Stars Like Fleas is a Brooklyn-based collective of musicians you probably haven’t heard of from bands you probably have heard of (especially if you’re a regular to 3hive). At the nucleus are Montgomery Knott (vocals) and Shannon Fields (everything else). It was Shannon who emailed us to say that Stars Like Fleas will be releasing their third album after “a fair bit of wandering-in-the-desert time.” That’s gotta be some kind of crazy metaphor ’cause they recorded the album in Iceland—with Bjork’s producer, Valgeir SigurÃ°sson—and I don’t think there are any deserts there. Wherever it was that they wandered, they appear to have lost their penchant for unstructured, free jazz compositions and replaced it with a knack for lushly-orchestrated pop epics. The single, “I Was Only Dancing,” is a precise audio replication of a cloudburst falling on parched earth, sandwiched between slices of warm sunlight. Bathe/bask in it and you’ll see why it’s already one of my favorites of the year.
Add father, restorer of modernist architecture, and solo artisit to Brad Laner’s lengthy resume. Laner’s always been somewhat of a DIY kinda guy as he’s practically steered such fine musical vessels as Medicine, Electric Company and Amnesia single-handedly. Maybe it’s because he’s a father now, or maybe it’s because he’s got a place, a self-restored a 1964 mid-century modern Eichler home, to proudly call his own that Brad Laner has finally shed his many masks and is releasing his first proper solo record, Neighbor Singing. At least his son and home have both inspired and restrained him, allowing him small windows of recording time which helped him keep an objective view on the album. These two tracks hint at a sunny, summertime pop record, a loopy-Beach Boys kind of sound. A sound, Laner says, that has emerged not from his record collection, but from his own biological self: “I wanted to shamelessly utilize all of the different skills that I’ve built up over a lifetime of musical experiences.” No shame necessary. Dig this.
The Caribbean’s Michael Kentoff is man enough to admit Washington DC cliques like the Teen Beat, Dischord and Simple Machines crews intimidate him. Who wouldn’t be? Those three labels have fiercely defined, executed, and promoted the D.I.Y. aesthetic-ethic. You don’t get “cooler” than those folks. In the face of it all, risking potential hip-ness, Kentoff and his band mates, have consistently created smart, personal pop songs. Gentle, comfortable music you can cozy up to like you would with a “friend with benefits.” I get the same warm, fuzzy feeling from listening to The Caribbean as I do shuffling through discarded peanut shells and sitting down to a cheeseburger and bag o’ fries at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. I can’t hear about anything happening in DC without thinking about my favorite burger. The Caribbean may not fit in with the usual DC suspects, but they can take solace in their mutual vicinity to a tasty burger (I should never post while hungry…).
Raised on bands like The Pixies and The Smiths, Eddie Alonso’s musical boundaries broadened upon hearing Can’s Ege Bamyasi. From that point forward Alonso worried less about using his music to tell a particular story, and instead concentrated on mesmerizing the listener. With his work cut out for him Alonso honed his recording skills and hoarded music gear with his “Canned” inspired musical theory in mind. Writing music with his bandmates, Matt Crum and Eric Rasco, under the moniker Feathers, the trio merges all styles without working towards any sound in particular. What emerges are riveting instrumental tracks suited for a world where Esquivel and Bacharach are worshipped as pop idols.
All I knew of this guy going into my first listen was his first and last name. After a few spins of “Oil in the Fields” — a eulogy which managed to break my heart by the end of the first verse — I feel as though I know volumes despite its sparing lyrics. Like any good songwriter, he understands the importance of the spaces between. His rich voice and talent for orchestration makes such studied restraint that much more enchanting. If the whole album (due November 8) is as good as these two tracks, I may need to make room on my “Best of 2005” list.