Some albums are great albums, full of wonderful songs. Some albums reek to high heavens. A very select few albums are works of art. Although it may sound pretentious, Leave Here A Stranger by Starflyer59 is definitely in the latter category. From the very first spin, something about the flow, the cohesiveness of the songs and how they interact with each other makes you realize that SF59 had high aspirations for this album and that they hit their mark perfectly. While listening to this disc I am reminded at times of the landmark OK Computer, early The Cure, and Pet Sounds, lofty sources of inspiration indeed. In a conscious effort to strip down their sound, SF59 recorded the album in glorious mono, forcing themselves to distill their vision into a potent concentrate. Much like Pet Sounds, there is an amazing breadth of instrumentation including harps, saxophones, strings, timpani and more. The fact that such lush orchestrations do not cloud the songs is a tribute to all involved. As with past SF59 efforts, there is a great bit of creative use of noise and heavily reverbed guitar alongside Jason Martin's trademark wispy vocals not unlike those of Radiohead's Thom York. The songs are low-key and atmospheric yet filled with haunting melodies and arrangements. For lyrical inspiration, the band looked to their immediate world. The opening track, "All My Friends Who Play Guitar" cascades a wash of sound like the waves on a beach as Martin sings about a life spent on the road. The chorus of "Can You Play Drums?" has Martin lamenting that "I already know what we're gonna play" and in "Things Like This Help Me" he "stays up late [to] fix all the sounds." For this musical brew, all influences are fair game including The Smiths ("Give Up the War") and Roy Orbison ("Night Music"), although like the best cooks, the ingredients are combined to create a completely new dish with only hints of the original sources. My personal favorite is "I Like Your Photographs", a mesmerizing epic of a song whose topic still eludes me. The six minutes of this song are a well-written novel with chapters that flow effortlessly into each other. This beautifully lonely indie-pop masterpiece will appeal to fans of Radiohead, Belle & Sebastian, and The Smiths and is sure to send shivers of delight down your wicked spine.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, August 2001.