May 20, 2020

The four eras of Starflyer 59


Last night my friend Joel tweeted out his thoughts on Starflyer 59’s “three eras.” I loved his concept, but as I thought about it, it became quickly apparent that there are four eras for me.
Joel asked me to elaborate, but as he is on the West Coast, I am on the East Coast, I was headed to bed. But thinking about this kept me awake for a little while last night, and now I am putting my thoughts into words. I’m not going to dive into a ton of detail here, as if you are reading this, you are probably already a pretty big Starflyer fan and know much of what I could include. (And note to you crazy Starflyer fans [like me], I am not including everything below; meaning I have intetionally omitted singles, live albums, demos, etc.)

ERA 1 (1993-1997) 

LPs: Silver (1994), Gold (1995), Americana (1997)
EPs: She’s the Queen (1994), Le Vainqueur (1995), Plugged (1996) 

I was fortunate enough to discover Starflyer just as their 1994 debut album “Silver” was released. I first heard the band (“Second Space Song”) on a late night radio show (“The A-Zone in Nashville), and my brother went out and quickly bought the CD. I had never heard or heard of shoegaze, so it was revolutionary to me. Not only did I love the music, visually it was next-level artwork and packaging.

Musically this era is defined by heaviness and guitars, and visually by solid-color metallic covers. The EPs were equally important (and EPs were a huge part of the Starflyer output for the first decade of the band). “She’s the Queen” introduced the slow-core sound, that while a contrast from the heavy rock songs, was still was a perfect part of the puzzle. My favorite song from this era is the title track of the “Le Vainqueur" EP. I saw Starflyer on the tour in fall of 1995, and Morella's Forest opened. I desperately hoped Sydney would do the "Let's Go" line in the bridge of that song, and while they played it, she did not. :(

For most of the songs in this era, Martin played all the instruments himself. Wayne Everett began drumming on some of the “Gold” songs, and remained the drummer through “Everybody Makes Mistakes”. With the addition of Eric Campuzano on bass, “Americana” was Martin’s first attempt at collaboration with two accomplished other song-writers. However, Campuzano’s stay was only for that one album, as Martin held on to creative control. Martin then turned to Jeff Cloud for minimal, basic bass lines for the next few releases.

 5 songs that define Era 1:
“Blue Collar Love”
“She Was My Sweetheart”
“When You Feel Miserable”
“Le Vainqueur”
“The Boulevard”

 

ERA 2 (1998-2003) 

LPs: The Fashion Focus (1998), Everybody Makes Mistakes (1999), Leave Here a Stranger (2001), Old (2003)
EPs: Fell in Love at 22 (1999), Can’t Stop Eating (2002) 

From the opening synth and acoustic guitar strumming of “I Drive A Lot”, the second era had begun. Gone were the loud guitars and distortion (except for “Too Much Fun”, which is incredible yet somewhat out of place), and Martin had begun his experimentation with “The Fashion Focus”. Honestly, at first I was pissed. I was really into heavy music at the time, and I wanted more. But over time the album grew and grew and I recognized it’s superior song-writing.

This era is defined by the influence Martin’s collaborators, producers, and players had on the Starflyer sound; arguably more influence than any other era. Wayne Everett, Gene Eugune, Terry Taylor, Richard Swift, and Frank Lenz all took part for some of this period, and at times, it is incredibly obvious (in a good way). While Gene Eugene helped produce and played on “Gold” and “Americana”, his stamp first obviously appears on “The Fashion Focus”. While that album is all over the map stylistically and is maybe too long, Martin and Eugune really dialed it in for the laser-focused “Everybody Makes Mistakes.” The songs were better and the album was limited to nine songs.

After Eugene’s death, Martin turned to Terry Taylor to produce “Leave Here a Stranger”. The result is a sound that harkens’ back to the Sixties, which was even more amplified by it being mixed in mono (I think the stereo mixes on the "Can't Stop Eating" EP sound better). For this release Martin had an all-new band of guys whose first names began with “J”.

