Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice by Starflyer 59 (Review)
There are a handful of bands that immediately cause me to stop whatever it is that I’m doing whenever they release a new CD. Even if I don’t review it for Opus, the minute their new album lands in my grubby little hands, it immediately shoots to the head of the queue, pushing the dozens of other CDs littering my desk off to the side. Starflyer 59 is one of those bands, and the moment the promo for Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice slid out of its envelope, the process began all over again.
For a short time, Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice was, for all intents and purposes, the only CD I owned.
I’ve been a fan of Jason Martin (and whomever he gets to record with him at the time) for a little over a decade (has it been that long?). And in the course of listening to their 15 or so releases, one thing has become absolutely crystal clear: Martin’s uncanny ability to create an immediately unmistakable sound while at the same time rarely recording the same album twice.
In other words, nearly every Starflyer 59 album is unique in terms of their sound, from the droney shoegazer-isms of Silver to the lounge rock of Gold to the arena rock of Americana to the orchestral pop of Leave Here A Stranger. Sure, there’s some overlap here and there, such as I Am the Portugese Blues recyling Americana’s stadium rock sound, but that’s quite rare. For all of the diversity on display in Starflyer 59’s discography, there is absolutely no mistaking a Jason Martin song for anyone else’s.
In many ways, Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice is Starflyer 59’s most ambitious album to date (somewhat ironic for a man who has, time and again, expressed a boredom for his own music). Once again, I’m surprised at all of the new sounds that appear on this album. There’s the gorgeous manner in which the horns dovetail seamlessly with the vocoder on “Easy Street”; the spiraling guitars on “Good Sons” that recall Seventeen Seconds-era Cure; the soaring string arrangement that breaks through the otherwise creeping “Night Life”; and the shuffling drum machines and reverb-drenched guitars on “Longest Line.”
I’m assuming that a lot of these interesting new elements are due to the presence of drummer/madman Frank Lenz as Martin’s current cohort. Lenz’ own music is full of such wild swings and elements (if you haven’t already, check out The Hot Stuff’s thoughtfully funky brand of pop), and it’s refreshing to hear how he shakes things up with this particular gig.
In addition to these fresh, exciting elements, the album also features some of the most honest, spiritual songs that Martin has written in, well, quite some time it seems. “Easy Street” is permeated with the sort of sighing anxiety/boredom/desire for something better that he has become quite well known for. Same goes for “A List Goes On,” which finds Martin ruminating on his life and failures (“A list goes on/We know you tried but you’re gettin’ on your knees/The same old wrongs/God knows I’ve tried”) before sighing “Is this my life?/Maybe so.…” And the stirring string arrangement backing him certainly doesn’t hurt things. The album concludes on a more hopeful/wistful note, however, as Martin states “Got one destination/For Jesus to call me home/For faces sad and wasted/Oh that we would be known…” (“Longest Line”).
It’s not that I ever stopped liking Starflyer 59, though I’ll admit that some of Starflyer’s recent albums left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. But it’s almost impossible to ignore the breath of fresh air that seems to fill this album from one end to the other. It’s always a wonderful feeling to get excited all over again about one of your favorite bands. There’s almost a sense of rediscovery, of going back in time to when their music made that first massive impression on you. It sounds corny, but listening to Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice, I feel like I’m an 18 year-old high schooler again, listening to Silver for the first time, being left absolutely giddy by those sounds.
It’s all the more impressive that Starflyer can do this to me this far along into their career, and after releasing so many albums, singles, and EPs. In some ways, it feels like they’re just getting started, and there are even better things yet to come.