Thursday, November 30, 2006

"We're ordinary people, close but not the worst"

#22 The Fashion Focus, Starflyer 59, Tooth & Nail, 1998

Back in college, Papa Shoegaze used to sleep with a guy who wore purple tighties. I mean in the same room , of course, and the guy's name was Will J. Myself and ATrain, who was my sleep friend, had a nice little fiberglass bungalow five doors down from them and we would often hear competing musical sounds wafting down the corridor. If it was Will J's turn to spin, we were bound to hear the major chord tinkering of Michael W Smith or some other contemporary praise group (annoyance with this repeated experiment with the praise dial lead me to put Weezer's "Only In Dreams" at max volume on repeat in our room with the door locked for a good three hours one night when I went out. I believe because of that Rob, and most people in Liston Hall, will never forget the bass line to that song). If it was Rob's turn to play something on Will J's 50 CD changer (only in late '90s America), our ears usually met with thick shoegaze fuzz from a particular SoCal "Christian" rock group.

I had heard a lot about Starflyer 59 from being an acolyte of the Tooth & Nail school of Christian rock, an academy that proudly implied that their sound was "like" secular music without the spiritual guilt/baggage bound to accompany secular sound, and I had shipped countless copies of Starflyer records when I worked at a Christian merchandise distributor the summer after my freshman year at college. I loved the Starflyer cover art (or lack thereof), but the little tidbits I had heard didn't resonant with my punk/pop rock disposition. When I met Rob my sophomore year, his endless array of Velvet Blue tees and Starflyer references fascinated me (that and the omnipresent deck shoes). When we started talking about playing music together, he kindly composed a mix tape for me (which I still have) featuring a collection of his favorite Starflyer tracks. It didn't take long for me to become enamoured with Jason Martin's unique sound - guitar thickness and languishing solos enshrouding minimal, whispery vocals. It also helped that our first band, manifesting itself as "Flavor Station," covered Sled off of Silver for a packed (OK, loosely populated) Friday night dining hall crew (for the historical record, we also covered "Love" by Sixpence None the Richer with a future Mrs. Sievert on lead vocals).

When, then, in the fall semester of '98 I heard what I would later come to learn was the distorted raunch and arena lead of the Jacob and Esau homage "The Birthrite" drifting down the hall our way, a new level in my relationship with Starflyer began. I copied the fresh disc from Rob onto a cassette tape and proceeded to listen to it non-stop over the course of the semester. What set this record apart from former Starflyer releases for me, besides the backward-looking, epic shoegaze rock-a-thon "Too Much Fun," was the definite emergence of very noticeable pop songwriting skills. The Fashion Focus contains some acoustic guitar in the mix, some delicate Rhodes piano, and even harmonica, all interesting changes from the My Bloody Valentine influence of the the first several releases. No doubt Gene Eugene (RIP) as producer helped Starflyer make this move in a more pop-friendly direction (their next two albums encapsulate this progression and are also solid favorites of mine, Everybody Makes Mistakes and Leave Here A Stranger). The pop gems are a plenty here: the undeniable Smiths-like synth of "I Drive A Lot," the haunting slow-burn of "We're the Ordinary," the catchy bounce of "Card Games And Old Friends," and the lounge perfection of the earnest "Fell in Love at 22." My sympathetic favorite, though, comes with the echo-y darkness of "Sundown," which features some of my favorite drumming from Wayne Everett, and was the impetus behind an attempt to make a short autumn film about King College. Now that's a project I wish I had finished.

(Note: When Sarah and I first moved to Durham, I got a belated B-day package in the mail from Rob and Shawna. Inside was my very own Fashion Focus CD. It's always nice to move from tape to CD when one of your favorite records is involved. Thanks guys.)


Lucky Strikes said...

I love seeing Starflyer cruise into this mix at #22. Jason Martin and Co. will be back, with a vengence, as we stroll to #1...

Papa Shoegaze said...

well remembered. you are welcome. keep in mind this album never touched our doormroom carpet.

"think of things i'd be, with time to kill and just have lots of money. and when i'm all worked up i think of friends of mine now 35"

my #28, whatever that means.

i know of some other flyer tape in your possession- its white.

Captain Ultra said...

nice pick.

this probably would have made my top 35 or so. i didnt bother ranking them outside of the top 25 since i was a month behind on getting emails and thinking about this. haha.