Stars Like Fleas

Sun Lights Down on the Fence

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If there is one single influence to name, one comparison to make, it is with Robert Wyatt. Not that Stars Like Fleas' debut album reaches the heights of Shleep or Cuckooland, but at times it comes surprisingly close and it will surely appeal to fans of Wyatt's later material. The similarities reside in the group's joint use of pop instrumentation, free improvisers, and electronics. Mainly the project of multi-instrumentalist Shannon Fields (he racks up two dozen instrumental credits, ranging from piano to banjo, clarinet, and electronics), Stars Like Fleas also features the voice and words of ex-Stars of the Lid collaborator Montgomery Knott. His half-murmured half-sung litanies are often overdubbed two or three times, enhancing his rambling tone by slightly phasing out his narrative. The music often consists of soft piano and guitar motifs, laced in electronic textures. Multi-reedists Daniel Carter, Charles Waters, and Avram Fefer, trumpeter Michael Patti, and a few others improvise over the music, their place moving inside the mix from upfront soloing to background misdemeanor. Sometimes scored avant-jazz lines are substituted to improvisation. "I've Pumped Your Stomach and Broken Through Your Skin" thumps a bit hard at times, adding drums and fuzz bass, but most of the album floats in a dreamy state of consciousness. Highlights include "Lumps. of. Clay" and the 15-minute "On a Generous Day," which keeps on transforming into something else each time you expect it to end. Each song is a dense amalgam of acoustic, electronic, abstract, and pop elements. The balance is at times fragile, but Fields turns this fragility into an uncanny form of charm. Sun Lights Down on the Fence requires many listens, as there is so much happening on so many layers at once. But it grows on you in unexpected ways. Highly recommended.

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