Aha! Though Google and even Mr. Jeeves were of no assistance, I just figured out what the hell the title to the new Starlight Mints album, Drowaton, means. And I think I’ll leave you with the option of figuring it out yourself (it’s much more gratifying that way, right?). But I will mention that all you need to figure it out is contained within the word. Aside from decoding the title, I have yet to decide whether I like this album. I mean, I can tell you that it’s good. It’s a little too easy to make the Flaming Lips comparison – they’re both from Oklahoma (I know, I forgot about the Midwest too…), the production is top notch, and it’s wacky. But the emotional pull I feel towards say a Soft Bulletin – I just don’t get it from Drowaton. Not that this band deserves to be compared to the Lips all day long. But I’m just saying.
The Starlight Mints, a recent addition to the Barsuk team, create a sound that could easily work in a Tim Burton movie. A wide range of sounds from brass to string to that noise that Star Trek doors make, create a texture where it seems that anything might happen. And hey, there’s a lot of good things to be said about that. It’s eery, dark, goofy, complex, and it makes you use odd parts of your brain. And on tracks like 6, Rhino Stomp, you may even start imagining some weird claymation creatures, walking in a line and silhouetted by a deep orange sun.
Track 3, What’s Inside of Me, is where the band is most successful. The wackiness that’s so dominant elsewhere is diffused by a more traditional rock sound. Before you know what’s happening, you’re tapping your foot to this hyper-catchy keyboard line that you didn’t know was there. And before you even get to wondering what was verse and what was chorus, the song is over, and you’re still thinking about that keyboard.
Track 5, Seventeen Devils, is a similarly successful venture on the strength of a striking hook set against a collage of sharp acoustic guitar, melancholy strings, and some cool-ass distortion. Throw in some unique vocal phrasing and an intriguing rhythm and you’ve got yourself a pretty damn good song. Track 12 is a fine album-ender, with some quality layering in the beginning that culminates in this quirky brass line that you really don’t want to go away.
But alas, although I looked a couple times, I had a hard time finding anything that might make we want to come back. Now it’s true there’s a lot of layers to peel back, but unfortunately, I don’t have huge-ass quantities of time put away to determine whether something is engaging or not. Quite frankly, during track 10, The Bee, I had this acute feeling that “there is a lot going on, but I don’t care.” Track 8, Eyes of the Night, is too goofy for me, complete with a melody line accented with vocals that makes me uncomfortable. And not in a good way.
I’m glad that there are bands like Starlight Mints, and if they can draw crowds, it’s only encouraging. This isn’t a band trying to be cool, or trying to be pop or rock or anything else. They should get credit for being unique and talented. But I’m a big mood/music guy. Like there are ‘crisp autumn day’ bands, and ‘dewy spring morning’ bands, and you’ve got your ‘roll down the passenger window (the driver-side window is busted) and let the summer air rush in as you drive to the beach’ bands… I’m just not sure where Drowaton fits. Maybe I’ll have to add ‘experimental Midwest pop’ bands to this list. But that would be a weird thing to do.