Era 2 ends with “Old”, which in my view is the first Starflyer 59 album that features true collaboration from the players. Cloud was still playing bass, and Richard Swift (keys and vocals) and Frank Lenz (drums and vocals) joined the band. Swift and Lenz are both accomplished solo artists, and their contributions were not only strong, they were obvious. Martin also used Aaron Sprinkle for production, which resulted in a crystal-clear sound that was quite a bit different than “Leave Here a Stranger.”

5 songs that define Era 2:
“I Drive A Lot”
“Fell in Love at 22”
“No New Kinda Story”
“I Like Your Photographs”
“Underneath”

“Delimiter” (thanks Ryan), no era:
 I am the Portuguese Blues (2004) 

First off, this is my least favorite Starflyer album. Honestly, I find it strange that it even exists. The story from my perspective is this: Martin had continued pressure to return the original Starflyer sound (and a return to the original look with another solid metallic cover), resurrected some old demos and unfinished songs from the mid-90’s, and went into the studio to record this album as an appeasement to fans. For one, he was so far past this as a musician and song-writer, and secondly, while it was heavy, it is over-produced. While Sprinkle’s crisp production was perfect for “Old”, he is far too much of a perfectionist for this release. All rawness and needed “sloppiness” was lost, and it just doesn’t sound right.

ERA 3 (2004-2015)

LPs: Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice (2005), My Island (2006), Dial M (2008), The Changing of the Guard (2010), IAMACEO (2013)
EPs: The Last Laurel (2004), I Win (2006), Minor Keys (2009) 

Era 3 is defined by Martin taking complete control. While Lenz was still in the band, Martin began self-producing his albums, and has ever since. This era begins with the fantastic independent “Last Laurel” EP, which was strangely released around the same time as “I am the Portuguese Blues"; They are polar opposites musically. “Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice” followed, built around the “Last Laurel” song “Softness, Goodness,” which is a top-5 all-time Martin tune for me.

“My Island” is distinct because Martin brought a new bass player into the fold- Steven Dail. Dail was in Project 86 and he had a noticeable style that for the first time brought the bass to the front of the Starflyer mix; and was a major shift from the bass minimalism of Cloud. Dail has played bass for Starflyer ever since (15 years!), but his work stands out the most on “My Island”.

 “Dial M” was an interesting album for me because Martin did a project with Burnt Toast Vinyl in which demos from the sessions were released a couple at a time for nearly a year before its release. That 10 7” box set remains one of my favorite pieces of my vinyl collection. However, when the album finally dropped, I already knew all the songs, and the studio versions, while better, didn't blow me away.


My wife and I had our first child in 2008. I bring that up because we had two more in 2009 and 2012 and that was a CRAZY time for us. During my years of fathering babies and toddlers, Starflyer put out “The Changing of the Guard” and “IAMACEO”. While I pre-ordered both albums on vinyl, they did not get listened to much. I find these two of the weakest releases in the Starflyer catalog, and I am not sure how much that is because they actually are--or maybe it was just that I was distracted. This era is arguably too long, but it did feel like it drug on for me before era 4 began with a bang.

5 songs that define Era 3:
“Softness, Goodness”
“I Win”
“Mic the Mic”
“Minor Keys”
“Bicycle Rider”

 

ERA 4 (2016-present)

LPs: Slow (2016), Young in My Head (2019)
EPs: Miami (2020) 

During the break between eras 3 and 4, I honestly wondered if maybe Martin was done with Starflyer 59. I don’t remember any news for a couple years, and who could blame him if he was “retired”. So with that in mind, I didn’t expect another Starflyer album.

Then “Slow” dropped, and I was blown away. For me it was the first time Martin had actually blended his original sound with his current work--two decades later. The title track reminded me of the “She’s the Queen” slowcore. I spun “Slow” more than I had any new Starflyer album in over a decade. Martin seemed re-energized, and he had brought in his son as the drummer to play with him and Dail.

