on my list (which is huge and evergrowing) of groups to check out when I had the chance and/or money. As it turns out, it took me awhile, but finally found their latest album at a price that I couldn't pass up. After hearing Leave Here A Stranger, though, I may have to move them up my mental list a little further in the future.
Although the pop/rock genre is one that I've gotten out of a lot in the past couple years, I still hear a disc occassionally that becomes sort of a guilty pleasure, and Starflyer 59 have created something exactly like that for me. Granted, it's not really guilty in the sense that I wouldn't want anyone to know I listened to it. The group creates grooves that aren't loud enough to rock out, yet they're never languid, and they insert all kinds of interesting elements into their sound so it doesn't feel like anything you could just turn the dial on the radio and hear.
In fact, just taking a look at the cover of the disc will give you something of a feel of the music. Taken with a fisheye lens, the photos of a cracked desert bed loom out in seemingly all directions, and the group has definitely injected their dreamy pop tracks with a slight sense of desolation, yet with a shimmering quality of a mirage that lies just on the horizon. The disc actually opens with one of the best tracks on the album in "All My Friends Who Play Guitar," and the group combines some weary slide guitar with ghostly keyboards and a solid, but subtle rhythm section. Lead singer Jason Martin adds lyrics of wandering and disbelief in a breathy voice to round things out, and although the track feels like it should end several times (but doesn't), it works in context.
The first three songs on the disc actually feel like a trilogy of sorts, and "Can You Play Drums" follows up with even more dusty guitar sounds and hummable melodies while "When I Learn To Sing" plays around with more jaunty guitars and is the lightest of the three. "I Like Your Photographs" pulls out all the stops as the group add some synth strings and harpsichord-like sounds to their already diverse palette, pulling off one of the most interesting orchestral pop songs I've heard this year. "Night Music" follows quickly with one of the loudest tracks on the disc, damn near rocking out (and again making good use of the slide guitar sounds).
The theme of the disc seems to be a reoccurring question of ability, relationships with people, and just how the group fits into the scheme of things. If the sounds feel a bit desolate, it's to be understood because of these ideas. What place to better symbolize being a bit lost and wandering than the desert? The album closes out with more of a declaration of knowing on "Your Company," and although it doesn't completely tie up all the loose ends, the fairly standard track works quite well. Like Pedro The Lion, Starflyer 59 is straightforward in their belief in God (and make mention of that), but also aren't afraid to raise questions. Personally, I'm going to keep a look out for more releases in the prolific output.