Music

Trembling Blue Stars: A Certain Evening Light

Jon Langmead

Trembling Blue Stars

A Certain Evening Light

Label: Shinkansen
US Release Date: 2003-09-16
UK Release Date: 2003-06-30
Amazon
iTunes

Collecting together 18 non-album tracks from the English cult-band Trembling Blue Stars, A Certain Evening Light is, like most rarities discs, mostly intended for people that are already fans of the band. Compilations, by their nature, are generally disjointed affairs. This one pulls together six years worth of the band's 7"s, a three song single, and a song given away at the label's Christmas party. The tracks don't run in chronological order, which would have made things a bit more interesting by letting you better hear how the band's sound developed, or in some cases, failed to. I can't see that it will be all that useful to people who have already written the band off or who have yet to hear their particular brand of melancholy. If you're not familiar with their music, you're probably better off starting with one of the band's four full-lengths, two of which, 2000's Broken by Whispers and 2002's Alive to Every Smile were released in America by SubPop. Broken by Whispers in particular felt more accessible than the song's collected here, though that disc was likewise hampered by most of the same problems that have attached themselves to the band in general.

Lead Star Bob Wratten, former front man from the even more cultish Field Mice and Northern Picture Library, makes music that tends to be all together too precious, too one-sided; everywhere you look it feels like you're being sold on heartbreak, hurt and regret. There has to be more to write about and the overall lack of diversity ends up making things feel incomplete, like pieces of the story are left out. Your emotions won't get stirred up unless you let them; the disc is never really all that effective at catching you off-guard. I hate to say it, but more than anything it's just kind of boring. I don't think that I've ever skipped the rest of so many tracks on a CD after a minute or so of a song had played but that's all that you really need to hear to get the picture. Wratten is certainly likable and sincere, or maybe that's self-centered, and it's easy to start feeling a little protective of him. But it ends up being in more of a tough love kind of way. Early on, you're willing to maybe put your arm around him and give him a little hug to try and make him feel better. Maybe take him out for a drink. After a few more minutes, though, you've already started to get tired of his complaining.

The breathy singing sounds too frail, the blips, bleeps, and electronic beats too joyless; ultimately the sound just feels too thin. The emotions, too, can come across as cold and studied as the music sounds, or perhaps just as isolated. "Doo-Wop Music", a lonely waltz which should be the album's highlight is so calculated, down to the scratchy vinyl pops, that it's like the band doesn't want to give you the opportunity to feel anything but wistful. Their agenda feels so narrow that you can't really ever get outside of it. It's like the metallic drum machine drone and singularity of emotion sucks out all of the fun and romance that should be exaggerated with memory.

On "Though I Still Want to Fall into Your Arms" it's tough to tell if Wratten is trying to be funny or if he's just being pathetic. "Though I still want to fall into your arms I won't let that come between us / Though I still see you as home that won't make me run from us / And if I can't show you how I've grown the way I want to / I can do it by being friends with you." Look, a piece of advice. When I was twenty-two I subscribed to that exact same line of reasoning and believe me, it just didn't work.

The songs can be catchy at moments, they certainly don't qualify as bore-core, and on "It's Easier to Smile" the band comes across like Luna ("Keeping your heart broken is too much like hard work"), or maybe New Order, covering Naked Eyes. When Wratten sings, "Hearts will mend if you only let them / Hearts they mend, you just have to let them / Just got to leave them alone/ It was all a long time ago", it's relieving to think that he might be finally getting a little perspective on things. He sounds like a different person, almost bopping along to the (unintentionally) cheesy '80s synths. Even though it amounts to basically just relationship hokum, the line sort of rings true when Wratten delivers it. It's at least better than, "There's only one way to the clear light of day / Straight through the darkness" ("While Your Heart is Still Beating").

After a full hour of A Certain Evening Light it all gets to feeling like new age music for grown-up feel-bad indie rockers. Still, the collection is obviously worthwhile for the band's dedicated fans but it doesn't figure to shed any new light on the band's catalog. Personally, I was left screaming, "For God's sake, tell her you love her, settle down, and get on with writing some different kinds of songs. And look, if she doesn't love you, it's all going to be okay. I promise. Now pick yourself up off the floor and let's get the hell out of here."


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.