Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Star & Micey

Bands will always tell you what an eclectic sound they have. I'm instantly suspicious when a band takes way too much pride in the proclamation of how from one song to another on their album they can jump from one extreme genre to another. To be able to capture Rage Against the Machine in one breath and Tom Petty in the next is not only terribly forced and contrived, but speaks to an utter lack of focus.

What does this have to do with the self-titled debut album from Memphis trio Star & Micey? Nothing. It just really bothers me when bands do that sort of thing.

Okay so not quite true. The point is that after multiple full listens to this album, what becomes apparent is how every one of the ten tracks is completely unique, with an homage to the band’s various core sound staples, while still maintaining a very familiar earthy warm common string through the whole set. There is a also a Memphis ghost that seems to have sat in the studio during the sessions to ensure these young men were constantly aware of the big brand and lesser known musicians responsible for so many of the most famous sounds their city has offered over so many years. There is a great deal of respect for the past you can hear on this record, while still being very forward looking.

Initially I wasn't sure this Star & Micey thing was going to work for me. Not so much due to quality or any issues of theirs, but more due to my own aversion to folky slide guitar type roots music. Then track three, "Carly", hit my headphones and I understood why this collection made its way to me for consideration and feedback in the first place. This song has everything a good guitar pop song should have. Multiple hooks in their right places, repetition in the right places, hand claps in the right places, and "ba ba ba ba's" in the right places. The vocal lines and lyrics are perfectly vulnerable and believable. I would have been onside with the hand claps alone.

"I Am The One She Needs" shows the guys have their white boy groove stuff in perfect proportion and check. Like "Carly", there are echoes of Pernice Brothers and even a Steely Dan-esque smoothness young twenty year olds should not be able to pull off on their debut. This middle section of the album is straight out hooky and catchy and really where I was sold. It actually helped me approach the openers with more ease and mostly to get over myself.

The guests on the album are prominently showcased in numerous media spots, and if they have helped Star & Micey to register on radars at all, then so be it and good for them. For my money though, this recording stands well on its own. The craft and composition shows a maturity well beyond the years of the band, the broad spectrum of sound (strings, percussion, and keys) make an understated album sound larger without compromising intimacy, and the dynamics between vocal play at key message points is something some bands are never able to get right over the course of whole careers. The vocal build including falsetto that matches to the instrumental crescendo at around 2:30 is the stuff of classics.

What was immediately obvious to me though, before even hitting play, was the very focus I mocked other bands for at the outset of this review. Ten songs with an average song length of three minutes. Bands with various tenure seem to feel they have too many interesting stories to tell and too many ways to tell them. Ten songs is generally the perfect length for an album and three minutes is the ideal indie pop song length. When I finished the album for the first time, I wanted to hear what these guys had to say again right away. 10 X 3:00 is the perfection.

This is a very solidly put together recording by a band that clearly already knows itself really well. To me it should appeal to people with an affinity for stripped down quality indie pop as well as those who may not get exposure to music this sincere on the radio, but would pay close attention if they heard a song like “My Beginning” on FM or satellite. Good on the lads in Star & Micey for figuring out some stuff quickly as a band and for settling into their musical skin so seamlessly on a first recording.