And then before I knew it, ANOTHER Starflyer album was out-- “Young in My Head.” Martin’s output and brief time between releases was reminiscent of the Nineties. And now, only a year later, we have a new EP on the horizon! “Miami” drops June 19 on Velvet Blue Music. While EPs were frequent in Starflyer’s early years, this is the first one since 2009.

 5 songs that define Era 4:
“Slow”
“Cherokee”
“Remind Me”
“Smoke”
“This Recliner”

 


March 6, 2020

Every Concert I Have Ever Attended

Google sheet being updated "live" as I remember old shows and attend new ones:


January 7, 2020

2020 music: listen/pre-order now, and what to look forward to

2020 is my eighteenth year running this blog, which has been focused on music since 2006. Before I get into the main subject--2020 music--a brief summary on buying music in the present age:

If you are reading this post and this blog, it means you enjoy independent music. With that in mind, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to BUY music, not stream it. And I don't mean "buy" it through subscribing to Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon Unlimited (more below on how to use those services effectively with personal accountability). While those can be great supplementary tools, if you want independent artists to create, and create more often, make sure your money is going to them, and not massive corporations.

For more info on streaming and how much artists are making off these scams, visit The Trichordist. And here is an infographic from Information is Beautiful:



The most direct way to support independent musicians is to buy physical merchandise (vinyl, CDs, shirts, posters) from shows, their specific website, or their label website. When buying digital downloads, purchase from Bandcamp as over 75% of the profits go to the artist (which is less than 1% for the previously mentioned streaming services). Bandcamp isn't only digital however; it is often the best place to buy physical music or merch.

If you are physical media person like me--vinyl, CDs, or cassettes--same suggestions apply. If you can't get to shows, or can't find what you want on artist or label websites, the next option is to go to independent record stores. Not only does your money help those stores survive, it also results in the artists getting a higher percentage (than they would through an online retailer like Amazon or Target). While I can't go to stores on a regular basis, I do when I travel, and recently visited five Washington, D.C. area stores:








A post shared by AP (@turnofftheradio1976) on


If you don't live near a good independent record store, or if you are unable to make it to a store often (like me), then find an independent record store who also sells product online. My newest suggestion, and a vendor I began using in 2019 is Bull Moose.
Bull Moose is based out of Maine and New Hampshire, two of the eleven states I have sadly never visited. But they have a great online store with prices that are nearly as good as Amazon's. And as I try to stop using the evil empire Amazon, paying a little more is totally worth it. They have free media mail shipping if you spend $30, which means two LPs for me. I'll admit I have used Amazon to buy way too much music, but I am trying to stop.

Final comment on streaming services, because I know almost everyone uses them: I'll admit they are great for music discovery or listening to an old radio hit you want to just hear one more time. But set boundaries and limitations on yourself. The rule I wish Spotify and the others had in place would be that you could only stream each song a limited number of times (3?). Then after you streamed three times, you had to then make a donation to the artist (with the artist getting 100%), or buy the album. Bandcamp already has this system in place, with the artist being able to decide how many times you stream until you get this pop-up message:


And now, on to the music you should be buying in 2020. I'll start with music that is either available now, or able to be pre-ordered; then move on to albums that are probably or maybe going to be released later in the year.

Left Neglect- Children
January 1, 2020
Stream/buy on Bandcamp
I had never even heard of this band until today, but a link popped up in one of my social media feeds. The backbone of the band is one of my favorite drummers, Matt Johnson, of Roadside Monument and Blenderhead. After one stream on Bandcamp I fell in love and bought it ("pay what you want.") Listening to these songs was my final push and inspiration for this blog post.
Vekora- EP2

January 1, 2020
Stream/buy on Bandcamp
Another band I follow because of the amazing drumming, this time from Jesse Sprinkle. Surprise guest vocals from former Poor Old Lu bandmate Scott Hunter are a terrific addition to this band's music. Scott has formed a new band with 3/4 of Vekora called Bright and Harrowing that should release music later this year.

