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Starflyer 59

Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice

(Tooth & Nail; US: 12 Apr 2005; UK: Available as import)

Back on the Flight Path

The chances of your running into Starflyer 59’s Jason Martin at your local coffee shop and getting into a conversation are slim, but if you did, this is what he might have to say:

“So you want to talk about my new album, Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice, huh? Pretty clever title, don’t you think? Anyhow, let me guess: You weren’t a big fan of my last couple albums. You thought Old was a little too glam for its own good and I Am the Portuguese Blues confused the hell out of you. Well, you probably liked Leave Here a Stranger, then, didn’t you? Here’s what happened; bear with me.

Stranger was a breakthrough. After six albums, the critics really noticed me, and I got some sales outside of my cult fanbase. You could put it down to the times—Wilco, the Flaming Lips, Radiohead all taking off—people were into smart, moody, widescreen kind of stuff. Right place, right time—plus a good album (not that I hadn’t made one before). So then I did what most bands do when they hit a breakthrough: I second-guessed myself, tried too hard not to repeat Stranger, and deliberately went in a different direction. I even put an actual band together.

“I’m done with that. Now it’s just me and one buddy, doing what I do best. If you ever liked the ‘classic SF59 sound’, then Talking Voice is the album for you. Midtempo, moody, well-produced, pretty. Take a song like ‘The Contest Completed’, for example. You have the careful guitar hook, the synth running through, that lilting chorus that gets stuck in your head. ‘Play the C Chord’, ‘I Drive a Lot’, ‘All My Friends Who Play Guitar’, and now this quality addition. Or ‘A List Goes On’ and ‘Something Evil’, the way they sneer and brood around the way the Cure hasn’t been able to do for ages. And it’s not a rehash, either: see how I’ve added string arrangements on a lot of songs, and how about that oh-so-‘80s sax on ‘Easy Street’? Genius!

“Hey—and speaking of the ‘80s, don’t even drag me down that road! I was making tributes to New Order and Bauhaus before the Killers were out of high school, so there’s no bandwagon-jumping here. And just listen to the intricate, chattering drum program and the bass lead (no, that’s not Peter Hook, but I’d forgive you for thinking so!) on ‘Good Sons’ or ‘Good Living’, or the creepy guitar picking on ‘A List Goes On’. A true love of and respect for the music is what you’ll hear. And anyway, how could you hear that world-weary breath of a voice and think of anyone but me?

“I know, it might all get a little oppressive. I’ll be honest: I’m tired of this world. It’s cold and lonely and it doesn’t change. If it were up to me, I’d skip to the chase and go straight to heaven. And I’ll admit, Talking Voice is no more perfect than I am. ‘Softness Goodness’ may just kind of float away from you. You don’t hear a standout like ‘Fell in Love at 22’ or ‘Dual Overhead Cam’. Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time; what can I say? Sometimes the ‘growers’ are the ones you end up loving the most. Sometimes you need an album to remind you why you liked a certain band in the first place. Talking Voice is that album, and even if you’ve never heard Starflyer 59 before, you should check it out.”

If you ran into Jason Martin and this is what he told you, could you take him at his word? Yes, you could.


John Bergstrom has been writing various reviews and features for PopMatters since 2004. He has been a music fanatic at least since he and a couple friends put together The Rock Group Dictionary in third grade (although he now admits that giving Pat Benatar the title of "first good female rocker" was probably a mistake). He has done freelance writing for Trouser Pressonline, Milwaukee's Shepherd Express, and the late Milk magazine and website. He currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife and two kids, both of whom are very good dancers.

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