Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

"Starlite" doesn't shine so bright in places

August 21, 2009

At his best, the Canadian Nathaniel Sutton on his new album Starlite sounds catchy, but at his worst, the album feels unimaginative and repetitive. Unfortunately the misses are more frequent than the hits. Yet, the better songs from Starlite show how Sutton can grow and improve.

Sutton’s sound is a bit like a spacey, electronic version of Modest Mouse, with a hint of Grandaddy mixed in. The problem is that a lot of the songs repeat the same themes over and over without making any changes, which tempt the listener to skip to the next track. The first two songs fall into this category, but the album picks up with “High Holy Day.”

“High Holy Day” has an interesting, sporadic and hectic-sounding riff that gives the album a darker feel, which is truer to the remainder of the songs than the peppy opener “Starlite” would initially lead you to believe. It is also much more high-energy, like the other better songs on the album.

Several of the songs on Starlite are so dark that they’re actually quite creepy to listen to, like the ominous “Serious Crime,” “Subliminal Messages,” which is downright frightening, and the slightly-too-weird “Killer in the House.” Part of what really makes these songs so sinister is the way that Sutton sings them, with exaggerated wavering bass, overbearing special effects in places, and especially over-breathiness in “Subliminal Messages.”

“Blow My Mind” in the middle of the album surprises with its extreme DJ-type sound which the songs preceding it don’t come close to in terms of electronics. “Creepy Crawlers” also falls into this genre, but both of these songs feel a bit out of place on the album overall. However, the all-important “dancibility factor” is high in “Blow My Mind” and “Creepy Crawlers.”

The slow-paced, sentimental lullaby “Photo Album” sounds like it belongs on the same album as the opener “Starlite,” but these songs don’t really mesh with the others well. Sutton could really improve if he narrows his focus and doesn’t attempt so many clashing styles.

What is interesting to consider about this album is that it is entirely Nathaniel Sutton. He plays all the instruments, and he also recorded, mixed, and produced the album in his own home. While this is an impressive accomplishment, it seems that Sutton would also benefit greatly by with others. Maybe with a band, he could develop a tighter sound, and could grow as a songwriter working with others.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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