Starflyer 59


(Tooth & Nail; 2003)

By Amir Nezar | 31 December 2007

Ok. By now, if you look at the pattern of my reviews, you're probably wondering, "Does Amir like all of the albums he reviews? I mean, I've seen but two full review ratings below an 80%!" (My contributed ratings to other reviews that I don't write tend to be more evenly spread out.)

True. The thing is, I've recently been on a downturn in terms of music downloading, i.e. the albums that I have been picking up I've been buying. And I tend to buy albums that will most likely be good, by artists that I can at least marginally trust. Now that I'm back at college the downloading will probably go more consistently, and I can take more of a liberty with just "checking an artist out." Plus, I tend to want to share my thoughts on a band that will be worth your time.

Then again, there is that value in warning you against certain bands. Among these tend to be bands that are overloaded with hype, because it's always nice to take the air out of bands that eschew actual songwriting and instead ride hypestorms to big record sales. The other type is simply the band that I spend money on, only to wish I had saved the cash for a better prospect.

Which isn't to say that Starflyer 59 really suck, per se. Old is frontloaded with songs that at least meet par. But wow, what a boring thing in general. It'd sort of be like watching me take a piss. Initially you might be wondering what you're looking at, then you might chuckle at the novelty of it. You might even listen closely for variations in tinkling. But more likely, after a little while you'll (or at least you ought to) wonder why the hell you're even listening to me taking a piss.

So many of the choices on this album are just plain confusing. Take the opener, "Underneath." The song plods on initially on just a two-string guitar line (it's a boring one), and the simplest drum beat you ever heard. Then after a drum roll, it kicks into a jarring, unnatural thing that maybe resembles a hook? Except if this is SF59's idea of a hook, then, well, it's a foolish idea, because everything surrounding the hook is so rudimentary that it's worthless. A hook needs to be the soul of a rock song, not an afterthought. Then take the vocal track that's sampled onto the bland guitar line: a choir of ghostly/goth sounding singers who sound like they were found on a dusty tape in the basement. Their inclusion may be intended to lend some gravitas to a weightless song, but it's more chuckle-inducing than anything else, like including a full symphony to embellish a kid singing with an acoustic guitar.

Most painful of all are tracks "Old" and "First Heart Attack." For its part, "Old" manages to garner the award for most idiotic piano track of the year, with a piano melody that I could've composed in all of twenty minutes. Made up of no more than a half dozen monotonously played piano chords, mostly childish major ones, it incorporates perfunctory glockenspiel, and the occasional electric guitar embellishments, both of which are flat and uninteresting. It is so prosaic it almost makes you want to cry. With boredom. "First Heart Attack," on the other hand, pulls along at an almost energetic speed, before inexplicably deciding to shift into ultimo-prog mode, complete with the most basic, pathetically over-wrought guitar solo I have ever heard. It's like Starflyer 59 tried to do Pink Floyd, only it traded David Gilmer's guitar skills for the one-chord-every-five-seconds tripe that kids in college dorms might tinker with. When the song kicks back into its more energetic self, you're left wondering, "Why the fuck did you include that interlude? For the love of God, WHY?"

Starflyer 59 never really get off the ground. At times, they're so close it hurts; the last quarter of "Major Awards," while not stunning, nonetheless at least tries to get some adrenaline with an energetic finish despite lacking a single memorable hook all the way through. "A Kissing Song" is the closest SF59 get to a decent hook, but it's so muddled with weak vocal hooks that it defeats itself in a fart of insignificance.

Two or three singles stand out of the insistent mediocrity. "Unbelievers" is at least marginally complex, with synths and a lachrymose guitar opening into an engaging rhythm with a decent melody, and yes, a hook. "New Wife, New Life," has a solid hook, if unchallenging bass, and it's at least hummable. Mid-tempo and acoustic-accented, it's somewhat of a redeemer. The lyrics are fairly solid, but lyrics complete a song; they ought not to make one. All of them deal with infidelity and the trappings of aging, and they're worth a look, but who cares about what you have to say when what you do is amazingly bland?

The fact of the matter is that throughout the album, SF59 forget about hooks, and rely on cheap embellishments rather than solid song-writing - the easy synth, some shoddy electronic effects - and it hurts the quality of the album badly. Perhaps I should have expected it, but the album's title might have been meant as more of a warning than I took it for. SF59 are indeed Old, but even worse, are tired, and seven albums into their career I would've expected some sort of evolution; if you're not going to get better with time, at least don't get worse. Old is a broken aging man sitting in an easy chair, reaching for a glass of water. Instead of being able to make the effort, he just sags in the chair and dies. Unless they can put some life into their efforts, SF59 might as well take the same route.