Frances Quinlan- Likewise
January 24, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
Pre-order on Saddle Creek
This was the first 2020 album I pre-ordered, which I did back in November. This is Quinlan's first solo album after three Hop Along LPs. I pre-ordered on Saddle Creek to get an exclusive vinyl color variant.

Nada Surf- Never Not Together
February 7, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
While I included the Bandcamp link, I actually pre-ordered from Bull Moose. I'd prefer the pink vinyl on Bandcamp, but it is EU only and the overseas shipping is understandly expensive. So I bought the black for $18.97. While I have loved Nada Surf for nearly two decades, most of their recent work I have found fairly blah. I am more excited about this album as the first two singles, especially "Looking For You." Matthew Caws seems to be experimenting more, which is exactly what the band needs.

The Innocence Mission- See You Tomorrow
January 17, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
This band has been around 30 years! Have loved them since I first heard Glow (which needs a vinyl release!). Haven't pre-ordered yet, but will soon.

Worriers- You or Someone You Know

March 6, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
This band is new to me (was a recent recommendation), but they have been around quite sometime. I enjoy their new single more than their older work, so I'll be sure to listen to this full album when it releases.

Gladie- Safe Sins
February 28, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
Pre-order exclusive vinyl variants from Lame-O Records
The email for this new album arrived while working on this post. This is the new band from Augusta Koch, frontwoman for Cayetana. My impression is that Cayetana is inactive/broken-up. This new outlet is fun and excited to see what the full LP holds.

Har Adonai- Now is Golden
January 14, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
Indie-folk rock from Israel; a meditation on the value of work, the purpose of art, and the meaning of life in the gig economy. Produced with the help of Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, The Pixies) and Benjamin Esterlis (Morphlexis). Mastered by Kramer (Galaxie 500, Low, Danielson Famile).

Wayne Everett- Two Ghosts
January 24, 2020
Stream/pre-order on Bandcamp
While loving Wayne's work as singer of the Lassie Foundation, and as drummer of the Prayer Chain, I admittedly did not enjoy his first solo album Kingsqueens back in 2002. However, the first single from his upcoming album is different, and 18 years later, I am excited to hear what Wayne has been working on. Speaking of the Prayer Chain...

The Prayer Chain- ???!!!
When Chris Colbert posted to Instagram last month, my initial thought was that he must be remastering or mixing some older Prayer Chain tunes, or doing something with one of the live shows from 2018. However, considering almost all existing Prayer Chain music has been reissued, and the reunion shows are already on Bandcamp, I feel pretty strongly this music must be new Prayer Chain song(s)?!


Finally, other albums that are definitely or probably coming later this year:
Black Bra- New band from Beth Cameron of Forget Cassettes. Album is finished and will be releasing soon. As I tweeted, this may be my most highly anticipated album of 2020.

Mountain Time (Chris Simpson of Mineral, The Gloria Record, Zookeeper)- has taken him years, but I think it's really close

Phoebe Bridgers- seems definite, almost certain it has been recorded based on Instagram

Manchester Orchestra- recording/pre-production is in progress (lots of Instagram posts)

Waxahatchee- No specific proof, but seems probable based on clues and timing

Sleigh Bells- Definite per band Instagram

Fiona Apple- Probable per published interviews

Grimes- Definite, February. However, concerned quality of her work has significantly diminished.

Luxury- They are playing a show in Septemeber at Furnace Fest XX in Birmingham, and Lee Bozeman has mentioned he has written new Luxury tunes.

Fleming & John- They Kickstarted the funds almost 5 years ago, so surely we are getting close? They do provide updates every 6-9 months, but it has been awhile.

Haim- Probably considering the release of recent singles. Speaking of those, this is one of my favorite songs of 2019 that I didn't mention in my year-end post: