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The Starlight Mints’ Drowaton – A Snapshot Worth Savoring

Posted by May 11th, 2006 No Comments »

Starlight Mints – Drowaton
Barsuk Records
By Christian Klepac

Those of you familiar with the Starlight Mints’ sound won’t be shocked by the contents of Drowaton, but you might be pleasantly surprised. If you don’t know the Mints yet, you really should, and for my money Drowaton is a more engaging and enjoyable record than 2003’s much-lauded Built on Squares.

The Starlight sound we’re talking about evokes a studiocentric 60’s chamber pop esthetic, revived with sly sophistication and a Pavement-like postmodern sub-urbanity. On Squares, the horns and strings were constantly threatening to tip the boat, imbuing the whole affair with a spearmint sweetness that had more in common with shlockmiesters like Herb Alpert and Esquivel than with the raw retro of Brian Jonestown or the Elephant Six collective.

Starlight Mints – Drowaton
Barsuk Records
By Christian Klepac

Those of you familiar with the Starlight Mints’ sound won’t be shocked by the contents of Drowaton, but you might be pleasantly surprised. If you don’t know the Mints yet, you really should, and for my money Drowaton is a more engaging and enjoyable record than 2003’s much-lauded Built on Squares.

The Starlight sound we’re talking about evokes a studiocentric 60’s chamber pop esthetic, revived with sly sophistication and a Pavement-like postmodern sub-urbanity. On Squares, the horns and strings were constantly threatening to tip the boat, imbuing the whole affair with a spearmint sweetness that had more in common with shlockmiesters like Herb Alpert and Esquivel than with the raw retro of Brian Jonestown or the Elephant Six collective.

Well, a few years have passed and the Mints have traveled a path familiar to many music fans: Band creates intricate studio album, earns critical acclaim, does a few tours, disappears and then re-emerges with a batch of similar material, only this time delivered rugged and lean. It’s not that there are fewer bells and whistles on Drowaton, it’s that each sound seems to have a purpose this time around.

The band has given Allan Vest’s signature melodies room to breathe rather than burying them, and if the quirky arrangements sound a bit familiar, it’s probably no accident. The Mints have always worn their influences on their sleeves, and they deserve a pat on the back for embracing everything that comes their way.

“Eyes of the Night”, for instance, is a full-on conflation of the best bits from the Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow, and “Rosemarie” brings a smile by vamping on the Kinks’ “Dead End Street” with a knowing nod to Elliot Smith’s Figure-8-era Beatles fetish. Thankfully, the songs each have their own unique identity, and the band has lost none of their humor – “Rhino Stomp” sounds like just that, a practice jam out of control, borne aloft on church bells and lurching cellos.

It’s a fortunate thing when a band can manage its moods, and Drowaton presents an impressive combination of exuberance and restraint. See for instance the waltzy “Torts”, which stops a few steps short of klezmeric cheese and settles instead for genuine melancholy. These songs may still be a bit theatrical for some tastes, but who could actively dislike a rip-roarin rendition of the missing second disc of Slanted and Enchanted as interpreted by the Apples in Stereo?

Drowaton is a snapshot worth savoring: how often do you get to see an interesting band in the process of turning into a great band?


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