Dec 22, 2000

Americana by Starflyer 59 (Review)

When you hear this record, it’s easy to see why Starflyer is one of the most critically acclaimed Christian bands.

americana-sf59
Reviewed…

Americana by Starflyer 59

With Starflyer’s early albums, one could compare them to My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain, etc. Americana is different. This is by far the most “rock and roll” of Starflyer’s albums, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring and contrived. One needs only to hear the swirling moogs and pop hooks on “The Hearttaker” (one of the best songs Martin has ever written) or the eerie, velvety organ that permeates “The Voyager” to know that Martin isn’t your average rock star, although he certainly deserves to be.

One comes up with comparisons, but they just don’t sound right. “You Think You’re Radical” and “Help Me When You’re Gone” conjure up artists like Mazzy Star and even Chris Isaak with their lonesome slide guitars and country ethic. “Harmony” could be a modern pop hit, with it’s golden harmonies and peppy guitar melodies and grooving basslines. “Everyone But Me” is bouncy pop gem which concludes with a flare. I hear hints of so many influences ranging from 50’s pop and 60’s psychedelia to arena rock and surf music. But in the end, the only way to truly judge this album is to compare it to previous Starflyer efforts. When you do this, you begin to see that Starflyer is in that dangerously small group of artists who actively pursue their own musical style.

When judged against that criteria, Americana quickly becomes Starflyer’s most diverse and yet cohesive album. Combining the best of Silver and Gold and Martin’s many influences, Americana is probably the funnest Starflyer album to listen to. Martin’s songwriting has never been this accessible before and his potential as a guitarist is fully realized. Martin is one of the best guitarists I’ve heard in music today, but his playing never comes across as gaudy or contrived. Normally subdued, when he rocks out, he really rocks out with blazing guitar solos and effects.

On this record, he’s joined by Wayne Everett on drums and Eric Campuzano on bass, both from the deceased Prayer Chain. The addition of these two helped with Starflyer’s sound. The drums are much fuller and rock and roll-er, as opposed to Gold where the drums were made to sound flat. And the sound is more “in your face”. Gene Eugene also pops up on organ and vibes, adding another sound to the mix.

Martin’s singing is even different on this album. Before, his vocals were always barely audible whispers, on this one he actually sings audibly. His vocals are higher than on previous albums, but he still has his characteristic laidback delivery. And with the addition of Everett, vocal harmonies abound on this record. Lyrics are enclosed, but don’t expect much. Martin never claimed to be a poet. His lyrics are simple and a bit cryptic, but I’m not complaining. I’ve always felt that with Starflyer, the music and songwriting come first, and the lyrics secondary. Some Christians may not agree with that, but I think it’s refreshing.

When you hear this record, it’s easy to see why Starflyer is one of the most critically acclaimed Christian bands. It’s not easy to improve your sound with each album, but Martin has done just that. There may come a time when Starflyer has a bad album, but until then, I’ll just keep listening to Americana and thinking about how brilliant a songwriter Jason Martin is.

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