Self-release, distributed by Mondo
This is an album of pure pop music joy. From its highly produced opening track – the uncharacteristic single Phasers on Stun, though to the album closer, Starship Take Me Home, the overwhelming emotion is the joy of making music. A vague science fiction feel bookends it, but the body of the album is very Sydney; The Starflight duo lives in Sydney’s inner west, as the songs mention specific geographic landmarks, from Newtown, through to Summer Hill – also the title of the fifth track.
It sounds like it cost a million dollars – it is a ‘produced album’: think Pink Floyd, Queen, ELP, Boston. Yet, nothing seems overdone, nor superfluous. Instruments are filtered, effected, warped and changed. Yet the effects enhance, rather than hide. The album features some quite strong songs. Its musicianship is excellent. The band has taken a ‘kitchen sink’ approach to production. At times it sounds like old ELO or maybe ABBA. The two have a nice vocal blend – overdubbed, and then overdubbed again, I think.
The lead singer and main songwriter is Jib Khan, who hails from Pakistan. This is barely relevant. Case in point is the jewel of the album, track 3, She Wants an Angel. Its magnificent refrain ‘incense and kaftans and Ravi Shankar’, features a sitar drizzling gorgeous atmosphere behind it. Yet it is set in Sydney – Newtown. The evocation of Newtown is correct – I think I know the exact sycamore tree he sings of. At the least, I know where it should be. The song sounds like late period Beatles. Western pop is his metier, and he is extremely good at it.
Damien Spanjer plays many of the instruments and provides backing vocals. He is more than competent, with some inventive and clever flourishes on keyboards. These boys like their toys: voice boxes, wah-pedals, flanging, phasing… it’s all there.
There are a few minor faults. There are too many mid-tempo rockers. The album would have strengthened with a little tempo variety – particularly as their taste in over-production is so keen, faster and slower songs should have been no problem. The other thing is that while Jib’s is a fine voice, it lacks variety: each song has the same tone and timbre. I can find no evidence that this band has ever performed live – I’m wondering if that’s the cause of this lack of variety.
None of this seriously threatens the idea that this is a good and worthy debut album. If they can maintain a level of quality to the standard they have managed, and remain focussed (and perhaps learn how to perform live, or at least promote their live gigs more assiduously), there is a future here. It’s nice to hear a local band. I’d like to hear more from them and keenly anticipate any further output.