Review Summary: Hey wait, do you like music?
Recorded in mono as a tribute to the Beach Boys classic "Pet Sounds," Leave Here a Stranger is one album worthy to make such a tribute. Upon it's release in 2001 the album met to almost complete critical acclaim, attracting attention of several major reord labels. This was no suprise however, as all five preceding albums were met with similar reactions. What is suprising though, is is that despite all of the praise garnered the band has remained in relative obscurity. This is something I have always believed to be a disservice to music lovers everwhere, and to Mr. Martin himself.
Their loss is our gain as it turns out. Over his many years with Tooth and Nail, Jason Martin seems to have retained complete artisitic authority over his projects (which very rare in the current climate of the music industry,) and this is a very good thing. The first Starflyer 59 release "Silver" was released in 1993, and drew comparisons to My Bloody Valentine
and other bands in the shoegazer genre, with subsequent albums dropping the aesthetic and moving to a more poppy sound. The dramatic shift came in the form of "The Fashion Focus," and the almost Joy Division
sounding "Everybody Makes Mistakes." It seems Starflyer 59 was always too late to the party, or too early (who isn't covering New Order these days?) But enough of why Starflyer 59 isn't popular, let's talk about why they should be.
Leave Here a Stranger kicks off with "All My Friends Who Play Guitar," an optimistic, and up-beat jam about his success as a musician, that ends up sounding more thankful than it does boastful. When compared to some of the laments in later albums (such as "Contest Completed," or "Major Awards") the track is almost bitter sweet. The next song "Can You Play the Drums" is the least stand out song on the album. It's by no means a bad song, capturing the mood perfectly, its simply that it blends with the rest of the album.
Continuing with the pattern of songs with titles about music, "When I Learn To Sing" is thought provoking and beautiful despite it's simple lyrics, and adding jingle bells to the backround give it a unique atmosphere. The next song is equally moving and is one of the best examples of Martin's skill for writing lyrics. "I read what they write, God's men of before/it's simply that I am still afraid to give up the war," and "I've played all the chords/And I guess I get bored/I want to do it right/Be someone like Paul/It's simply that he was not afraid/He never gave up the war" Starflyer 59 has always been a Christian band denying the label of "Christians in a band" (Jason Martin has even spoken out against it in a few interviews,) and has always allowed his faith to define his lyrics as opposed to the other way around.
The shortest song on the album "This I Don't Need" follows, and I think quirky is probably the best way to describe it. Defined by group hand claps and the electric organ, what really makes this song stand out are the backround vocals used in the chorus. This is new territory for Starflyer and if you listen very closely it sort of sounds like Jason's brother of Joy Electric
fame Ronnie Martin, though I have searched for verification and can not find out if this is true or not.
Atmosphere is the name of the game for the majority of Leave Here a Stranger and there is no better example for this than the longest song "I Like Your Photographs." This is the defining song of the album, containing strings, and a piano among other things, that all come together to create a wall of sound that really has to be heard to be believed. "... Moves On" picks up where "I Like Your Photographs" ends, literally. The track is an 89 second epilogue of sorts that is the same music with the words "Leave here a Stranger" said backwards and looped.
"Night Music" follows after, showing some of Jason Martin's talent as a frontman, singing with more urgency than the rest of the album is an abrupt, but pleasant change. However the harmonica steals the show, having been used a few times in previous Starflyer efforts, and it's conservative use ensures it is always a treat. Finally the album closes with "Your Company" a very sweet love song that sounds as though it's written by from the perspective of a child or for his own children.
It would be easy to dismiss this review, after all this is the first I have written, and I have given the album a perfect score, but it is actually the opposite. Rather than write reviews to give praise to my favorite album and band, this band is what made me love music, and I believe this is their best album. I can give no recommendation higher than that.
Also, fun fact: the cover art is a picture taken from the set of a Star Wars movie... and yeah that's awesome.