You’ve got to love self-deprecating humor. Only someone like Jason Martin (or perhaps David Bazan) would name their most ambitious album Everybody Makes Mistakes. If anything, this album should put to rest that Starflyer 59 is a “shoegazer” band. The only shoegazer album that Starflyer ever released was Silver, which is still one of the best darn debut albums I’ve ever heard.
One of the fun things with each new Starflyer album is trying to pick out the various influences and sounds that Martin was drawing upon. For example, Silver was obviously inspired by dreampoppers like My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver. Gold combined a Jesus And Mary Chain-esque surf sound with dark lounge sensibilities and a sense of unrequited love that’d give Bobby Wratten (Trembling Blue Stars) a run for his money. Americana is a decidedly classic rock affair, with swaggering guitar solos and power chords a‑plenty. But The Fashion Focus was different. It seemed to be a whole melange of styles from the Boo Radleys to the Doors.
So now we come to Everybody Makes Mistakes, the latest from the ever-changing Starflyer 59. (Am I the only one who thinks that Jason Martin is a Robert Smith protege, what with the band lineup changing with almost every album?) Stylistically, it’s close to The Fashion Focus, but the songwriting feels much more assured and self-confident. It also contains some of Martin’s most honest and open songs in recent memory.
You could argue that Martin always wore his heart on his sleeve. What else could explain the laments of Gold? But you must admit that, at times, the approach got a little overdone. However, with Everybody Makes Mistakes, the approach gets a little musical shot in the arm. Like The Fashion Focus, the music is a bit all over the place. When it works, it shows once again that Martin is still one of the best songwriters in Christian music.
I dare anyone to listen to “No New Kinda Story” and not think of some long-lost John Hughes film. Swelling keyboards, Psychedelic Furs-esque guitar melodies, and shuffling drums all combine under Martin’s breathy vocals (which show more range with each release). And the song’s bridge is one of the best breakdowns I’ve heard in a long time. Martin even shows off his softer side with songs like “20 Dollar Bills” and the album’s atmospheric closer, “The Party” (which sounds like it should be played during the closing credits of the aforementioned Hughes movie). There’s even a hidden track, a slight reworking of “The Party”. Normally, I hate hidden tracks, but I must say that it’s one of the best things Starflyer has ever done, adding a saxophone to the mix and making an already dreamy track even moreso.
Now I come to the hard part of the review. I’ve written glowingly about Starflyer in the past, so I might sound a tad bit hypocritical here. I like the new album, I really do. But it doesn’t leave the kind of impressions that his earlier stuff has. Perhaps it’s that the recent albums, with Martin’s songwriting opening up to more styles, have lost a sort of consistency that Silver and Gold had. With those albums, every track enthralled me, made me wonder at Martin’s skill. With Everybody Makes Mistakes, I only find myself doing that on a handful of tracks.
On Everybody Makes Mistakes, when Martin is on, the songwriting is simply incredible. Catchy, atmospheric, and with a heavy dose of melancholia (the 3 necessary ingedients in my book). “Going Places” is proof enough of that. When Martin isn’t on, the songwriting is still solid, but there are several tracks on Everybody Makes Mistakes that leave no impression whatsoever.
So should you buy this album? If you’re a Starflyer fan, you probably already own it. Like his brother Ronnie (Joy Electric), Jason has a penchant for creating a rabid fanbase. If you’ve never heard Starflyer before, and want to know what all of the fuss is about, this is probably as good a place as any to start before you move on to his earlier works. In the end, it’s another Starflyer album, there’s no arguing that. No matter what style Martin may pursue with the next album, it will have that “Starflyer 59 sound”. And if you’ve already got your own “sound”, you must be doing something right.