I remember the first time I listened to Starflyer 59. The moment I heard those billowing clouds of guitars, barely audible yet incredibly beautiful melodies, and those breathy vocals sighing those cryptic lyrics, I was hooked. For the first time, I knew that one could be a Christian and still make relevant, modern music. And even though frontman Jason Martin has always been upfront about his Christianity, I think it was this relevance that spoke more to me than the band’s beliefs. Starflyer 59 is, without a doubt, one of the most important Christian bands to emerge in the past 5 years. They’re certainly the most important band to emerge from the Tooth & Nail roster.
Originally planned as a 3 CD set, Easy Come Easy Go might seem kind of wierd. But keep in mind that Starflyer has put out 5 albums, several EPs, and a couple of 7 inches since 1994. That’s quite a bit of music to go through, and if you’ve always wondered where to begin with Starflyer’s music, this double CD is probably as good as it gets. The first disc is a collection of “singles” that span all of Starflyer’s releases. The second disc is a collection of b-sides and rarities, as well as a number of live tracks.
For Starflyer fans, the first disc is kind of unnecessary. Chances are, you probably already have all of these albums. As J. Edward Keyes points out in the liner notes, Starflyer fans are a rabid and devoted bunch. Still, it’s nice to have some of Starflyer’s best tracks all in one place. One is tempted to debate the inclusion of some tracks and the exclusion of others. For example, “Indiana” (Gold) and “Going Places” (Everybody Makes Mistakes) should’ve been included; both of those tracks seemed to capture the overall direction of their respective albums far better than others. But oh well… with that many songs, everyone’s bound to have a favorite tune or two left out.
Actually, the best part about having all of these tracks in one location is getting to listen to all of Starflyer’s musical directions in one sitting. You get the shoegazer pop of Silver, the ultra-depressing mellowness of Gold, the arena rock of Americana, etc. But herein lies what might be the ultimate reason for Martin’s success (and even genius). Pay attention, because I’ll only say this once. Despite whatever genre or style Martin may be exploring at the moment, there’s no mistaking a Starflyer song for any other. There is definitely a Starflyer sound that unites all of their albums.
However blue-collar he may be, and however much he might detest the thought, there’s no denying that Martin is a pop genius. Listen to any band that claims Starflyer 59 as an influence, and you’re probably listening to an inferior product. It’s easy to point out Martin’s influences; My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, Daniel Amos, The Altar Boys, Black Sabbath, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Beach Boys… it’s a fairly eclectic list. And it sounds incredibly odd to say that Martin synthesizes all of them (and certainly more) into his sound. On paper it shouldn’t work, it doesn’t work. But when you listen to Starflyer’s music, sure enough… there it is.
The second CD is probably of more interest to diehard fans. First off are 12 b-sides and rarities, culled from various singles and out of print 7 inches. And here, you’ll find some of Starflyer’s best music. You’ll also wonder why some of these didn’t make it onto an album until now. For example, there’s “Next Time Around” and “Goodbyes Are Sad”, which may very well be two of the saddest songs ever committed to tape. There’s the dreamy “I Was 17” recorded for Americana. Its acoustic guitar and vibraphone sounds out of place when compared to the swaggering rock sound of Americana, but it’s nice to hear it here. There’s the instrumental “Wherever You Go (Second Space Song)”; though intended for Gold it’s dubby bassline and driving drums would’ve felt strange compared to Gold’s incredible mopeyness. The real oddball is the cover of Daniel Amos’ “Shedding The Mortal Coil”. It’s a fun little track, and that’s the odd thing. I didn’t expect a “fun” song from Starflyer. The guitar is all slippery and wobbly, and Martin’s lowkey vocals make for a striking contrast to Terry Taylor’s.
The live tracks are an added bonus, especially for those who weren’t lucky enough to get the live EP that Velvet Blue Music released a few years back. I’ve seen Starflyer 5 or 6 times, and the experiences run from awful to incredible. Here, the live recordings are quite good, and mainly focus on Starflyer’s later material. Live, Starflyer is rawer and more stripped down. The songs lack the dreamy quality of the albums, but Martin makes up for it with his aggressive playing. One thing I found quite funny was that the live tracks include the technical difficulties that have seemed to plague every Starflyer show I’ve seen; the last minute or so of “Card Games And Old Friends” is nothing more than the band trying to fix their snare.
It makes for a nice reminder that, as many accolades are heaped upon the band (a good deal of which came from this review), they are just normal guys. But that doesn’t mean that Starflyer is a normal band. You can hear it in the songwriting, the sheer “sound” they create. And if there’s any doubt, just listen to final seconds of the live recording, as fans shout for just one more song. Here, here…
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.