I deeply enjoy Starlight Girls‘ self-titled EP, but I’ve thrown in the towel on three four different intros (and a conclusion!) because they all sucked. It’s been a long day that included a freelance writing assignment on boxing, which is not the easiest thing for me to write about. However, the day’s been made better by the Starlight Girls’ debut EP, which amalgamates tons of genres into surprisingly coherent and immediate indie-pop.
The five songs here are each enjoyable on the first listen, and that’s quite rare. This is a testament to the band’s tight chemistry and (I assume) strong work ethic, as they combine elements from all over the place to make their tunes work. The band is fond of whirring organs (a la the similarly monikered Starlight Mints), ’70s/’80s singer/songwriter moods (like Stevie Nicks, although it’s easier to say “sounds like Lissie and/or Tristen”), confident female vocals, bass-heavy arrangements that call up a bit of post-rock moodiness (The National, Del Bel), and surf-rock rhythms, among other things.
It’s fascinating that this grabbed me immediately, because I found that it’s a rather complicated amalgam once I sat down to write about it. While this deep analysis will make you feel good about liking the Starlight Girls’ seemingly simple tunes, you definitely don’t need it to enjoy the songs; just listen and you’ll like them. The EP is the definition of critical darling: it can be both a game of spot-the-influence or just enjoyable melodies and rhythms. That’s a tough balance to strike.
“Gossip” is the one with the feel-good surf-rock guitars and organ, while “Wallflower” is the one that could be an outtake of a Starlight Mints track, what with all the interlocking rhythms and melodies. “Wasteland” has a preternatural cool about it that comes from having a rhythm just faster than trip-hop. The chilled-out keys and vocals help the band toe the line between passion and stateliness that gives the tune and the whole album its desirable amount of tension.
Starlight Girls’ self-titled EP will appeal to lovers of classy, female-fronted indie bands that don’t sound like twee or Best Coast. I expect the band to make some waves in 2012.
Yesterday’s Kings and Queens review referenced Portishead heavily. Then I came upon Fadeout, whose sound draws on Portishead’s to an even greater degree. I knew I had to put the two reviews back to back, or people are going to start thinking I only listen to four bands, one of them being Portishead.
But it’s really an unavoidable comparison. Both bands play downtempo, moody, atmospheric rock that has a strong emphasis on groove, rhythm and female vocals (this is where Kings and Queens diverge, as Rich Good is a dude). Portishead is much more minimalist than Fadeout, in that they use space almost as another instrument in their way-slowed-down music. But both bands seem to be aiming for a similar musical space.
“Sanctuary (Transposed edit)” is the closest Fadeout comes to channeling the aforementioned forefathers, as the tune plods along with a desperate vocal line accentuating washes of synths and forlorn, high bass notes. But from there, they take a more energetic tack. “Homeless” features a driving drum beat to accompany the dreamy synths. Standout track “Time” pairs the desperate vocal mood of “Sanctuary” with a snare-heavy drum beat, ethereal background vocals, and stabbing guitar. “What’s All About” has a restrained energy that lets the female vocalist showcase her pipes, and she displays a tone very similar to Stevie Nicks. It’s another highlight.
Where Kings & Queens were able to make each track a distinct entity, the same is less true of Fadeout. Because so many of these songs fall in the same mood and style, it’s hard to distinguish one from another. When listening to the album as a whole, it becomes similar to one big song. To some, this is a statement of quality. To others, it’s a problem. I’ll leave you to decide which side of the fence you fall on.
Fadeout’s aesthetic is honed pretty tightly, in that they don’t have much that I can rag on. Their one problem that I noted might not even be a problem to some people. If you’re a fan of downtempo, girl-fronted, trip-hop/indie-rock, Fadeout is a good bet.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.