Thursday, 17 October 2013

Black Hearted Brother - Stars Are Our Home

Album review by kev@thesoundofconfusion.co.uk


Answering the question "what do you get when you cross Neil Halstead, Mark Van Hoen and Nick Holton?" wouldn't be easy to answer were it not for this album. Neil Halstead began creating lush waves of sound with shoegaze legends Slowdive, but has gradually morphed into a more traditional songwriter with The Mojave 3 and his own, largely acoustic solo material; Van Hoen has spent decades experimenting with electronic sounds and delving into post-rock and other genres as a solo artist, as Locust, and briefly as a member of Seefeel; Holton is less well known as a member of both Coley Park and Holton's Opulent Oog, toying with dreampop and alt-country amongst other things, but the coming together of the three makes sense in a way, as all have, at one point or another, pushed the boundaries of popular music in a similar way. It's the separate sonic spaces they now inhabit that creates the conundrum.

The answer, when you hear it, was obvious all along. Black Hearted Brother incorporate all of the above; at times it makes sense, at times it's nothing short of stunning, and at times it's mildly confusing. The record is occasionally puzzling. 'Time In The Machine' begins as though it's likely to be an acoustic number, but soon a band joins in, giving the fleeting impression of alt-country, and then the gradual hum of shoegaze/drone-rock joins in. It's an interesting build, pausing to allow the soft vocals space to breathe. Suddenly it begins to sound like two songs playing at once, as what sounds like some form of spacecraft begins to start up over the top, firing in bursts of guitar that don't seem to fit. It's a weird one and will do nothing to ease the minds of those who may have noticed just how long 'Stars Are Our Home' is (12 tracks, the majority of them over the five-minute mark), so placing it late in the running order was probably wise.

Long before we reach that particular song everything has already clicked. 'Oh Crust' takes those cosmic sounds, retro electronics and elements of both krautrock and shoegaze and serves us up a wonderful modern psych track. To save repeating phrases, more of the same (but with enough variation halt any accusations of monotony) can be found on even better tunes, including the bubbling, uptempo 'My Baby Just Sailed Away', a song that could be a remix and along with 'Look Out Here They Come' brings them close to something resembling actual pop music; '(I Don't Mean To) Wonder' is already sounding like a classic; the lengthy but wondrous 'Got Your Love' is just about perfect in more ways than one, but it could be the euphoric 'UFO' that surpasses the lot. Slower celestial trips can be found on the beautiful 'Take Heart', a journey in itself, as it the expansive, exploratory title-track; 'I'm Back' is nice and so is the lovely mid-paced, psych-pop that is 'This Is How It Feels'. 'If I Was Here (To Change Your Mind)' is like Americana as reimagined by Sonic Boom. With songs this strong the length isn't an issue, and the problem of fitting their individual ideas together wasn't either. 'Stars Are Our Home' may have been pieced together over a long period, but the combination of minds involved compliment each other perfectly.





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