Tooth & Nail
In a 2001 interview provided with the promotional material for this album, Starflyer 59 front man Jason Martin says that “A lot of Christian music is just trying to be ‘the other music’s’ counterpart…we’ve always tried to do what we’re doing, not just be the Christian form of some other band.” I’m not claiming to be an expert on Christian music, but this is something I’ve noticed myself over the years•often when I’ve seen such a band it strikes me that they’re basically doing what “secular” bands were doing two years ago.
Starflyer 59, although their records don’t owe much to Pete Townshend, seem likely to agree with his statement that “Most of my songs are about the idea that there is salvation, and that there is a Savior. But I won’t mention his name in a song just to get a cheap play (on Christian radio).”
I loved their previous full-length album, Leave Here A Stranger, almost from my first hearing of it, and it grew in my esteem to the point where it was my sixth favorite new album of 2001 The band, centered around Martin’s vocals and guitar and Jeff Cloud’s bass, are Christians but not, as it were, obnoxious about it.
Martin’s whispery vocals (he’s mostly abandoned the falsetto that featured on some of Stranger‘s standout tracks) and powerful songwriting here yields to his instrumental prowess. Starflyer 59 still make a reflective mix of dream poppy indie rock, but Old is a record which is much more interesting for its performances than for what they say. One of those CDs that make you remember how much you loved the band’s last one, you know? I don’t want to go so far as to say it’s not good…just not as good as.
Martin’s lyrical obsessions are just as melancholy and wistful as on the last record and the deceptively simplistic music reflects them with calm representation, animating pictures of resignation.
Maybe Starflyer 59 will never be one of the world’s greatest bands, but there’s soul here. This isn’t a new observation (is anything, really, these days?) but “soul” music need not sound like Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson. Maybe especially not Michael Jackson.
While Martin is undeniably talented, he does not seem to have been blessed here with a surfeit of inspiration as a songwriter. Maybe that’s why, annoyingly, he chose not to provide lyrics for more than one song (“First Heart Attack”) this time. But I’d still hire him to orchestrate one of my records (if I were making any, that is) in a half-second. The CMJ New Music Report said Leave Here was “definitely before-bed music.” Old is like a “Next Day” sequel. A little looser and broader in its influences (I swear I hear a little techno in there, and you will, too, if you pay attention), brighter, brasher and louder. It’s pretty but dense, like a jungle or rainforest, and may be better off as background music than foreground.
The cover of the CD shows a man silhouetted in the doorway to what appears to be a bedroom. His back is to the camera and we cannot see whatever it is that he sees. My guess? He’s a dying man who has skipped the first four stages and gone straight to acceptance. Good luck to him.
Tooth & Nail: http://www.toothandnail.com/