Twinkle, twinkle little star

by Nathan Hall

Probably the most amusing thing about cover bands is that none of them refers to themselves as such. “Tribute” is the preferred term. What must possess a fan of a particular band to go to such extreme lengths? That is, to move beyond simply owning a complete discography, to learning how to play the catalog note for note and then eventually to pseudo-morphing into their heroes, at least in their own fantasies?

Many music critics have argued the sum output of Starflyer 59’s Jason Martin is nothing more than mundane homage to My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 shoe gazer opus “Loveless.” Miraculously, Starflyer 59’s 12th release “Old” appears to find Martin finally moving out for good underneath the shadow of his influences and unquestionably becoming comfortable within his own element as a first-rate pop songwriter in his own right.

Music historians assert that the shoe gazer genre, sometimes referred to as dream pop, was initiated in late 1980s England. Bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Cocteau Twins merged wave upon wave of distortion-drenched feedback with formulaic pop. Erecting a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound, saturated in reverb and delay effects pedals, the musicians stood motionless, apparently hypnotized by their sneakers. By the early 1990s, with the potential exception of the Swirlies, the movement was dead in the water. Then a born-again Christian truck driver from California appeared mysteriously on the scene in 1994. Enter Starflyer 59, stage right.

The band was signed to the religious rock label Tooth & Nail a few short months after their first practice session. Starflyer 59’s cultish following quickly became an integral safety blanket for a roster oft criticized for churning out sanitized, evangelical versions of the next big alternarock thing. Everyone loved Martin’s fuzzy guitar riffs but nobody really understood what exactly he was mumbling about. The watershed moment arrived five years later with the “Everybody Makes Mistakes” EP, in which Martin motioned to abandon tribute band status in favor of a more sophisticated, outer space-themed take on sing-along 1970s pop.

“Old” reaches a new zenith, as the group transforms themselves into a dreamy intergalactic cross between Deep Purple and the Beach Boys. Appearing to delegate his more self-indulgent stuff to his side project Bon Voyage (his wife is the lead singer), Martin thankfully has saved his prime material for Starflyer 59. With any luck, perhaps there is already a Starflyer 59 tribute group in the works.

Starflyer 59 will perform at 6 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Ascot Room at The Quest. Tickets are $10 for this all-ages event.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]